One of two monasteries founded by St. Erconwald, Barking is considered
among the greatest mediæval English nunneries, although the reasons
for its reputation seem obscure now. Danes burnt the convent in 870, and
King Edgar and St. Dunstan restored it in the X Century, when it adopted
the Rule of St. Benedict. Its abbesses included several important people,
among them: St. Ethelburga (whose shrine was a pilgrimage destination),
St. Hildelith (to whom Aldhelm dedicated a treatise on virginity), and
Mary à Becket (sister of Thomas), and Katherine of Sutton (first
recorded English female playwright). Many of the nuns came from the upper
classes, and wealthy women retired there. The monastery had a rich
endowment, and its abbesses were baronesses by virtue of their
administrative rank. A flood c. 1377 impoverished the convent, which was
dissolved in 1539.
Karen Rae Keck
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