Stanbrook Abbey is an abbey built as a contemplative house for Benedictine nuns. It was founded in 1625 in Cambrai, Flanders, then part of the Spanish Netherlands, under the auspices of the English Benedictine Congregation.
The chief foundress was 17-year-old Helen More, professed as Sister Gertrude More, who was great-great-granddaughter of St Thomas More; her father, Cresacre More, provided the original endowment for the foundation of the monastery. She eventually became Dame Gertrude More. The English Benedictine mystical writer Dom Augustine Baker trained the young nuns in a tradition of contemplative prayer which survives to the present (as of 2007). (Solemnly professed Benedictine nuns are always called "Dame", as Benedictine monks are called "Dom")
In 1793, during the French Revolution, the 22 nuns were ejected from their original house and imprisoned in Compiegne for 18 months, during which time four (4) nuns died from the harsh conditions. The survivors returned destitute to England and, with the encouragement of Dom Augustine Lawson, eventually settled in 1838 at Stanbrook, Callow End, near Malvern, Worcestershire, in the Severn Valley.
Stanbrook is celebrated for its traditions of Gregorian chant, devotional literature and fine printing. The translations of the writings of St Teresa of Avila are still in print a century after their publication. The Stanbrook Abbey Press was at one time the oldest private press in England, and acquired an international reputation for fine printing under Dames Hildelith Cumming and Felicitas Corrigan. However, although digital printing and publishing continues at the Abbey on a small scale, the fine letterpress printing which made the Press famous had ceased by 1990.
The community announced in April 2002 that it would be moving. Abbess Joanna Jamieson made the announcement that the Abbey would move from its Victorian abbey, with its 79,000 sq ft (7,300 m2). of monastic buildings 'to make the best use of its human and financial resources'. The Abbey looked at possible sites all over the country until it bought Crief Farm at Wass in the North Yorkshire National Park (see ).
Construction of the new monastery began on 18 June 2007. Progress of the building work, which will be completed in four distinct phases, is being recorded by the Friends of Stanbrook Abbey.
The community moved into the new Stanbrook Abbey in Wass on 21 May 2009.
As of 2002 the community numbered 28 professed nuns and two postulants. About 120 lay people, known as oblates, are associated with the monastery.
Previous abbesses include:
- Dame Frances Gawen, first abbess
- Dame Catherine Gascoigne, abbess, 1629-1676
- Lady Cecilia A. Heywood
- Laurentia McLachlan
- Felicitas Corrigan
- Hildelith Cumming
- Stanbrook Abbey was the model for Brede Abbey in Rumer Godden's 1969 novel, In This House of Brede. Godden, who had asked the nuns of Stanbrook for prayers when her elder daughter was facing a risky pregnancy, gifted the Abbey with a portion of the copyright on the novel.
- Iris Murdoch's novel The Bell is said to have been partly inspired by Stanbrook Abbey.
- Irish folk singer and Celtic harpist Mary O'Hara spent 12 years as a nun at Stanbrook Abbey.