fotoThe Windesheim heritage

For us, the uniqueness of the Windesheim heritage lies in the fact that, from the 16th century, it was passed on to successive generations of young exiles, many of whom were closely connected with the English Martyrs. These generous souls, who were accustomed to adversity, unconsciously tempered the spirituality they first assimilated at Louvain, and then at Bruges, with a certain robustness that we see throughout our long history.

14 September 1629

On the evening of the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, five English nuns disembarked from a barge at the “Minnewater” at Brydges (Bruges). Where were they from and what were they seeking? They had come from Saint Monica’s in Louvain, an entirely English convent founded in 1609 by the old Windesheim priory of Saint Ursula (1415), situated in the same town.

International

Our Congregation itself has always been international in character. There are communities in Holland, Belgium, England, Rwanda, France and Tanzania.

Since 2001, the English Convent has a special link with the Monastery of Our Lady of Peace, Rwamagana (Rwanda) where two Rwandan sisters and one from Burundi went as founding members.

Further afield, Sister Mary Niu, a Chinese sister who had her formation in our Community in England, returned to China in 2008 with the hope of starting an Augustinian contemplative community there: The buildings are already well advanced. Around Sr Mary there are one novice formed in England and two chinese postulants.

Thus linked to our roots and part of a living tradition we hope to continue by our prayer and our whole way of life to respond to the needs of the Church and the world of today.

Origin

Some of the Brothers soon aspired to a life devoted more exclusively to prayer; indeed Master Gerard himself had always felt a desire to withdraw from the world. He already had some experience of the religious life; after his conversion in 1374 he had withdrawn for a period to Monnikhuizen, where he had come under the influence of the Carthusian monks, and had been deeply sustained and moved by the Holy Scripture and the Fathers. But he was also familiar with the life of the Canons Regular of Groenendael, in the Soignes forest, after visiting their Prior Jean Ruusbroec (1293-1381), the great Brabant mystic, who had also greatly influenced him.

<<One>> Congregation

“Not through constraint but in the freedom of love”
The Canons Regular of Windesheim
On 17 October 1387, six Brothers of the Common Life, who had trained for the canonical life at the Eemstein monastery founded by Groenendael in the Netherlands, made their  profession as Canons Regular at Windesheim, the “Windy House”, or “the Vine of Eternal God” in the monastery church that they had built with their own hands; the Congregation of Windesheim was born. Jean Busch, in his Chronicle, vividly evokes the spirit of these men who had voluntarily withdrawn from the world to follow Christ in a life of prayer, simplicity and humility: “Not through constraint but in the freedom of love”.

 

First masters of Spirituality

The earliest Devout and Windesheim authors, such as Gerard Zerbolt de Zutphen (1367-1398), Jan Vos van Heusden (1363-1424), Gerlach Peters (1378-1411) and Jean Mombaer (1460-1501) perpetuated the Modern Devotion message. But the essence of the message is given to us by our brother Thomas à Kempis (1379-1471), in his four small treatises, collected into one work called the “The Imitation of Jesus Christ”. This work bears witness to Thomas à Kempis’ long spiritual training and to the effects of the century-old tradition that started with the Fathers of the Desert and Saint Augustine, continuing through to Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, Saint Francis, Saint Bonaventure and the Dutch and Rhineland mystics.

Activities

At that time, the ever-growing Community and school were cramped for space, and the position of the little chapel was illsuited for prayer. It was necessary to gain the Bishop’s permission to build a new chapel, and the Prioress gave the following reasons as she made her request on 8 August 1735:

  1. In order to be less exposed to noise, as the current chapel is situated right at the centre of all the noises in the house.
  2. Because our voices are not strong, and the vaulted roof of a church would greatly help our singing.
  3. So that our boarders will no longer have to go through the Monastery to get to the church.
  4. Because we need more parlours … and also somewhere to store our grain, for which the old church could serve.

A more contemplative life

Les péripéties de la Révolution Française et de la guerre franco-autrichienne provoquent un défilé de prêtres et de religieuses à Nazareth qui y trouvent un soulagement momentané. Le 1er mai 1794 il faut fuir devant les troupes françaises. Un asile de fortune est écouvert à Sluys. Cinq semaines plus tard, le retour à Bruges devient possible, mais dès le mois de juin suivant, le départ immédiat s’impose. Tous les membres valides de la communauté se groupent dans des charrettes à destination d’Anvers sous la conduite de leur prieure. Sister Olivia Darell reste  au monastère avec quelques sœurs.
L’entrée des Français à Bruges étant confirmée, Mother More décide de se diriger vers Rotterdam et de là en Angleterre.
Elles louèrent un misérable bateau … « Quel trajet ! Trois jours et trois nuits, sans lits, serrées les unes sur les autres en un seul lieu. Nos bagages nous servirent d’oreiller … Enfin, le 6 juillet, nous faisions voile sur Londres ».

International

Our Congregation itself has always been international in character. There are communities in Holland, Belgium, England, Rwanda, France and Tanzania.

Since 2001, the English Convent has a special link with the Monastery of Our Lady of Peace, Rwamagana (Rwanda) where two Rwandan sisters and one from Burundi went as founding members.

Further afield, Sister Mary Niu, a Chinese sister who had her formation in our Community in England, returned to China in 2008 with the hope of starting an Augustinian contemplative community there: The buildings are already well advanced. Around Sr Mary there are one novice formed in England and two chinese postulants.

Thus linked to our roots and part of a living tradition we hope to continue by our prayer and our whole way of life to respond to the needs of the Church and the world of today.

Origin

Some of the Brothers soon aspired to a life devoted more exclusively to prayer; indeed Master Gerard himself had always felt a desire to withdraw from the world. He already had some experience of the religious life; after his conversion in 1374 he had withdrawn for a period to Monnikhuizen, where he had come under the influence of the Carthusian monks, and had been deeply sustained and moved by the Holy Scripture and the Fathers. But he was also familiar with the life of the Canons Regular of Groenendael, in the Soignes forest, after visiting their Prior Jean Ruusbroec (1293-1381), the great Brabant mystic, who had also greatly influenced him.

<<One>> Congregation

“Not through constraint but in the freedom of love”
The Canons Regular of Windesheim
On 17 October 1387, six Brothers of the Common Life, who had trained for the canonical life at the Eemstein monastery founded by Groenendael in the Netherlands, made their  profession as Canons Regular at Windesheim, the “Windy House”, or “the Vine of Eternal God” in the monastery church that they had built with their own hands; the Congregation of Windesheim was born. Jean Busch, in his Chronicle, vividly evokes the spirit of these men who had voluntarily withdrawn from the world to follow Christ in a life of prayer, simplicity and humility: “Not through constraint but in the freedom of love”.

 

First masters of Spirituality

The earliest Devout and Windesheim authors, such as Gerard Zerbolt de Zutphen (1367-1398), Jan Vos van Heusden (1363-1424), Gerlach Peters (1378-1411) and Jean Mombaer (1460-1501) perpetuated the Modern Devotion message. But the essence of the message is given to us by our brother Thomas à Kempis (1379-1471), in his four small treatises, collected into one work called the “The Imitation of Jesus Christ”. This work bears witness to Thomas à Kempis’ long spiritual training and to the effects of the century-old tradition that started with the Fathers of the Desert and Saint Augustine, continuing through to Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, Saint Francis, Saint Bonaventure and the Dutch and Rhineland mystics.

Activities

At that time, the ever-growing Community and school were cramped for space, and the position of the little chapel was illsuited for prayer. It was necessary to gain the Bishop’s permission to build a new chapel, and the Prioress gave the following reasons as she made her request on 8 August 1735:

  1. In order to be less exposed to noise, as the current chapel is situated right at the centre of all the noises in the house.
  2. Because our voices are not strong, and the vaulted roof of a church would greatly help our singing.
  3. So that our boarders will no longer have to go through the Monastery to get to the church.
  4. Because we need more parlours … and also somewhere to store our grain, for which the old church could serve.

A more contemplative life

Les péripéties de la Révolution Française et de la guerre franco-autrichienne provoquent un défilé de prêtres et de religieuses à Nazareth qui y trouvent un soulagement momentané. Le 1er mai 1794 il faut fuir devant les troupes françaises. Un asile de fortune est écouvert à Sluys. Cinq semaines plus tard, le retour à Bruges devient possible, mais dès le mois de juin suivant, le départ immédiat s’impose. Tous les membres valides de la communauté se groupent dans des charrettes à destination d’Anvers sous la conduite de leur prieure. Sister Olivia Darell reste  au monastère avec quelques sœurs.
L’entrée des Français à Bruges étant confirmée, Mother More décide de se diriger vers Rotterdam et de là en Angleterre.
Elles louèrent un misérable bateau … « Quel trajet ! Trois jours et trois nuits, sans lits, serrées les unes sur les autres en un seul lieu. Nos bagages nous servirent d’oreiller … Enfin, le 6 juillet, nous faisions voile sur Londres ».