P. Fitzpatrick THE order of nuns known as the Poor Clares, the Second Order of St. Francis founded by St. Clare (whose feast falls on Tuesday). under the guidance of the Poor Man of Assisi came to London at the invitation of Queen Blanche, widow of Henry. king of Navarre. who had married Edmund. Earl of Lancaster.
The queen was a niece of St. Louis IX of France and of BI. Isabella who had founded it convent of Poor Clams at Longchamp, near Paris, in 1255 and it was from this house that the sisters. with the permission of the king, Edward I. founded their convent on the site of a Roman burial ground just outside the city walls of London in the year 1293.
By the year 1296. the convent was already being referred to as an Abbey although the foundation had only been established three years There are no extant records giving details of the actual progress of the building of the Abbey but it must be concluded that by now there had been substantial headway in this direction.
Edmund. earl of Lanoaster. one of the chief patrons of the house.
in this same year, granted the acivowson of the church at Hartington in Derbyshire, Another 50 years pass before there is any further account of the Abbey and in 1346, the nuns received the advowsons of three more churches and in the following year they were granted a licence to hold land up to 00 rent per year.
.U.4 BURGH, Countess of ( lam in her will dated December 3, 1360. left the Abbey a reliquary of crystal. a chalice of silver gilt, some pearls and a quantity of valuable tapestries. The abbess received the sum of £20 and each of the sisters the amount of thirteen shillings and fourpence.
By this time the Poor Clues in London were in receipt of very extensive grants and property which included land, messuages, shops. rents and advowsons. The donors, apart from Queen Isabella and the Earl of Lancaster. include a number of religious and laity. The natural inference is. therefore, that this order of :he followers of St. Francis were held in high esteem by nobles. clergy and the laity alike.
The story of this Abbey of Poor Clares passes now to the early years of the sixteenth century. Elizabeth. daughter of the Duke of Suffolk. Edmund de la Pole. was professed there in the year 1510, and Henry VIII presented the su.m of forty marks to the abbess in connection with this event.
Five years later. tragedy fell upon the Abbey in the form of the dreaded plague and 27 sisters died. The following year there was a further disaster when fire destroyed the greater part of the buildings.
A disaster AGAIN, it must be noted, the esteem in which the sisters were held because the event was treated, if not as a national disaster, at least. as a disaster to the city of I.ondon.
The Lord Mayor. aldermen and citizens contributed immediately towards the rebuilding and four years later in 1520, Catelinal Wolsey, himself made a special request to the Court of Common Council to complete the reconstruction.
The Council gave the sum of 100 marks and in the previous year. Sir William Holgill had received the amount of £200 from the king for this same purpose. In four years, therefore. the Abbey had been practically rebuilt.
In 1530, the community benefited from the will of Sir John Brigge, alderman of London who loft money for the completion of an infirmary including its furnishing and the provision of an altar.
With the suppression of the Greater Monasteries, the Abbey of the Grace of the Blessed Virgin Mary or the Abbey of the Minories, as it was sometimes called, was amongst the early ones to be surrendered to the Crown.
The date of its suppression was November 11, 1538 and the last abbess was Lady Elizabeth Savage. She was the 15th abbess and the house had been in existence 245 year's.
File destroyed the remains of the Abbey in the 18th century.
GOING back now for a while to the medieval convent of the Grace of the
Blessed Virgin Mary. it had been suggested that the original ideals of the Poor Clams in this London home lost a great deal of their freshness and fervour with the amassing of gifts and property.
They owned, as had been stated. a great amount of property, they were in receipt of a considerable amount of money in the form of rents.
Again. It is said. that the cornmunity was made up solely of ladies of high rank. Elizabeth, daughter of the Duke nf Suffolk. as noted earlier. was a member of the community. The daughter of Thomas de Woodstock. Duke of Gloucester, became an abbess here and Margaret Beauchamp. widow of the Earl of Warwick had perrnission from Rome in 1398. to reside here in the lay state. "with three matrons."
Let us look at the picture now from another angle. First of all, a note concerning the Rule respecting property, " That the Sisters may serve the Lord in quietness, they may receive and hold mute!lions, and a prudent Proctor. appointed by the Abbess shall have the care of such possessions."
THAT this injunction W55 carried out in the Abbey of the Minories, we
have ample proof in the accounts of wages and allowances of food and drink paid out to various laymen employed in these duties on behalf of the Abbey.
Further records exist which show that it was a practice to grant I lodgia* in the Abbey precincts and a daily allowance of food and drink to old lay servants on their retirement from these duties.
The business affairs of the house therefore. definitely appear to have been solely in the hands of the abbess and her trusted lay servants and, in the case of the alinories. these were, generalk. three in numher.
It is true that there were some ladies related to noble families who were members of the community, but a glance at the list of names of the sisters at the suppression (where their family names were given) does show that it was highly improbably that any of them were members of titled families.
The Rule of the sisters was a strict one. In brief, the community lived a life of prayer, penance and silence. Fasting was observed from October 4, the feast of St. Francis, until Easter. Then from Ascension Day to Whitson.
The only exceptions to this part of their Rule were the Sundays and seven other principal feast days. Meat was not allowed at all except to sick members of the community.
'rhere does not exist any record concerning scandal or laxity in the strict Rule of the Poor Clares in respect of the Abbey of the Grace of the Blessed Virgin Mary in London. If there had been, it would surely have been brought forth to the full at the time of the suppression when every effort was being made to find fault with the religious houses and to prove their existence. at the least. unnecessary.
TO-DAY. the memory of this great house of the daughters of St. Francis is not entirely erased. The street
called the Minoriers leading from Aldgate High Street to Tower Hill recalls the site of the Abbey. A street leading off the Minoties bears the name St. Clare Street and most consoling of all, perhaps, is a fine new block of office buildings, rising up from the ashes of World War 11, which has been called St. Clare House.