The Brigittines of Syon

November 2000By Barry Bossa

The Rev. Barry Bossa, S.A.C., is stationed at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church in Yonkers, New York.

A short distance from London, at a bend in the river Thames, stand the stately mansion and gardens of Syon House. The mansion’s pillared gateway and polished marble, its stark but dignified Italianate beauty, seem entirely things of this world. Yet this was once holy ground, where stood the home of the Brigittine religious and of St. Richard Reynolds, the eloquent priest who shed his blood in defense of the Catholic doctrine that the Holy Father is Vicar of Christ on earth and that no other may claim to be Supreme Head of the Church nor of any national subdivision thereof.

St. Bridget, widow and mystic, famed for her visions and revelations, founded the order called familiarly by her name (its official title is Order of the Most Holy Savior) at Vadstena, Sweden, in 1346. She arranged for a large community of nuns who would follow St. Augustine’s Rule and a smaller group of chaplains and lay brothers. The Brigittines were vested in gray and their motto was Amor Meus Crucifixus Est! (“My Love is crucified”). Bridget lived in Rome and worked with St. Catherine of Siena during the sad period when the Pope had to reside at Avignon. The two women worked very hard for the Pope to return to Rome and to reunite a tragically divided Christendom. No one knew better than Bridget how important loyalty to the Holy Father really is for Christian unity and her religious absorbed that strong belief in their training and vocation to be Brigittines.

Early in the 15th century a group of Brigittines came to England, where King Henry V settled them in the Parish of Isleworth. The new community, intended as a spiritual haven for holiness, was given the name of the Lord’s mountain in Jerusalem, so often mentioned in the Psalms: “Syon.”

England already had several hundred religious houses, some nearly a thousand years old, but Syon gained a reputation for a high degree of genuine holiness, and its chaplains were much sought after as confessors, spiritual directors, and preachers. Small wonder that such a community would attract so excellent a man as Richard Reynolds.

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