Serenus de Cressy
He was born Hugh Paulinus de Cressy at Wakefield, Yorkshire, about 1605, the son of Hugh de Cressy and Margery d'Oylie of London. He attended Oxford at the age of fourteen, and in 1626 became a fellow of Merton College, earning his Masters degree in theology the following year.
Having taken Anglican orders, after leaving Oxford he served as chaplain to Lord Thomas Wentworth, 1st Earl of Strafford, whom Cressy accompanied to Ireland in 1638, during which time Wentworth became noted for his brutal rule of the island. During his stay in Ireland, Cressy was appointed as Dean of Leighlin, but returned to England in 1639. Cressy next served as chaplain to Lord Lucius Cary, 3rd Viscount Falkland. He received the post of canon in the collegiate chapter of Windsor, Berkshire, in 1642, but was not able to occupy the position due to the troubled times England was experiencing then.
After his patron, Lord Falkland, was killed in battle in 1643, Cressy went into the service of Lord Charles Berkeley, who later was to became the 1st Earl of Falmouth. For some time he traveled abroad as tutor to Lord Falmouth, through the countries of Roman Catholic Europe, where he was exposed to the life and thought of that faith. Upon arriving in Rome in 1646, Cressy made the decision to enter the Roman Catholic Church. At this point he traveled to Paris to take instruction from the Reverend Henry Holden, an English theologian at the Sorbonne. He then published his most noted work, the Exornologesis.
When he had become a Roman Catholic, Cressy considered entering the Carthusians, but eventually opted to join the Benedictine Order, which he did in 1648. He was so poor, however, that Queen Henrietta Maria had to give him money for the journey. He then entered the novitiate of the English Congregation of Benedictines, which was based in Douai, France and was given the name of Serenus, by which he is now known. He professed monastic vows on 22 August 1649. Presumably he was ordained a Catholic priest shortly after this, but any record of this has been lost.
In 1651 he was sent to serve as chaplain to the monastery of English Benedictine nuns, then still in Paris. Returning to his own monastery in Douai, he undertook an extensive study of the history of monasticism in England. He also translated several works by various English mystical writers across a span of centuries.
Cressy was assigned to return to England in 1660 to serve as one of the chaplains to Queen Catherine of Braganza, wife of King Charles II of England and a Roman Catholic. For four years he resided at Somerset House, which served as her official residence. He then went to provide spiritual care to the Catholic Caryll family and died at East Grinstead on 10 August 1674.
He published his Exornologesis (Paris, 1647), or account of his conversion; it was valued by Roman Catholics as an answer to William Chillingworth's attacks.
Cressy's major work, The Church History of Brittanny or England, from the beginning of Christianity to the Norman Conquest (1st vol. only published, Rouen, 1668), gives an exhaustive account of the foundation of monasteries during the Saxon heptarchy, and asserts that they followed the Benedictine Rule, differing in this respect from many historians. The work was criticized by Lord Clarendon, but defended by Anthony à Wood in his Athenae Oxoniensis, who supports Cressy's statement that it was compiled from original manuscripts and from the Annales Ecclesiae of Michael Alford, William Dugdale's Monasticon, and the Decem Scriptores Historiae Anglicanae.
The second part of the history, which has never been printed, was discovered at Douai in 1856. Cressy also edited Walter Hilton's Scale of Perfection (London, 1659); Dom Augustine Baker's Sancta Sophia (2 vols, Douai, 1657); and Juliana of Norwich's Sixteen Revelations on the Love of God (1670). These books might have been lost but for Cressy's zeal.
For a complete list of Cressy's works see Joseph Gillow's Bibliographical Dictionary of the English Catholics, vol. i.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.