Stanbrook Abbey is an abbey originally built as a contemplative house for Benedictine nuns. The community was founded in 1625 in Cambrai, Flanders, then part of the Spanish Netherlands, under the auspices of the English Benedictine Congregation. After being deprived of their abbey during the French Revolution, the surviving nuns fled to England and in 1838 settled in Stanbrook, Worcestershire, where a new abbey was built. The English Benedictine congregation relocated to Wass in the North York Moors National Park in 2009. The Worcestershire property is currently operated as an events venue.
The abbey began in Cambrai as the monastery of Our Lady of Comfort. 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 (solemnly professed Benedictine nuns are always called "Dame", as Benedictine monks are called "Dom"; they are not Dames Commander of the Order of the British Empire). 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).
In 1793, during the French Revolution, the 22 nuns were ejected from their original house and imprisoned in Compiègne for 18 months, during which time four 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 Hall, Callow End ( ), near Malvern, Worcestershire, in the Severn Valley.
The initial abbey buildings in Worcestershire of 1838 were designed by Charles Day, an architect from Worcester, who also designed St Francis Xavier Church, Hereford. The abbey church and cloisters of 1869-71 were completed to the designs of Edward Welby Pugin in Gothic Revival style and the Holy Thorn Chapel of 1885-86 was by Peter Paul Pugin.
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 Abbey started its printing operation in 1876 with the help of Father Laurence Shepherd, who not only wanted to restock the Abbey's library, but to supply the needs of the English Benedictine Congregation. Dame Agnes St Leger Clarke was the Abbey's first printer and presided over the Press from 1876 to 1892. 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. Cumming, printer for the Abbey from 1956 to 1991, is considered responsible for earning the Stanbrook Abbey Press a reputation as a great private press. Many celebrated printers, bookbinders, and artists have been associated with the Stanbrook Abbey Press over the years, including Sydney Cockerell, Jan van Krimpen and John Dreyfus. 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.
As of 2002 the community numbered 28 professed nuns and two postulants. About 120 lay people, known as oblates, are associated with the monastery.
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 York Moors National Park. Construction of the new monastery began on 18 June 2007. The building work will be completed in four distinct phases. The community moved into this new Stanbrook Abbey in Wass on 21 May 2009.
Previous abbesses include (in alphabetical order):