The Journal of Ecclesiastical History


A Democratic Movement in the Abbey of Bury St. Edmunds in the late twelfth and early thirteenth Centuries

Antonia Gransdena1

a1 Reader in Medieval History, University of Nottingham

According to the Rule of St. Benedict the powers of an abbot, who stands in the place of Christ, are virtually absolute. It is true that the Rule has general injunctions for an abbot's good behaviour. He must always be mindful of the words of the apostle, ‘ye have received the spirit of the adoption of children, in which we cry Abba, Father’. He should study to be loved not feared, and the Rule states that he ‘should not harass the flock committed to him, nor exercise his power in an arbitrary, unjust way, but should always remember that for all his decisions and acts he must render account to God’. Nevertheless, there are no sanctions to enforce this code of conduct. In the abbot's hands lies the ultimate control of the administration. The Rule specifies that the abbot is to appoint the prior, and that the cellarer is bound by his commands.