A Brief History - Douai Abbey

Go to content
Who we are > History

Paris 1615 Douai 1818 Woolhampton 1903


St Edmund, King and Martyr, had been venerated at the medieval abbey of Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk. When our community was founded in 1615 in Paris it was placed under St Edmund’s patronage. The three crowns in the Douai arms are those of St Edmund, representing the three principal elements of his saintly character: King, Virgin and Martyr.

In Paris the community provided a centre for English monks at the Sorbonne and also for English Catholic exiles. Most of the community ministered to Catholics in England. This period is represented by one of the Fleur-de-lys on the Douai arms.


After the French Revolution a new start was made but now at Douai in the north of France. A seminary for English boys was founded, most of whom were destined for the priesthood, thus perpetuating the great tradition at Douai begun by Cardinal Allen in 1568. The growth in numbers of the community enabled it to take a greater part in caring for the pastoral needs of the rapidly expanding Catholic population of England and Wales.

This period is represented by the second Fleur-de-lys on the Douai arms. In 1899 the monastery was raised from the status of priory to abbey, and the first abbot was elected. The abbatial status is represented by the abbot’s mitre on the Douai arms.


Expelled from France in 1903 by the French Laws of Association, the community settled at Upper Woolhampton, in Berkshire, retaining the name of Douai in recognition of the debt of British Catholics to that town. The wavy line separating the upper and lower parts of the Douai arms represents the crossing of the English Channel when the community moved from France to England.

Douai School was closed in 1999. The past pupils of the School maintain an association, The Douai Society. The community now administers eight parishes, and runs a pastoral programme of retreats, spirituality courses and conferences.

Do you want to know more?

You can read a full and detailed history of Douai Abbey in the Centenary History, an electronic version of which is freely avaliable on our website.
Dominus Mihi Adjutor “The Lord is my help” Psalm 117 (118)
Back to content