Our community was established as a canonry of the Order of Canons Regular of Prémontré in 2004, and moved to St. Philip’s Priory, Chelmsford, in 2008 – the first Norbertine community to have lived in Essex for over 470 years. We serve two busy parishes in the city and are also involved in a wide variety of apostolates, both near and far. These apostolates reflect the active and contemplative natures of our life as Premonstratensians.
Our priory, a former Servite convent, is dedicated to Our Lady of Sorrows and St. Philip Benizi. It was graciously provided for us by the then Bishop of Brentwood, the Rt. Revd. Thomas McMahon. We continue to enjoy a warm relationship with his successor, the Rt. Revd. Alan Williams S.M., and cooperate closely with the clergy and people of the Diocese.
St Philip’s was first dedicated as a religious house in 1927, two years after it had been purchased for that intention by a Mr. Henry Shepperd. The then Servite priory was solemnly blessed and opened on 15 September 1927, the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, by Bishop Doubleday (Bishop of Brentwood 1920-51). The Norbertines moved in to St. Philip’s on Wednesday 8th October, 2008.
The Order in Essex
The Norbertine Order has a long history in Essex. Our priory in Chelmsford is less than 10 miles from Beeleigh Abbey, one of our pre-Reformation houses. In 2016, our Prior was granted the Titular Abbacy of Beeleigh by the then Abbot General of the Order, the Most Revd. Thomas Handgrätinger O.Praem.
Some time prior to 1172, Robert de Parndon established a house for canons in Great Parndon. This canonry was founded from Newhouse in Lincolnshire. In 1180, the house founded by Robert de Parndon was transferred to its location in Beeleigh, near Maldon. The abbey obtained a royal charter from Richard I in 1189. The heart of St. Roger of Beeleigh (Roger Niger) – a thirteenth century Bishop of London – was buried at the abbey, which subsequently became a place of pilgrimage. In 1289, King Edward I and Queen Eleanor travelled to Beeleigh as pilgrims. The abbey's population ranged from 9 to 13 canons. From Beeleigh, parishes were served in Ulting, Maldon, Great Wakering and Steeple St. Lawrence. The abbey was suppressed in 1536, though much of the buildings survive to this day. The abbey is now in the ownership of the Foyle family, of the famous chain of bookshops.
The arms of the Priory reflect the history of the community and Order. The blue chevron is taken from the arms of Storrington, the community from which our canonry came into being – itself taken from the arms of the abbey of Tongerlo. The fleur-de-lys come from the arms of the former abbey of Beeleigh – they are also the device used in the arms of the Order, as is the blue colouring. The Latin motto reads “Si Deus [pro nobis] quis contra [nos],” and may be translated: “If God is for us, who can be against us” (Rm. 8:31).
May Our Blessed Mother, Queen of our Order, pray for us that Our Lord may raise up many more men to labour in this part of His world as sons of St. Norbert and that we may be ever of service to the people of this place.