Digitizing Archives from the Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary

By Lawrence Gregory
Published in History & New and Noteworthy
February 22, 2024
2 min read
Digitizing Archives from the Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary

Our most recent addition to the NINS Digital Collections is a small number of items from the community archives of the Order of the Visitation. Many thanks to Sister Mary Joseph Barnes for working with us on this project.

Archives shown on the table in the monastery parlor.
Archives shown on the table in the monastery parlor.

The Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary was founded in Annecy, Haute-Savoie, France in 1610 by Francis de Sales and Jane Frances de Chantal. They were canonically erected in 1618 and solemnly approved in 1626.

The sisters were forced to flee France in 1789 at the time of the revolution. The Rouen Monastery escaped to Portugal, then in 1803 tried to sail to England but were forced back after a pirate attack. They tried again in 1804, this time being successful, and established the first English Monastery at Acton House, 19 March 1804.

The community moved in August 1810 to a larger site at Shepton Mallet, then moved again in 1831 to Westbury-on-Trym, Bristol, and in 1896 to Harrow-on-the-Hill. In 1959 the Sisters acquired Foxhunt Manor, Sussex from the Xaverian Brothers and relocated the Monastery there. In recent years the dwindling community has moved into the converted stable block.

Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary - Monastery
The current day monastery.

There were two other Visitation Monasteries in England, the first at Walmer, Kent established in 1875 by German nuns fleeing the Kulturkampf, closing in 1971. The second at Caversham, Staffordshire, established in 1902 from Ghent, closing in 2005.

As a cloistered contemplative order, this is the first time that items from their archive have been made publicly available. The pieces we have selected to bring online comprise sixty-nine items, many of which are letters written to Sister Mary Dominica Bowden, including twenty-five original letters from Cardinal Newman. These letters cover topics including the Oxford Oratory, and general theological discussions.

There are also eighteen letters from Fr. Bede Jarrett, OP, the founder of Blackfriars, Oxford, eight letters from Cardinal Wiseman, six from Cardinal Bourne, and four from Cardinal Manning. The final items include five items related to the nineteenth-century martyr and missioner Father Augustus Law, SJ, and two letters from Fr. J. E. Bowden, CO to his sister, along with a memoir of their mother Mrs. Elizabeth Bowden.

Antique hat box containing archival material.
Antique hat box containing archival material.
Archives stored in a suitcase - from the Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary
Archives stored in a suitcase.

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Lawrence Gregory

Lawrence Gregory

Lawrence Gregory is the NINS senior archivist and UK agent, and a historian of nineteenth-century English Catholicism, who also enjoys cats and steam trains.


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