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Even in 1892 the gatehouse was still perfect and was studded with oak leaves and quatre-foils picked out in colour’, but other than that there was very little of the original building left and it was impossible for archaeologists at the end of the C19 to reconstruct the general arrangement of the place.
Late in the C13 manuscript copies of an instruction manual designed originally for anchoress recluses, The Ancrene Wisse (or Ancrene Riwle), was taken and left at the Augustinian priory of Canonsleigh, presumably intended to instruct the nuns in their devotions.
Not an easy feat, because it means re-imagining a shadowy age where women would have idolised and emulated the deeds of such a saintly female predecessor.
Saint Etheldreda, perhaps the most famous of the several women saints known especially for their virtuous reputation, was recognised and acclaimed by Bede.
It was Matilda’s second attempt at forming a priory for she had already tried to do so at Sandleford Priory in Berkshire.
For some reason this plan had fallen through and ten years later she turned her attention to Devon where she had to fight for her new convent because there were disputes from the Prior which attempted to stop her involvement: Canonsleigh Priory was founded between 1161-117, by Walter de Claville, originally for Canons, but was transferred about 1284 to Canonesses, the first Abbess being appointed by Bp. of that year; but only after considerable opposition from the Prior, who appealed to Archbishop Peckham, and the Archbishop to the King, but without effect. Canonsleigh’s refounding as priory was only some four years after Amicia’s endowment of Buckland; the two noblewomen were kinswomen.
There it seems to have languished there for several centuries, before being moved on around the country; at one time it was in the hands of Robert Talbot, Prebendary of Norfolk, who died in 1558.
The origins of the Ancrene remain rather vague and much is unknown, even with all the research tools of the C21, but the original treatise seems to have been written during the early decades of the C13 by a Domenican or Augustinian monk for three aristocratic sisters who lived somewhere in the welsh borders or west midlands.A bit of burrowing around into abandoned corners of medieval her/story is called for at this point, then I’ll return to focus on the Ancrene Wisse.A prime example of now forgotten both his and her-story, Canonsleigh, or Legh Canonicorum, or Mynchynleye, near Burlescombe was in its time ‘stately’, a ‘great abbey’.Canonsleigh lies in a low lying spot near the main railway line, the Motorway and the Tiverton canal.Its scatterings of ivy covered stones belie the priory’s high status during medieval times.Why would such a woman motivate and stir up a cultish following for decades, indeed for centuries after her death?