About the Catalogue of St. Edmunds
Dom Benet Weldon (1674-1713)

Ralph Weldon was born on 12 April 1674 at Swanscombe, Kent. He was the 17th and last child of George Weldon and his wife Lucy Nacton. The Weldons were a distinguished Anglican gentry family and a number of Ralph's uncles had been parliamentarian officers in the Civil War. In childhood and as an adult, Ralph was sickly and afflicted with severe scrupulosity. In October 1687, he was received into the Catholic Church by Dom Joseph Johnston, an English Benedictine monk of St Edmund's priory. Johnston was at that time a member of the English Benedictine community established at St James's Palace by King James II in 1685 at the beginning of his reign. Ralph arrived in Paris in June 1688 to try his vocation at St Edmund's, Paris, but was thought too young and was therefore sent in 1689 to the Maurist abbey at Pontlevoy in the Loire valley to study humanities in the college attached to the abbey. Having returned to St Edmund's in 1690, he was clothed as a novice, taking the name Benet (Benedict a Sancto Raphaelo) and was professed as a monk on 13 January 1692. Brother Benet was never ordained as a priest presumably because of issues with his physical and mental health. Throughout his monastic life he was prone to instability. In 1694 he left St Edmund's to seek out a stricter life at the reformed Cistercian abbey of La Trappe in Normandy, where the abbot was the austere Armand de Rancé. He lasted less than a year, soon returning to St Edmund's. In May 1695 he was sent to St Edmund's dependent priory of Saints Peter and Paul at La Celle-sur-Morin, to the east of Paris, near Meaux, but was recalled to Paris in May 1696. After a brief stay at the Maurist abbey of Jumièges in Normandy in 1698, he left for England to sort out the affairs of his brother George, an official of the East India Company, who had died on his way back to England in July 1697. After a brief visit to Paris in 1700, he returned to England to continue work on his brother's estate. By January 1701, he was back in Paris where his relations with his monastic brethren were poor and he complained of being persecuted by them. He sought some relief in compiling in 1702 the library catalogue of St Edmund's. This suggests he had become by this time the monastery's librarian. After further attempts to find sanctuary in French Benedictine abbeys, he gained permission to return to La Celle-sur-Morin at the end of 1703. At La Celle, he followed advice given him in a dream in 1704 that he should return to Paris and begin research for a manuscript history of James II, who had been laid to rest in St Edmund's chapel in September 1701, and also to collect documentary evidence in order to compile manuscript annals of the English Benedictine Congregation which had been revived in 1619. His library catalogue of 1702 is now in the Bibliothèque Mazarine, Paris, his life of James II, written May-August 1706, is in the British Library, and his annals (the 'Collections' or 'Memorials'), composed June-November 1707, with later additions, is at Douai Abbey, Reading, the lineal successor of St Edmund's priory in Paris. In 1709 and 1711 he wrote out a manuscript summary of his 'Memorials' which he entitled 'Chronological Notes', copies of which are now at Downside Abbey, Bath, and Douai Abbey. It is reported that he would spend daily between fifteen and sixteen hours on his research. Pressure on Weldon from his religious superiors to produce this extensive manuscript collection prevented him from again wandering off which he was always prone to do. His last trip was a brief visit in May 1713 to the Camaldolese Benedictine community at Grosbois, near Versailles. On 23 November 1713 he died after being suffocated by a fire in his cell.

© Trustees of Douai Abbey, Registered Charity No. 236962.