Abbot Geoffrey Scott OSB, from Douai Abbey, will be the first Benedictine to say Mass on the site of St John’s Abbey, Colchester on its patronal feast day since 1539. The Mass will take place on 24 June, the feast of St John the Baptist, in the Gatehouse, the last remnant of what was once the fourth largest abbey in the country. Abbot Geoffrey, an eminent historian and annalist of the English Benedictine Congregation, will be saying the Mass at noon, at the request of Jennie Guthrie-Stevens, a member of the Colchester Catholic Heritage Group and the Priory Street parish. Jennie has done much research on St John’s Abbey and its history and gained the necessary permissions from English Heritage and Colchester Borough Council for the service to take place, albeit with just six persons present.
The Rt Rev Alan Williams sm, Bishop of the Diocese of Brentwood, in which Colchester is located, will be represented by Abbot Hugh Allan O.Praem, parish priest at Our Lady Immaculate, Chelmsford and the Apostolic Administrator of the Prefecture of the Falkland Islands and Ecclesiastical Superior of the Missions sui iuris of the islands of Ascension, St Helena and Tristan da Cunha. Prominent Essex Catholic Lord Petre will also be one of the small congregation. To watch the Mass live, go to https://youtu.be/ITXujRBZaU8.
Founded in 1095 by Eudo Dapifer, William the Conqueror’s High Steward and Constable of Colchester Castle, St John’s Benedictine Abbey made a major contribution to the development of medieval Colchester and became a wealthy and privileged house, despite losing part of its buildings to fire in 1133.
In the late 14th and early 15th centuries, perhaps as a result of the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381, the Abbey strengthened its defences and the Gatehouse was added as part of this revamping around 1400. It was one of a handful of abbeys that refused to surrender to Henry VIII’s Commissioners during the Dissolution. It succumbed only after the execution outside its walls of its abbot, John Beche (aka Thomas Marshall), who refused to acknowledge the spiritual authority of Henry VIII.
The first Mass since then was celebrated in the building on the anniversary of his death on 1st December 2012 and a plaque recording his martyrdom has since been unveiled at the site. Abbot Beche was beatified by Pope Leo XIII in 1895.
In 2015 Bishop Alan marked the 900th anniversary of the dedication of the Abbey with prayers for Blessed John Beche at the Gatehouse. Afterwards he said the Abbey’s destruction was a huge blow for the Colchester community. “For hundreds of years it was a place of education, care for the sick, succour for the poor. It did so much for the town’s citizens for so long. Christian faith and charity were lived here. When the abbey closed, the number of destitute people in the town increased dramatically. It was as if the welfare state was suddenly destroyed.“
Abbot Geoffrey Scott’s Douai Abbey in Woolhampton is part of the English Benedictine Congregation and was founded in Paris in 1615. Uprooted from there by the Revolution, it moved to Douai in Flanders before returning to England in 1903, bringing its name with it. A number of parishes are run from the abbey which has an important library and archive which holds the archives of the English Dominican Province.
Abbot Geoffrey teaches modern Church History at Blackfriars Hall, Oxford. He is also President of the Catholic Archives Society and Vice-President of the Catholic Record Society. He is a member of the Patrimony Committee of the English and Welsh Bishops’ Conference and Annalist of the English Benedictine Congregation. He is a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries and the Royal Historical Society, and has lectured at St. Mary’s College, Oscott and St. John’s Seminary, Wonersh.
Join Abbot Geoffrey live from 11.50am at https://youtu.be/ITXujRBZaU8
The Mass will subsequently be available as a recording.