By Teresa L. Barnes
Master’s Thesis: Portland State University, 2004
Abstract: The purpose of this project is to gain an understanding of the daily lives of nuns in an English nunnery by examining a particular prominent abbey. This study also attempts to update the history of the abbey by incorporating methods and theories used by recent historians of women’s monasticism, as well as recent archaeological evidence found at the abbey site. By including specific examinations of Barking Abbey’s last nuns, as well as the nuns’ artistic and cultural pursuits, this thesis expands the scholarship of the abbey’s history into areas previously unexplored.
This thesis begins with a look at the nuns of Barking Abbey, the social status of their secular families, and how that status may have defined life in the abbey. It also looks at how Barking fit into the larger context of English women’s monasticism based on the social provenance of its nuns. The analysis then turns to the nuns’ daily temporal and spiritual responsibilities, focusing on the nuns’ liturgical lives as well as the work required for the efficient maintenance of the house. Also covered is the relationship the abbey and its nuns had with their local lay community. This is followed by an examination of cultural activity at the abbey with discussion of books and manuscripts, music, singing, procession, and various other art forms. The final chapter examines the abbey’s dissolution in 1539 under Henry VIII’s religious reforms, including the dissolution’s effect on some of the abbey’s last nuns.