FOUR REPRESENTATIVES of the Premonstratensian Norbertine community of White Canons at St Philip’s Priory in Chelmsford visited Christopher and Catherine Foyle at their Maldon home of Beeleigh Abbey in Essex on September 18.
This represented the first visit to the abbey by English members of that order since the Reformation in 1536. Fr Hugh Allen was particularly appreciative of the good condition of the building, as parts of the house still contain the original chapter house, calefactory and dorter. The Foyles took ownership in 2000 and since then have not only restored the buildings but also enabled a thorough archeological study of the site.
Their conservation work was recognised with a Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors award last year. Beeleigh is in the best condition of all the order’s original 34 abbeys in England. A three-storey timber-framed 17th-century building incorporates these older parts which together stand in three acres of gardens beside the estuary of the River Blackwater.
Christopher Foyle acknowledges his emotional bond with the house and its medieval context, having been forged by childhood stays with his grandfather William. The visiting canons also shared their tea with two local experts on the building, Stephen Nunn and David Andrews. During the visit the significance of the exact day of its dissolution came to light, as June 6 was the feast day of the order’s founder, St Norbert of Xanten.
The canons said they felt a strong personal connection to the communities who had lived at Beeleigh. Led by Fr Allan they sang the Salve Regina at a sheltered spot under trees by the lake, with the sound of the fountains the only accompaniment.