Heritage in Lockdown

Despite the lockdown research has continued with some able to access our collections remotely whilst the archives and library remain closed.

The joint project between Downside Abbey, the British Academy and the University of Bristol, Heritage for the Community: Monk-historians and Communal Heritage, has kept going with the lead-researchers Alice Morrey and María Abellán working from home. Bristol’s Dr Ben Pohl and Downside’s Dr Simon Johnson have been looking at ways of delivering research projects remotely during lockdown and looking forward to the ‘new normal’. The British Academy funded project has been investigating the roles of medieval abbots in the writing of history. Alice and María have been looking at Downside monks and their historical writing including Abbot Edmund Ford and the antiquarian Dom Bede Camm using digital copies of material from the abbey’s archives. Alice and María have been selecting and researching items from our collections that demonstrate, ‘the relationship between Downside’s sense of identity and the history of the monastic community.’ The final research and selected artifacts will form an exhibition. Items selected by the monastic community, in their interpretation of their own history through their collections, will feature in the exhibition. 

Alice, a doctoral student at the University of Bristol, wrote:

I have selected items that interact with Downside’s history in two strands. The first seeks to make connections between identity and the role of authority in objects such as the abbatial seal and Downside’s relationship with monarchical authority. The abbatial seal was designed for the first abbot of Downside, Hugh Edmund Ford. Ford was extremely involved in the process to change Downside from a priory into an abbey. The other object I have selected is an account from one of the first monks associated with the priory of St Gregory the Great (when at Douai) regarding Charles II’s escape from England. This remarkable tale depicts the relationship between authority, history and the monks of Downside Abbey.

María, a Master’s student at the University of Bristol, selected Downside’s famous Vicenza Antiphonale:

Written for the use of Servites in Vicenza this antiphonal is considered to be part of a larger group of twelve. This book belongs to the period between advent to the fifth Sunday after Epiphany. The antiphonal is highly decorated, with capital letters as well as historicised initials. Every page has six ling lines and music, that shows liturgical text that can be really valuable in order to understand how the main component of a religious life work.

We’re working on how we can deliver the exhibition post-COVID. Click here to hear a lecture Ben gave earlier this year at Downside.

If you would like to learn more about the history of Downside’s monastic community there are a series of books which you can purchase online by clicking here.

Please e-mail us if you have any questions by clicking here.