TitleBec Herluin, France.
Date1129-1939
Extentc. 1300 items
AdminBiogHistoryThe Benedictine abbey of Bec Herluin [or Bec-Hellouin] in Normandy was the most famous of the French monasteries which acquired property and influence in England during the early Middle Ages. At the peak of its English wealth, the abbey possessed four conventual priories, three or four granges, more than twenty manors, and many churches, tithes and pensions. Most of its English estates were acquired from a small number of Norman families in the late 11th and early 12th centuries. These included the Clares, the Giffards, and Miles Crispin and his wife, Maud of Wallingford. In particular, there were many gifts of tithes, notably Miles Crispin's of two-thirds of his demesne tithe in the honour of Wallingford.

The abbey was founded in the early 11th century by Herluin, a Norman knight who left the court of Count Gilbert of Brionne to devote himself to the religious life. The exact foundation date is uncertain, but an abbey building was in existence on the banks of the Bec c. 1040. A new abbey church was completed in 1077.

Bec Abbey became rapidly established as a spiritual and intellectual centre of great importance, a seminary of bishops and abbots, and the mother house to many French and English priories. Two future archbishops of Canterbury, Lanfranc and Anselm, both held the office of prior at Bec, and upon the death of Abbot Herluin in 1078, Anselm succeeded him as the second abbot. The fifth abbot, Theobald of Bec, was also destined for Canterbury, and the future Pope Alexander II ( 1061-73 ) and many bishops were nurtured at the school of Bec. In the time of Lanfranc and Anselm, Bec held a unique position in the monastic world and greatly influenced the advance of theological learning.

By the late 14th century, mainly owing to the Hundred Years War, the abbots of Bec had largely lost contact with their English estates. The English priories were often in royal hands and were cut off from Bec both financially and spiritually.

In 1414, the formal act suppressing the non-conventual alien priories was passed. This did not have an immediate effect upon the Bec dependencies, but in 1421, John, Duke of Bedford, gave all the spiritualities of Bec Helluin to the Dean and Canons of Windsor. His gift included the rich prebends of Ogbourne and Cleeve, four other rectories and many tithes and pensions.

By the 16th century, Bec Helluin's heyday was long past and the abbey suffered damage during the French Wars of Religion (1562-98). Its demise came during the French Revolution in 1792, when the monks were expelled and the abbey subsequently closed.

After the closure, the buildings were put to military and other uses over the next century and a half.
In 1948, they were re-occupied by a community of Olivetan Benedictine monks, who renovated the buildings and converted the 18th century refectory into the present abbey church.

M Morgan, The English Lands of the Abbey of Bec, Oxford, 1946

The Catholic Encyclopedia, vol II, 1907
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