The English Benedictine Congregation can claim to be the oldest continuous Benedictine group in the world. In 1607 Dom Sigebert Buckley of Westminster Abbey accepted two monks of the Cassinese Congregation into his care, thus preserving the line of a monastery formed before the Norman Conquest. St Laurence’s Abbey at Ampleforth is a descendent of these monks.
In 1619 the various English monasteries on the continent came together to form the English Benedictine Congregation. The main work of the monks was to become missionaries to England, particularly to minister to those who refused to give up their Catholic faith during the penal period. This is why our monasteries were always so active in running parishes and schools.
In the early 19th century conditions both in England and on the continent had changed. The French revolution had made life difficult for monks in France, while the union of Ireland with Britain into the United Kingdom in 1801 had led to calls for Catholic emancipation, which was finally passed by Parliament in 1829. This made it possible for the English monasteries to return to England.
The EBC Today
Today, ‘English’ Benedictine is a bit of a misnomer. With houses in the USA, Peru, Zimbabwe, and soon also in Ireland, Sweden, and Australia, the EBC is truly worldwide. The diversity of backgrounds helps keep the EBC in touch with the changing needs of people worldwide.
Another unusual feature of the English Benedictine Congregation is that the women’s houses have equal speaking and voting rights to men’s houses at General Chapter, which is held every four years. There are far more women worldwide in religious vows than there are men and it is strange that they are sometimes treated unequally.
In 2015 the EBC published ‘To Prefer Nothing to Christ‘. This booklet was the result of a period of examination of the role of the monastic life in the modern world. Even monasteries need to adapt to changing circumstances.