About the Catalogue of St. Edmunds

The research and publication of a religious institution's ancient library catalogue might seem to many to be a dry and arcane task, but on reflection it provides a principal means to throw light on the long historical progress of an institution, its reason and function, its interests, and its relationship with currents of thought and concerns in the world outside the institution. All these are reflected in the entries in this library catalogue of English Benedictine monks who lived in the university quarter of Paris at a time when a deeply religious seventeenth-century was giving way to the eighteenth-century age of enlighten-ment, Paris being at its heart.

The existence in the Bibliothèque Mazarine, Paris, of the library catalogue of the English Benedictine community of St Edmund, King and Martyr, founded in Paris in 1615 and settled in the Rue Saint-Jacques from 1632 until the French Revolutionary period, has been known to scholars for some time. It is dated 1702 on its title page, but there were many later additions to the catalogue, up until the 1770s. It is mentioned by Alfred Franklin in his three-volumed work of 1870 on the ancient libraries of Paris and by Georges Daumet in his book of 1912 dealing with the English, Scottish, and Irish religious establishments in Paris before the Revolution. The catalogue was only discovered to be the work of Dom Benet Weldon (1647-1713) in 1980 by Dom Geoffrey Scott when he visited the Bibliothèque Mazarine. The discovery of the catalogue's authorship means that we now know of four major manuscript works which Weldon compiled. Dom Geoffrey Scott was later to collaborate with Dr Frans and Dr Jos Blom, and Professor Frans Korsten, of the University of Nijmegen, on a number of bibliographical publications, and it was he who recommended as a joint project an edition of the 1702 Weldon library catalogue which could be uploaded onto the web. It is now available through the website of Douai Abbey. The editors felt that it would be useful to provide also a limited printed edition.

The editors of the 1702 library catalogue hope that their work will be of use to a project recently initiated by the director of the Bibliothèque Mazarine and his colleagues. Entitled 'Thecae', this is to be a study of library history and library catalogues by means of compiling inventories of catalogues including those of the personal libraries of Cardinal Mazarin and Cardinal Richelieu, and a sixteenth-century library catalogue of the Sorbonne. The editors of the 1702 library catalogue of the English Benedictines of St Edmund in Paris look forward to collaborating in this larger project.

Abbot Geoffrey Scott
Douai Abbey
6 November 2017


The library catalogue of the English Benedictine monks of St Edmund's Priory in Paris was begun in 1702 and in constant use during much of the eighteenth century. It seems to be the oldest complete surviving library catalogue of an English religious community exiled in mainland Europe during the penal period. It is found today in the Bibliothèque Mazarine in central Paris where it has been since the suppression of the religious houses in France during the French Revolution and the dispersal of their libraries. The community of St Edmund's, Paris, survives today as Douai Abbey in Woolhampton, Berkshire, England. After the monks had been imprisoned during the French Revolution and freed in 1794, the community re-established itself in 1818 at Douai in northern France, in buildings vacated at the Revolution by another English Benedictine community, that of St Gregory the Great, which returned to England and established itself eventually in 1814 as Downside Abbey, Somerset. St Edmund's Priory in Douai remained for almost a century in this town which had had strong British connections following the establishment of the university of Douai in 1562. In 1899, St Edmund's Priory became an abbey, taking the name Douai Abbey, and in 1904 re-established itself at Woolhampton where a new monastery library was opened as late as 2010.

The existence of the monks' 1702 library catalogue had been known about by English Benedictine librarians in England but had never been subjected to serious study. Father Placid Spearritt of Ampleforth Abbey, for instance, had made notes about some of the entries when he visited the Bibliothèque Mazarine in the 1960s. The English Benedictine History Commission had been founded in 1970, and in 1981 it was decided to order five microfilms of the catalogue from the Bibliothèque Mazarine. Dr. David Rogers of the Bodleian Library, and a member of the Benedictine Historical Commission, agreed to be responsible for the project. Five such copies were made and were distributed to the Bodleian Library, Professor Tom Birrell of Nijmegen, Douai Abbey, Downside Abbey and Ampleforth Abbey, the contributors to the project. A study of the catalogue led to an important discovery, for Father (now Abbot) Geoffrey Scott, librarian of Douai Abbey, immediately recognised the 1702 library catalogue to be largely the work of the English Benedictine monk, Dom Benet Weldon (1647-1713). Weldon's clear script was already well known through some of his manuscript works which have survived. His enormous 'Memorials', completed mostly by 1707, originally in two large folio volumes, but since 1976 subdivided into six folio volumes, remains the core archive of the early revived English Benedictine Congregation. It is today in the Douai Abbey Library. Two manuscript digests of the 'Memorials' were later completed by Weldon, and are known as the 'Chronological Notes'. A copy, not in Weldon's hand, of the 1709 original Weldon manuscript is today at Downside Abbey Library. The 1713 copy, in Weldon's hand, is at Douai Abbey Library. Father Gilbert Dolan edited the 1709 manuscript and this was published with alterations in 1881 by the English Benedictine nuns of Stanbrook Abbey, Worcester. One final, and recent, discovery (by Father Geoffrey Scott) has been that the author of a lengthy manuscript 'Life of King James II', at present in the British Library (MS Add. 10118) is also Dom Benet Weldon. This 'Life' is listed in Weldon's 1702 library catalogue and seems to have been taken from the monks' library in Paris during the French Revolution. It was later purchased by the then British Museum in the Heber sale of 1830. This collection of interlinked early eighteenth-century manuscripts by the same author which comments on English and French affairs of the period, throws light on an English religious community exiled in Europe and notably in Paris. It provides a detailed narrative key for interpreting the library catalogue, and, finally, allows the reader a unique insight into the curious mind and personality of an early modern English monk.

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