St Mary's Abbey of English Benedictine nuns has its origins in 1623 at Cambrai in the Spanish Netherlands. At that time, persecution made it impossible for women to become nuns in England. By 1645, the Cambrai community under Abbess Catherine Gascoigne had increased to 50 nuns, and was living in conditions of extreme poverty. On 6 February 1652, the community was established in Paris as the Priory of Our Lady of Good Hope under Dame Bridget More as their Prioress. She was a direct descendant of the martyr, St Thomas More, and had been taught at Cambrai under the spiritual supervision of the great mystical theologian, Dom Augustine Baker.
In the French Revolution, the abbey was suppressed and the nuns were imprisoned, first in the monastery and then in the Château de Vincennes. When released in 1795, they settled in England, first in Dorset and then at Cannington in Somerset. In 1836, they finally settled at The Mount, Colwich, where they named the new house "St. Benedict's Priory". In 1928, the Priory was raised to the rank of an Abbey, and the house was renamed St. Mary's Abbey. A daughter house, at Atherstone in Warwickshire, continued as a separate community until 1967. The current abbess is Rt Rev Dame Davina Sharp.