December 19 – Abbess dies far from home

Dec19,2022

On this day in Tudor history, 19th December 1576, in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, Katherine Palmer, Abbess of Syon, died in Mechelen in Belgium.

The abbess died just over a month after she had confronted a mob that had broken into her monastery.

Find out more about Abbess Katherine Palmer, how her order had ended up settling on the Continent, and how her order is the only surviving pre-Reformation religious community in England today…

Transcript:

Abbess Katherine Palmer

On this day in Tudor history, 19th December 1576, Katherine Palmer, Abbess of Syon, died in Mechelen in Belgium.

Katherine and her nuns had fled from England to the Low Countries in 1559, following the accession of the Protestant queen, Elizabeth I, and had finally settled at Mechelen. There, on 8th November 1576, a mob of Calvinists broke into the monastery and the courageous abbess confronted them. It is thought that the trauma of confronting the mob led to her death just over a month later, on 19th December. She was laid to rest at Mechelen in the Church of the Augustinians.

Syon Monastery and the Dissolution of the Monasteries

I dug a little into Katherine Palmer and her order for an article for the Tudor Society and found that Katherine was of a gentry background and had given up that life to join the Bridgettine Order at Syon Monastery, in the parish of Isleworth, which had been founded by Henry V in 1415 and that had a reputation for its pious monastic life. Unfortunately, the abbey was dissolved in 1539 as part of Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries. However, the sisters kept their monastic life in small groups, one of which was led by Katherine.

In 1551, Katherine and six nuns and four brothers relocated to Termonde in the Low Countries. They returned to England in 1555, in the reign of the Catholic queen, Mary I, at Cardinal Pole’s urging, and refounded Syon. Katherine was elected as abbess. As I said earlier, they fled England in 1559, moving to Termonde and then Antwerp and on to Mechelen, where Katherine died in 1576.

In his article for the Telegraph newspaper, Christopher Howse writes of how the order “went through astonishing sufferings from poverty and war, seeking refuge in France and Portugal” before finally settling back in England in 1861. In 1925, the order settled at South Brent, in Devon.

What is amazing is that they are the only surviving pre-Reformation religious community in England – wonderful!

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