Producing illuminated script


Religious life in medieval England was extremely rich and varied in its nature. There were a host of different religious orders with their own ideas about the correct way to worship God, although each one had a carefully structured code of behaviour with a revered founder who usually had laid out a set of rules or mode of living to be followed.
There were broad categories of religious practice as follows:-
The Contemplative Orders
These religious orders were the earliest to be established but although they believed in poverty, chastity and obedience, the monasteries themselves often accrued great power and wealth.
These included:-
  • Augustinian Canons and Nuns - as at Ixworth (1170 - 1537), Holy Cross, Thetford (1139 - 1536), and Chipley Priory (to 1468)
  • Benedictine Monks and Nuns - as at Bury St Edmunds (1020 - 1539) and Sudbury at St Bartholomew's priory cell (1115 - 1538), and at St Georges Priory in Thetford (1020 - 1537)
  • Carthusian Monks
  • Cistercian Monks and Nuns
  • Cluniac Monks and Nuns - as at St Mary's Priory, Thetford (1103 - 1540)
  • About 6 other lesser orders such as Bonshommes, Bridgettine, Gilbertine, Grandmontine, Premontstratensian and Tironension
The Mendicant Orders
The mendicants also believed in poverty, chastity and obedience, but poverty tended to be emphasised the most. Mendicant literally means begging or living on alms. The rise of Friars in the 13th century challenged the old monastic orders and led to some initial conflicts between them, as seen at Bury St Edmunds, with the Babwell foundation.
These included:-
  • Augustinians (or Austin Friars) - as at Clare (1249 - 1538 and 1953 - present), and at Holy Cross, Thetford (1139 - 1536)
  • Carmelite Friars
  • Dominican Friars and Nuns - as at Sudbury Friary (c.1248 - 1538), and Holy Trinity and St Mary's in Thetford (1335 - 1538)
  • Franciscan Friars and Nuns - as at Babwell Priory (1263 - 1538)
  • Crutched or Crossed Friars - as at Welnetham (1274 - 1538)
and the Pied, Sack and Trinitarian Friars
Knights Templars
They existed from 1118 to 1312 and were founded to defend Jerusalem and its pilgrims. Their churches had circular naves.
Knights Hospitallers
They were founded in 1130 and lasted until 1540 and were set up to care for the sick and poor.
The Alien Priories
These were deemed to be those religious orders which were cells of foreign abbeys. They were designated alien priories when foreign relations were unstable and they were felt to be sending money overseas, thus weakening the domestic economy.

Prepared for the St Edmundsbury website
by David Addy, August 1999

Books consulted:
English Medieval Monasteries 1066-1539, by Roy Midmer
Yesterdays Town - Bury St Edmunds by Margaret Statham
Bury St Edmunds and the urban crisis - by Robert Gottfried

Go to Monastic Homepage Updated 3 September 2004 Go to Home Page