History, Community and Downside
History creates community, and community creates history. Being part of a community means sharing histories, and these shared histories leave traces that can be encountered long after the event. The experience of such encounters enables us to develop a sense of our past and to connect with our community’s history and identity. Nowhere is this connection between history and community better exemplified than in monastic communities, where historical tradition reaches back centuries and connecting past with present is a daily occupation.

Viewed from the outside, monastic life may seem removed from society. A different perspective is revealed, however, by the materials preserved at Downside Abbey, not only in its library, archives and special collections, but also dotted around the abbey complex. Together these materials expose a rich, outward-looking historical and cultural heritage that connects Downside with the history of its neighbourhood, the Southwest region, Britain and the wider world.

Downside was founded over four hundred years ago in 1607 in Douai, Flanders as the monastic community of St Gregory the Great. Its monks relocated to England during the French Revolution, eventually settling in the present location of Stratton-on-the-Fosse, Somerset in 1814. Downside was granted the status of abbey in 1899 and today is the head of the English Benedictine Congregation.

This exhibition launches at a timely moment, as a new chapter in Downside’s history is about to be written. On 28 August 2020, the monastic community announced its unanimous decision to leave Stratton-on-the-Fosse and seek a new home elsewhere, which will see the monks embark on the third move in their long and eventful history.