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Durham University

Centre for Catholic Studies

Scholastica Jacob

My name is Sister Scholastica Jacob and I am a Benedictine nun of Stanbrook Abbey, Wass, North Yorkshire. Before entering the monastery in 2003 I did a history degree at the University of Lancaster and then a Law post-graduate course. I worked in firms of solicitors in London before moving to charity law and then charity and arts funding.

For many years I have been archivist at the abbey and have worked informally on the history of the community. I have presented papers on monastic life at the English Benedictine History Symposium and also the CRS History Day, as well as giving regular talks on our history and spirituality to visiting groups at Stanbrook.

Over the years I became increasingly aware of the lack of research and scholarship on the history of English Benedictine women in the later eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. This is a gap in historiography that needs to be addressed and I hope I am in a special position to do it. Thanks to the generosity of my community and funders, I have been granted a year outside the monastery and am currently doing a Masters by Research degree with the CCS.

My research title is Rebuilding Female Monastic Life in England: responding to the challenges facing English Benedictine Nuns 1795-1838. My study involves five communities of English nuns who were founded on the Continent in penal times and forced to relocate in England after the French Revolution. Each of the communities arrived in England as powerless and impoverished refugees. As well as physical poverty they had also lost all the structures of their observance. I aim to examine how monasticism, specifically in the Rule of St Benedict, was established and maintained by women religious in the face of social and political upheaval in England in the early nineteenth century. As three of the five communities in the study are now closed I hope this work will be a lasting tribute to their life of prayer.

Dealing, as it will, with the subjects of upheaval, change, reassessment of fundamental monastic priorities and values I hope the study will contribute to a greater understanding of the history of religious women in the Church and also provide lessons from the past for communities experiencing transition and upheaval today. In addition, I am seeing many parallels with issues of exile, refugee-status and hostility in the twenty first century which I hope my study may feed into.

As I have dug deeper into the archives of the communities I am studying I have become aware of just how much material there is and how much wider the subject is than I originally anticipated. I have had to focus my initial thesis plan considerably, but I very much hope that I will have the opportunity to develop the work further in the future.

Studying at Durham has been a wonderful experience. The CCS is a very friendly and supportive place to be based and it is great to be able to participate in the a wide variety of talks, seminars and other activities run by the CCS and the wider Department of Theology.

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