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Canons and Canonesses Regular

Religious clerics

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—According to St. Thomas Aquinas, a canon regular is essentially a religious cleric, or, as the same doctor aptly expresses it: “The Order of Canons Regular Is necessarily constituted by religious clerics, because they are essentially destined to those works which relate to the Divine mysteries, whereas it is not so with the monastic Orders” (II-II, Q. clxxxix, a. 8, ad 2um, and 2, 2, Q. 189, A. 8, ad. 2, and 2, 2, Q. 184, A. 8, Q. clxxxiv, a. 8). We have then here what constitutes a canon regular and what distinguishes him from a monk. The clerical state is essential to the Order of Canons Regular, whereas it is only accidental to the Monastic Order. Hence Erasmus, himself a canon regular, declared that the canons regular are a quid medium between the monks and the secular clergy. And for the same reason Nigellus Vireker, a Benedictine monk of Canterbury in the twelfth century, contrasts the life of canons regular, as he knew them, with that of his own brethren and the Cistercians, pointing out the advantages of the former. The canons, he tells us, were spared the long choral duties, the sharp reproofs, the stern discipline of the Black Monks, and were not bound to the .Spartan simplicity of vesture and diet of the field-working Cistercians (“Speculum Stultorum”, Rolls Series; “The Anglo-Latin Satirical Poets of the Twelfth Century”). The “Llanthony Chronicler” relates how the first founders of his famous abbey, having consulted among themselves, decided to become canons regular, first, because on account of their charity they were well liked by all, and then because they were satisfied with a modest manner of living, their habit, though clean, being decent, neither too coarse, nor too rich. In this moderation of life we may say that canons regular follow the example of their lawgiver, St. Augustine, of whom St. Possidius, his biographer, relates that his habit, his furniture, his clothes were always decent, neither too showy nor too humble and shabby.

The spirit of the canonical order is thus quaintly but clearly explained in the “Observances in Use at the Augustinian Priory at Barnwell, Cambridge”, lately edited with a translation, by F. W. Clarke: “The road along which Canons Regular walk in order to reach the heavenly Jerusalem is the rule of Blessed Augustine. Further lest Canons Regular should wander away from the rule, there are given to them, in addition, observances in accordance with it handed down from remote ages and approved among holy fathers in all quarters of the world. This rule is simple and easy, so that unlearned men and children can walk in it without stumbling. On the other hand it is deep and lofty, so that the wise and strong can find in it matter for abundant and perfect contemplation. An elephant can swim in it and a lamb can walk in it safely. As a lofty tower surrounded on all sides by walls makes the soldiers who garrison it safe, fearless, and impregnable, so the rule of Blessed Augustine, fortified on all sides by observances in accordance with it, makes its soldiers, that is, Canons Regular, undismayed at the attacks, safe and invincible.”—To explain further the nature and distinctive spirit of the canonical order, we may say, with St. Augustine, that a canon regular professes two things, “sanctitatem et clericatum”. He lives in community, he leads the life of a religious, he sings the praises of God by the daily recitation of the Divine Office in choir; but at the same time, at the bidding of his superiors, he is prepared to follow the example of the Apostles by preaching, teaching, and the administration of the sacraments, or by giving hospitality to pilgrims and travellers, and tending the sick. And so we find that Pope Paschal II, in his Bull addressed in 1118 to the prior and community at Colchester, tells them that their order has always been devoted to preaching, hearing confessions, and baptizing, and ready to accept the care of such parishes and public chapels as might be entrusted to their charge. This has been pointed out by other popes, as also by St. Ives of Chartres, and by Cancellieri, who, quoting the authority of an ancient writer to the effect that the clerics living in common in the Lateran Basilica observed the regulations introduced there by Pope Gelasius says that “their work was the administration of the sacraments and the offering of prayer”. It is the same now. From one monastery alone, that of St. Florian, in Austria, some forty parishes are served, and those same canons who gave hospitality on the Great St. Bernard serve a number of parishes in the Canton Valais. The public prayer, or liturgical office, is celebrated with all the splendor befitting God‘s honor and His house. But the canons regular do not confine themselves exclusively to canonical functions. Nothing, unless incompatible with the duty of clerics, is rejected. To this day, as already mentioned, they give hospitality to pilgrims and travellers on the Great St. Bernard and on the Simplon, and in former times the hospitals of St. Bartholomew‘s Smithfield, in London, of S. Spirito, in Rome, of Lochieven, Monymusk, and St. Andrew’s, in Scotland, and others like them, were all served by canons regular. In fact, many congregations of canons made it their chief end to work among the poor, the lepers, the insane, and the infirm. The clerics established by St. Patrick in Ireland had a Guest House for pilgrims and the sick, whom they tended by day and by night. And the rule given by Chrodegang to his canons enjoined that a hospital should be near their house that they might tend the sick. The Council of Aix-la-Chapelle (Aachen) also ordains the erection of a hospital for pilgrims over which a canon regular is to preside.

The essential and characteristic habit of canons regular is the rochet. With regard to the other parts, their dress, as a general rule, is that of other clergy, although some have added a scapular. By most the rochet is worn as part of their daily dress, though sometimes reduced to a small linen band hanging from the shoulders in front and behind. It is now so worn in Austria, on the Great St. Bernard, and at Aosta. As to the color of the dress there is no fixed rule, the custom and traditions of the various Congregations may be observed. The general color seems to have been white as now worn by the Lateran Congregation. A question having been raised as to the proper habit of a canon regular, when named bishop, it was settled by a Brief of Leo X. A long dissertation on the dress of the canons regular was presented to the pope by a jurisconsult, Zaccaria Ferreri, who maintained that, with the exception of the rochet, the canons regular, like the secular clergy, had no fixed dress. It may be interesting to note that, in this dissertation on the authority of the “Most Reverend Lord Cardinal of England, and many other Prelates, and the English Ambassador”, the author says, “in England the Canons Regular wore violet like the other clergy”. In the Constitutions given by Cardinal Wolsey to canons regular mention is also made of this variety of habit.


—Having thus explained what a canon regular is, and what the spirit and work of the canonical order are, it will be easier now to answer such questions as these: Who was the founder of the canons regular?—Whence do they derive their origin?—When and where were they first known? Various and contradictory opinions have been expressed to answer these and similar questions. There have been some writers who, like the famous Cistercian abbot, Joachim, Coriolanus, Marquez, and others held that the canonical order began about 1100. According to others the order dates from the time of Charlemagne, who expressed the wish that “all the clergy should be either monks or canons living in common”, as prescribed by the Council of Aix-la-Chapelle, in 789, and Mainz, in 813. The great Bishop of Hippo is also regarded by some as the founder of the canonical institute. All these opinions are set aside by many other writers, and especially by the historians of the order, who almost unanimously trace back the origin of the canons regular much farther in antiquity. Their institute, they maintain, was founded by Christ Himself, and dates from the time of the Apostles. These writers and historians begin by saying that, although it be true that there was a great revival, or general reformation and spreading of the order in the twelfth century, in France and elsewhere through the zeal of Ives, Bishop of Chartres, in Italy through the newly-founded congregation of Blessed Peter de Honest’s, and elsewhere through the congregation of St. Rufus, yet this does not imply that the order took its origin at that epoch, but rather—since it needed reforming—that it had already existed for some time. History, in fact, tells us that about the eleventh century the regular or canonical life hitherto observed almost everywhere by the clergy was given up in many churches, and thus a distinction was made between the clerics who lived in separate houses and those who still preserved the old discipline, living under rule and having all things in common. The former were called canonici saeculares, the latter canonici regulares, by which name they have been known ever since. It is also true that in the year 763 Chrodegang, Bishop of Metz, assembled the clergy of his cathedral around him, led with them a community life, and gave them a rule taken from the statutes of ancient orders and canons, a discipline also recommended shortly after by the Councils of Aix-la-Chapelle and Mainz; but in doing this he was only following the example of St. Augustine, who had introduced among his own clergy the manner of life which he had seen practiced at Milan. And that is why the members of the canonical order regard St. Augustine not as their founder, but only as their reformer, or lawgiver; because to the clergy who lived with him he had given certain special regulations, which were in course of time adopted by almost all the canons regular, who were on that account called “Canons Regular of St. Augustine”.

Those who believe in the Apostolic origin of the canonical institute, support their contention by the authority of popes, theologians, and church historians. There is abundant evidence, they say, that Christ Himself instituted a perfect religious state, and that it was embraced by the Apostles and many of their disciples from the very beginning of the Church. It is also certain that from the time of the Apostles there have always been in the Church clerics who, following the example of the primitive Christians, living “secundum regulam sub sanctis Apostolis constitutam” (according to the Apostolic Rule), had all things in common. Eusebius, the historian, relates that St. Mark, the disciple of St. Peter, established this discipline at Alexandria, as did St. Crescentius in Gaul, St. Saturninus in Spain, and St. Maternus in Germany. We know that St. Eusebius introduced it at Vercelli in Italy, and St. Ambrose at Milan. Pope Urban I (A.D. 227), Paschal II (1099), Benedict XII (1334), Eugenius IV (1431), Sixtus V, and Pius V. in their various Letters and Bulls, are quoted by the historians of the order, to prove distinctly that St. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, only restored, or caused to reflourish, the order of canons regular, which was first instituted by the Apostles. St. Antoninus, Vincent of Beauvais, Sigebert, Peter of Cluny, Fagnam, and many others tell us that the canonical order traces back its origin to the earliest ages of the Church. It will suffice to give here the authority of Suarez, who sums up the case very clearly. After having stated that the Apostles taught by Christ Himself formed the first order of clerics, and that the order did not perish with the Apostles, but was preserved by continuous succession in their disciples, as proved by letters of Pope St. Clement and Urban I (though these letters are Pseudo-Isidorian in character), the writer continues: “We read in the Life of St. Augustine that when he was made priest, he instituted a monastery within the church and began to live with the servants of God according to the manner and rules constituted by the holy Apostles. Many therefore suppose that the Order of Regular Clerics, or Canons Regular, was not instituted by St. Augustine, but was either reformed by him or introduced by him into Africa and furnished with a special rule, Pius IV maintains that the Order of Regular Clerics was instituted by the Apostles, and this Benedict XII confirms in his preface to the Constitutions of the Canons Regular. There is no question as regards the continuance of this state from the time of St. Augustine to this time, although with great variety as far as various institutes are concerned. To this we may add that when a controversy arose between the Benedictine monks and the canons regular with regard to precedence, the question was settled by Pius V in favor of the canons, on account of their Apostolic origin. We may then conclude with the words of Cardinal Pie, who, addressing the canons regular of the Lateran Congregation, whom he had established at Beauchene in his diocese, says: “These that are clothed in white robes, who are they, and whence come they? These Canons Regular, who are they, and whence do they come? Who they are and whence they come, I will tell you. Their origin is nothing else but the society and the common life of Jesus and His Apostles, the original model of community life between the bishop and his clergy. On that account they chiefly come from Hippo and from the home of Augustine, who has given them a Rule, which they still glory to observe.”

The name Austin (or Augustinian) Canons is commonly used instead of Canons Regular, and there are some who think that Austin Canons are so styled because they were instituted by St. Augustine. This is a wrong notion. St. Augustine did not found the order of canons regular, not even those who are called Austin Canons. There were canons regular before St. Augustine. The various authorities quoted in this article prove it. All St. Austin did was to induce his clergy to live secundum regulam sub sanctis Apostolis constitutam, which he had seen practiced at Milan, adding to the Apostolic Rule hitherto observed by clerics living in common, some regulations, afterwards called the “Rule of St. Augustine”. Or, in the words of Pope Paschal II, in a Bull quoted by Pennott, “Vitae regularis propositum in primitive, ecclesia cognoscitur ab Apostolis institutum quam B. Augustinus tam gratanter amplexus est ut eam regulis informaret” (A regular mode of life is recognized in the Early Church as instituted by the Apostles, and adopted earnestly by Blessed Augustine, who provided it with new regulations)—”Hist. Tripart.”, Lib. II, c. iv, 4. These regulations which St. Austin had given to the clerics who lived with him soon spread and were adopted by other religious communities of canons regular in Italy, in France, and elsewhere. When, in and after the eleventh century, the various congregations of canons regular were formed, and adopted the Rule of St. Augustine, they were usually called Canonici Regulares Ordinis S. Augustini Congregationis…, in England Austin Canons, or Black Canons. But there have always been canons regular who never adopted the Rule of St. Augustine. Giraldus Cambrensis mentions some in his day in England. In a word, canons regular may be considered as the genus, and Austin Canons as the species; or we may say that all Austin Canons are canons regular, but not all canons regular are Austin canons.

If further proofs of the Apostolic origin of the canonical order are desired, many may be found in the work of Abbot Cesare Benvenuti (see bibliography at end of this article), who century by century, from councils, Fathers, and other ecclesiastical sources, proves that from the first to the twelfth century there had always been clerics living in common according to the example of the Apostles. It will be enough to cite here the authority of Dellinger who, after saying that from the time of the Apostles there have been in the Church, virgins, laymen, and ecclesiastics named ascetics, continues: “At Vercelli the holy Bp. Eusebius introduced the severe discipline of the Oriental monks among his clergy both by word and example. Before the gate of Milan was a cloister for monks under the protection of St. Ambrose…St. Augustine, when a priest, founded a cloister at Hippo, in which with other clerics he lived in humility and community of goods. When Bishop his episcopal residence was converted into a cloister for ecclesiastics” (“Eccl. History”, tr. by the Rev. E. Cox, II, 270). To this again may be added, among many others, the words of Benedict XII, Eugenius IV, Pius IV, and Pius V, in their Bulls, all asserting almost in as many words, what has been here said. The following words, taken from the Martyrologium for canons regular and approved by the Congregation of Sacred Rites, will suffice for the purpose: “Ordo Canonicorum Regularium, qui in primsevis Ecclesise saeculis Clerici nominabantur utque alt S. Pius V. in Bulls (Cum ex Ordinum 14 Kai. January, 1570): ‘ab Apostolis originem traxerunt, quique ab Augustin eorum Reformatore iterum per reformations viam mundo geniti fuere’, per universum orbem diffusus innumerabilium SS. agmine fulget” (The order of canons regular, who in the early ages of the Church were called clerics, and who, as St. Pius V says in the Bull “Cum ex Ordinum”, 1570, derived their origin from the Apostles, and who later were born anew to the world, through a process of reformation, by their reformer, Augustine, being spread throughout the universe, are renowned for an army of innumerable saints).


—This rule, which, in the words of Giraldus Cambrensis, “happily joins the canonical and clerical life together”, was soon adopted by many prelates, not only in Africa, but elsewhere also. After the death of the holy Doctor, it was carried into Italy and France by his disciples. One of them, Pope Gelasius, about the year 492, reestablished the regular life in the Lateran Basilica. From St. John Lateran (the Mother and Mistress of all Churches) the reform spread till at length the Rule was universally adopted by almost all the canons regular. It was in the same Lateran Basilica, tradition tells us, that St. Patrick, the future Apostle of Ireland, professed the canonical institute which he afterwards introduced, with the Christian Faith, into his own country. At the voice of the great apostle the Irish nation not only embraced Christianity, but many also, following his example, embraced the canonical life. On the authority of Sir James Ware, Canon Burke (Life and Labors of St. Augustine) asserts that all the monasteries founded in Ireland by St. Patrick were for canons regular”. This opinion is also maintained by Allemande, who affirms (Hist. monastique de l’Irlande) that “the Regular Canons of St. Augustine were so early or considerable in Ireland before the general suppression of monasteries, that the number of houses they are said to have had seems incredible. They alone possessed, or had been masters of, as many houses as all the other orders together, and almost all the chapters of the cathedral and collegiate churches in Ireland consisted of canons regular”. To these authorities we might add that of the Rev. R. Butler, who, in his notes to the “Registrum Omnium Sanetorum”, expressly affirms that the “old foundations in Ireland were exclusively for Canons”. We might also quote the words of Bishop Thomas de Burgo, who, in his “Hibernia Dominicana”, does not hesitate to say that St. Patrick was a canon regular, and that, having preached the Christian Faith in Ireland, he established there many monasteries of the canonical institute. After this no one will think that the same writer exaggerates when he appends to his work a catalogue of 231 monasteries which at some time or other belonged to canons and canonesses regular. The Irish clerics became the most learned scholars in Europe. Ireland‘s seats of learning, monasteries, nunneries, and charitable institutions were unsurpassed either in number or excellence by those of any nation in the world. The Abbots or Priors of Christ Church and All Hallows in Dublin, of Connell, Kells, Athessel, Killagh, Newton, and Raphoe had seats in Parliament.

There seems very little doubt that the canonical institute was introduced into Scotland by St. Columba. This saint, called “monasteriorum pater et fundator”, in reference to the numerous churches and monasteries built either by him or by his disciples in Ireland and Scotland, was formed to the religious life in the monastery of St. Finnian. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, anno 565, relates that Columba, Masspreost (Mass-priest), “came to the Picts to convert them to Christ”, or, as another manuscript says: “This year, 565, Columba the Messa-preost, came from the parts of the Scots (Ireland) to the Britons to teach the Picts, and built a monastery in the island of Hy”. To what order this monastery, founded by Columba, belonged, we may judge from other monasteries built by the saint in Ireland and Scotland. As we have already stated, St. Columba was the disciple of St. Finnian, who was a follower of St. Patrick; both then had learned and embraced the regular life which the great Apostle had established in Ireland. Moreover, such writers as Ware, de Burgo, Archdall, Cardinal Moran, Bower, expressly tell us that Columba built monasteries for canons regular in Ireland and Scotland. So, for instance, Ware, in his “Antiquitates Hibernm”, writing of Derry, says: “St. Columba built [this monastery] for Canons Regular in the year 545. This monastery was a filiation of the monastery of SS. Peter and Paul at Armagh”—which, according to the same writer, had been founded by “St. Patrick for Canons Regular”. Again, tradition places the first landing of the saint on leaving Ireland at Oronsay, and Fordun (Bower) notices the island as “Hornsey, ubi est monasterium n orum Canonicorum, quod fundavit S. Columba” (where is the monastery of Black Canons which St. Columba founded). Speaking of the very monastery built by the saint at Hy, another historian, Gervase of Canterbury, in his “Mappa mundi”, informs us that the monastery belonged to the Black Canons.

It may be here the place to mention the opinion of some writers who think that the monasteries established by St. Columba in Scotland were for Culdees. It will be remembered that numerous opinions have been expressed concerning the origin and the institute of the Culdees, some calling them monks, some secular canons and hospitallers, and others going so far as to say that they were Independents, or Dissenters, nay even the forefathers of the modern Freemasons. The present writer, on the other hand, is of opinion that the Culdees originally, and some even to the very end, were nothing else but clerics living in common just as those St. Patrick had established in Ireland and St. Columba had introduced into Scotland.

At the time of the Reformation there were in Scotland at least thirty-four houses of canons regular and one of canonesses. These included six Premonstratensian houses, one Gilbertine, and one of the Order of St. Anthony. The others seem to have been chiefly of the Aroasian Congregation, first introduced into Scotland from Nostall Priory, in England. The chief houses were: St. Andrews, the Metropolitan of Scotland, founded by Angus, King of the Picts.—The church was at first served by Culdees, but in 1144 Bishop Robert, who had been a canon regular at Scone, established here members of his own community. The prior was mitred and could pontificate. In Parliament he had precedence of all abbots and priors.—Scone, founded by King Alexander I: Here the Scottish kings were crowned. The stone on which the coronation took place was said to be that on which Jacob rested his head; it is now at Westminster, having been removed by Edward I. Tradition says that the Culdees were at Scone before Alexander brought canons regular from Nostall Priory in 1115. Holy Rood, of which King David was the founder, in 1128, for canons regular, in the “vail that lyis to the Eist frae the Castell, quhare now lyis the Cannongait”, and which at that time was part of “ane gret forest full of hartis, hyndis, toddis and sick-like manner of beistis”, as Bellenden, the translator of Bower, expresses it. This famous abbey was burnt down, at the instigation of John Knox, in 1544, but some efforts were made to restore. Divine service in the chapel as late as 1688, for in that year Father G. Hay, a Scotch canon regular, of the French congregation, performed there a funeral, as he says, “in his habit with surplice and aulmess after the rites of Rome“. Next the abbey was the Royal Palace, and we are told that the Scottish kings often went

Unto the saintly convent, with good monks to dine
And quaff to organ music the pleasant cloister wine.

Many of the houses founded by St. Columba remained in possession of the canons till the time of the Reformation. Oronsay and Crusay were of the number.

Much valuable information concerning many of the canonical houses may be found in Fordun’s Scoti-Chronicon, written before 1384 (ed. Skene, Edinburgh, 1871-72). As Walter Bower, its continuator and annotator, was a canon regular, and abbot of Inchcolm, he no doubt derived all his materials at first hand from the archives of the order, and thus many important particulars are related by him concerning the foundations of the houses, their inmates, and particular events.

There are not wanting writers who, on the authority of Jocelin, William of Malmsbury, “Gesta Pontificum”, and others, are of opinion that the canonical order was established in Britain by St. Patrick, on his return from Rome to Ireland. Be this as it may, the Saxon conquerors of the country extirpated not only the religious establishments, but almost the very Faith of Christ from the land. The faithful either were obliged to dwell in the fastnesses of Wales or were made slaves. It was in these circumstances that Pope Gregory the Great sent to England St. Augustine with forty clerics, who according to the Bull of Pope Eugenius IV (quoted by Lingard in his Anglo-Saxon Church, I, iv), by which, in 1446, he restored the Lateran Basilica to the canons regular, formed a Canonical Institute. Speaking of the order founded by the Apostles and reformed by the holy Bishop of Hippo, the pope says: “Blessed Gregory commanded St. Augustine, the Bishop of England, to establish it as a new plantation among the nation entrusted to his care, and spread it to the utmost distant parts of the West.” And William of Coventry, in his Chronicle, A.D. 620, tells us that “Paulinus with twelve clerics was sent by the Pope to help Augustine”. In the North also the disciples of St. Columba were preaching the Gospel and establishing the canonical order among the nation they were converting to Christ. The Roman and British clergy amalgamated, and we learn from English historians that most if not all the cathedral and large churches were served by regular clerics or canons regular till the tenth century, when they were replaced by Benedictine monks by royal authority, and sometimes by means even less lawful. Dr. Lingard clearly states that: “in many of these religious establishments the inmates had been Canons Regular from the beginning. In many they had originally been monks and had converted themselves into Canons, but all considered themselves bound by their rule to reside within the precincts of their monasteries, to meet daily in the church for the performance of divine service, to take their meals in the same hall, and to sleep in the same dormitory”. In fact, this same historian is of opinion that St. Augustine and his companions were clerics living in common. Writing of the clergy in Anglo-Saxon times, Dr. Lingard says: “The chief resource of the Bishop lay in the Cathedral monastery, where the clergy were carefully instructed in their duties and trained in the exercise of their holy profession. They were distinguished by the name of Canons, because the rule which they observed had been founded in accordance with the canons enacted in different councils”. And he adds this explanatory note from the “Excerptiones” of Egbert: “Canones dicimus regulas quas sancti Patres constituerunt in quibus scriptum est quomodo canonici, id est clerici regulares, vivere debeant” (By the term canons we designate those rules which the holy Fathers have laid down, in which it has been written how canons [canonici], i.e. regular clerics, ought to live). We have also the fact that in the twelfth century many churches served by secular canons, like Plympton, Twynham, Taunton, Dunnow, Gisburn, were given to canons regular, who, it would seem, were the original owners. This view is confirmed by the authorities of various historians. In his “History of the Archbishops” (ed. Stubbs, Rolls Series, London, 1876), Diceto tells us that at Dunstan’s suggestion King Edgar “drove the clerics out of most of the churches of England and placed monks in their stead”. In “Liber de Hyda” we find that canons had been introduced at Winchester by King Ethelred, and that Bishop Grimbald, a zealous reformer of the clergy, had established a community of clerics whose duty it was to perform the Divine Office. Speaking of Aelfric, a monk who had been elected Archbishop of Canterbury, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, A.D. 995, remarks that when he came to his cathedral he was received by a community of clerics, when he would have preferred monks.

It would seem, then, that writers like Tanner, the modern editors of Dugdale’s “Monasticon”, and others, who think that the canons regular were introduced into England after the year 1100, or after the coming of William the Conqueror, may have been misled by the fact that it was only after the eleventh century that the canons regular were so styled generally; nevertheless these are the same ecclesiastics, until then commonly called religious, or regular, clerics. It is also true that, as elsewhere so in England, in the twelfth century there was a great revival in the canonical order on account of various congregations newly founded in France, Italy, and the Low Countries, and it was some of these new canons that came with the Conqueror; but this does not prove that the canonical life was unknown before. In England alone, from the Conquest to the death of Henry II, no fewer than fifty-four houses were founded where the canons regular were established. Colchester in 1096 was the first, followed ten years later by Holy Trinity in London. In 1100 Ralph Mortimer, by consent of Gerard, Bishop of Hereford, founded a canonical house at Wigmore, and in 1110 another house for Austin Canons was built at Haghmond. At Taunton a colony of secular priests became a monastery of canons regular. Secular canons were also replaced by canons regular at Twynham, Plympton, Waltham, and other places. In the period mentioned there were, among others, the foundations of the Austin houses at Dunmow, Thremhall, Southampton, Gisburn, Newnham in Bedfordshire, Norton in Cheshire, Stone in Staffordshire, Anglesey and Barnwell in Cambridgeshire, Berden in Essex. This was, no doubt, a period of great prosperity for the canonical order in England. But soon evil days came. There was first the Black Plague, and, like every other ecclesiastical institution, the canons regular were fairly decimated, and we may say that they never quite recovered. To remedy the evil Cardinal Wolsey thought it expedient to introduce a general reform of the whole canonical order in England. In the capacity of papal delegate, on March 19, 1519, he issued the “Statuta”, which were to be observed by all the Austin Canons. These ordinances, as Abbot Gasquet observes, are valuable evidence as to the state of the great Augustinian Order at that time in England. The statutes provide for the union of all the Austin Canons; for the assembly of a general chapter every three years; for various matters concerning obedience, poverty, and the general discipline of the cloister. Special regulations are given for the daily recitation of the Divine Office and singing of Masses. Directions are laid down for the reception and profession of novices, for uniformity in the religious habit, and sending young students to Oxford University. But troubled days soon came over the land, and these statutes, good though they were, could not keep off the evil times. The canonical houses were suppressed, and the religious dispersed, persecuted, little by little disappeared from the land altogether. Yet, in spite of the previous disasters, by Abbot Gasquet’s computation ninety-one houses belonging to the canons regular were suppressed or surrendered at the time of the Reformation between 1538 and 1540, with one thousand and eighty-three inmates—namely, Austin Canons, fifty-nine houses and seven hundred and seventy-three canons; Premonstratensians, nineteen houses and one hundred and fifty-nine canons; Gilbertines, twenty houses and one hundred and fifty-one religious. This number of houses and religious does not include the lesser monasteries, with an aggregate of one house and five hundred monks and canons, nor the nuns of the various orders estimated at one thousand five hundred and sixty.

The best known canonical houses were: Walsingham, Waltham, St. Mary’s Overy, Bolton, St. Bartholomew‘s Smithfield, Nostall, Bridlington, Bristol, Carlisle, Newbury, Hexham, Lanercost, Bodmin, Colchester, Dunstable, Merton, Kertmele, Llanthony, Plympton, St. Frideswide’s at Oxford, Osney.

At Walsingham there was a famous shrine of Our Lady, a model of the Holy House of Nazareth, founded two hundred years before the miraculous removal to Loretto. Erasmus, writing in the sixteenth century, gives a vivid description of the shrine and the canons, its custodians. At Sempringham lived in the fourteenth century Robert de Brunne, a canon regular who has been styled the “Father of the English language”. In his monastic seclusion he welded together the diverse dialects, which then divided shire from shire, into the grammatical structure which the language has since retained. Bridlington Priory, where William de Newbridge and several other historians lived, was also sanctified by the life, virtues, and miracles of its holy prior, John de Tweng, the last English saint to be canonized prior to the Reformation. He died in 1379. In 1386 a mandate was issued to collect evidence with a view to canonization. The body was translated in 1405 “de mandato Domini Papae”, and Boniface XI by a Bull, the original of which was found in the Vatican Archives by J. A. Twemlow a few years ago, formally canonized him. The holy prior was a very popular saint in the North of England. A rich shrine had been built over his tomb, from which the people begged Henry VIII to withhold his hand; but all in vain. “Lest the people should be reduced in the offering of their money”, the shrine was pulled down and destroyed. Sempringham saw the beginning by St. Gilbert, and the wonderful growth of the only pre-Reformation institute of distinctly English origin. Here, too, Peter de Langtoft, the historian, lived and wrote his well-known works. Within the walls of Merton Abbey Thomas of Canterbury, when a youth, received his education and made his profession as a canon regular before he was consecrated archbishop. Chic Priory, whence came William de Corbeil, Archbishop of Canterbury, was renowned for the learning of its religious clerics: “clerici litteratura, insignes”. Thurgarton was the home of that spiritual writer, Walter Hilton, who, about the year 1400, wrote the “Scala Perfectionis”, usually attributed to some Carthusian monk. St. Frideswide’s, founded for canons regular at Castle Tower by Robert d’Oiley, and translated to Osney in 1149, became, as Cardinal Newman tells us, “a nursery for secular students, subject to the Chancellor’s jurisdiction”. At Lilleshall Priory lived John Myrk, the author of “Instructions for Parish Priests”, a work written in irregular couplets, doubtless that they might be easily committed to memory. It has been edited by the Early English Text Society. The following verses, where Myrk gives excellent and explicit directions for behavior in church, are a fair sample of the author’s style:

That when they do to Church fare,
Then bid them leave their many words,
Their idle speech and nice border [jests]
And put away all vanity
And say their Pater Noster and their Ave.
None in the church stand shall,
Nor lean to pillar nor to wall,
But fair on knees they shall them set
Kneeling down upon the flat,
And pray God with heart meek
To give them grace and mercy eke.
Suffer them to make no bere [noise]
But aye to be in their prayer.

Some twenty-five years ago the canons regular of the Lateran Congregation returned to Bodmin, Cornwall, where before the Reformation their brethren the Austin Canons had a beautiful priory in honor of St. Mary and St. Petrock. The new priory is now the residence of the provincial, or visitor, the novitiate-house for England, and the center from which several Missions—as Truro, St. Ives, and Newquay are served by canons regular.

Although when the storm of persecution came and the religious houses were either seized or surrendered, the canons regular were not as faithful to the Church and their profession as might have been desired, yet there were not wanting many who preferred to lay down their lives rather than betray their Faith or give up God‘s property. Of this number were W. Wold, Prior of Bridlington, the Sub-Prior of Walsingham, with sixteen canons, and Ven. Laurence Vaux. The canonical order is now represented in England by Premonstratensians at Crowley, Manchester, Spalding, and Storrington. The Canons Regular of the Lateran Congregation are at Bodmin, Truro, St. Ives, and Newquay, in Cornwall; at Spettisbury and Swanage, in Dorsetshire; at Stroud Green and Eltham, in London. Besides the occupations of the regular life at home and the public recitation of the Divine Office in choir, they are chiefly employed in serving missions, preaching retreats, supplying for priests who ask their service, and hearing confessions, either as ordinary or extraordinary confessors to convents or other religious communities.

The canonical order must have been introduced into the New World soon after the discovery of that country by Columbus. In fact, tradition tells us that some canons regular from Spain were his companions in one or other of his voyages. Certain it is that at the general chapter of the Lateran Congregation held at Ravenna in 1558, at the request of many Spanish canons, Don Francis de Agala, a professed canon regular from Spain, who for some ten years had already labored in the newly-discovered country, was created vicar-general in America, with powers to gather into communities all the members of the canonical institute who were then dispersed in those parts, and the obligation to report to the authorities of the order. At present there are canons regular of the Lateran Congregation in the Argentine, and in Canada the Canons of the Immaculate Conception serve different missions. The Premonstratensian Canons also are in different places in South America.


—As we have already observed, in the eleventh and twelfth centuries a great reform and revival took place in the canonical order. A great number of congregations of canons regular sprang into existence, each with its own distinctive constitutions, grounded on the Rule of St. Augustine and the statutes which Blessed Peter de Honestis, about the year 1100, gave to his canons at Ravenna, where also he instituted the first sodality, called “The Children of Mary“. In order to preserve uniformity and regularity among these numerous congregations, Pope Benedict XII, in the year 1339, issued his Bull “Ad decorem”, which may be rather called a book of constitutions to be observed by all canons regular then existing. By this Bull the order, then extending through. Europe and Asia, was divided into twenty-two provinces or kingdoms, among them being Ireland, England, and Scotland, forming each a province. The abbots and visitors were to be convened at a provincial chapter to be held in each province every four years. Visitors were to be elected, whose duty it was to make a canonical visitation of every house in their respective provinces. Minute regulations are laid down for the daily recitation or singing of the Divine Office in choir, clothings, professions, studies at the universities, expenses and other details in the clerical life, and the general discipline of the canons in the cloister. The Roman Martyrolo mentions the existence of more than thirty-three different congregations of canons regular. The historians of the order number no fewer than fifty-four. It is evident that it would be quite impossible to give here even a short account of each in particular, therefore we shall content ourselves with making special mention of a few.

By common consent the Lateran Congregation, officially styled Congregatio SS. Salvatoris Lateranensis, stands first in antiquity and importance. As the title implies, this congregation takes its origin from the Roman Basilica of St. John Lateran, the pope’s own cathedral. History, confirmed by the authority of Pontifical Bulls, informs us that Pope Silvester established in the basilica built by the Emperor Constantine clerics living in common after the manner of the Primitive Church. In the year 492, Gelasius, a disciple of St. Augustine, as we have already mentioned, introduced in the patriarchal basilica the regular discipline which he had learnt at Hippo. Pope Gregory the Great, Eugenius II, Sergius III, and Alexander II, all endeavored to maintain the observance of the regular life established among the clergy of the basilica. As relaxation had crept in, the last named pope, at the request of St. Peter Damian, called some canons from St. Frigidian at Lucca, a house of strict observance. The reform spread, till at length the houses that had embraced it were formed into one large congregation. In the eighteenth century the Lateran Congregation numbered forty-five abbeys and seventy-nine other houses in Italy, besides many affiliated convents of canonesses, monasteries, and colleges of canons regular outside of Italy. The canons regular served the Lateran Basilica from the time they were put in possession till 1391, when secular canons were introduced by Boniface VIII. Several attempts were made to restore the basilica to its original owners, and finally Pope Eugenius IV, in 1445, gave it over to them, an act which was confirmed by Nicholas I. But the arrangement did not last long, and eventually the canons regular were definitively displaced, and the basilica made over to secular canons. All that remains now to the canons regular is the name they derive from the basilica and a few other privileges, such as precedence over all the other religious orders and the faculty of saying all the Offices which are said by the Lateran Canons in their Church.

There are at present houses belonging to the Lateran Congregation in Italy, Poland, France, Belgium, England, Spain, and America. The congregation is divided into six provinces, each presided over by a visitor or provincial. The abbot general and procurator general reside in Rome at S. Pietro in Vincoli, where is also the directorate of the confraternity called “The Children of Mary“. There are novitiate-houses, where young men are prepared for the order, in Italy, Belgium, Spain, England, and Poland. The proper habit of the Lateran Congregation is a white woollen cassock with a linen rochet, which is worn as an essential part of the daily dress. Their work is essentially clerical, the recitation of the Divine Office in church, the administration of the Sacraments, the preaching of the Word. In Italy they have charge of parishes in Rome, Bologna, Genoa, Fano, Gubbio, and elsewhere.

It is the opinion of Helyot and others that no Canons of the Holy Sepulchre existed before 1114, when some canons regular, who had adopted the Rule of St. Augustine, were brought from the West and introduced into the Holy City by Godfrey of Bouillon. On the other hand, Suarez, Mauburn, Ferreri, Vanderspeeten, and others, upholding the tradition of the canonical order, maintain that St. James the Less, the first Bishop of Jerusalem, established clerics living in common in the Holy City, where also, after the time of the crusaders, flourished the Congregation of the Holy Sepulchre. Driven away by the Moslems, the canons sought refuge in Europe, where they had monasteries, in Italy, France, Spain, Poland, and the Low Countries. In these several countries, with the exception of Italy, they continued to exist until the French Revolution. In Italy they seem to have been suppressed by Innocent VIII, who, in 1489, transferred all their property to the Knights of Malta. As regards men, the congregation seems now extinct, but it is still represented by Sepulchrine Canonesses, who have convents in Belgium, Holland, France, Spain, and England. According to Dugdale’s “Monasticon”, the canons had two houses in England, one at Thetford and the other at Warwick. By a Bull, dated January 10, 1143, to be found in the “Bullarium Lateranense”, Pope Celestire II confirms the church and the Canons Regular of the Holy Sepulchre in all the possessions they had received from Godfrey of Bouillon, King Baldwin, and other benefactors. Mention is also made in the Bull of several churches in the Holy Land and in Italy belonging to the canons. Cardinal de Vitry, a canon regular of Oignies, and Cardinal Patriarch of Jerusalem, who had lived in Palestine some years, relates that the canons served, amongst other churches, that of the Holy. Sepulchre and those on Mount Sion and on Mount Olivet. The patriarch was also Abbot of the Holy Sepulchre, and was elected by the canons regular.

In the year 1109 the famous scholar and teacher, William de Champeaux, formerly Archdeacon of Paris, and afterwards a canon regular, opened, at the request of his disciples, in his monastery of St. Victor near the city, a school which, owing to the great reputation of the master for learning, soon drew crowds of students from many parts. Founded by a scholar, the monastery of St. Victor for many centuries was a center of learning and virtue, or, as a French writer (Pasquier) says, “Les lettres y furent toujours logees a bonnes enseignes” (there, letters were always entertained at good inns). Here were formed men like Hugh, Richard, and Adam of St. Victor, all famous for their theological works and their piety. The last-named, Adam, has been called by Dom Gueranger “the greatest poet of the Middle Ages“. It was Adam who, among his beautiful liturgical hymns, composed three admirable proses in honor of St. Thomas of Canterbury, beginning Gaude Sion et laetare” “Aquas plenas amaritudine”, “Pia Mater plangat Ecclesia” The pious composer writes very feelingly of the holy martyr, whom he had heard and seen at St. Victor only sixteen months before his martyrdom. The archbishop, while at Paris to thank the king for his protection, wished also to visit the monastery of St. Victor, where at the time lived the saintly Richard. This visit took place on the octave of the Feast of St. Augustine, and the chronicler relates how the future martyr was joyously received by the community and was introduced into the chapter-room, where he made an address to the brethren from the text, “In pace factus est locus” (Ps. lxxv). This visit and conference of their holy brother (for it must be remembered that St. Thomas had made his profession as a canon regular) made a great impression, we are told, on all who were present, and they remembered it when they shortly after heard of his cruel death.

So great was the reputation of the monastery built by William de Champeaux that houses were soon established everywhere after the model of St. Victor‘s, which was regarded as their mother-house. At the death of Gilduin, the immediate successor of William, who had been made Bishop of Chalons, the Congregation already counted forty-four houses. From this congregation, in 1149, sprang another, that of Sainte-Genevieve, which in its turn became very numerous and, reformed as the Gallican Congregation, in the sixteenth century, by a holy man called Charles Faure, had, at the outbreak of the Revolution, no fewer than one hundred abbeys and monasteries in France. Both these congregations became extinct, as far as men are concerned, but the ancient congregation of St. Victor is still represented by a very old community of canon-eases at Ronsbrugge, near Ypres, in Belgium. Some years ago the congregation was revived, with some modifications, by the Very Rev. Dom Grea, then Vicar-General of St. Claude in France, under the denomination of Canons Regular of the Immaculate Conception. Before their expulsion from France they served the ancient Abbey of St. Anthony in Dauphine. They have now emigrated to Italy and to Canada. Their habit is a white woollen gown and linen rochet with a black cloak.

The Premonstratensian Congregation was founded at Premontre, near Laon, in France, by St. Norbert, in the year 1120, and approved by Pope Honorius II in 1126. According to the spirit of its founder, this congregation unites the active with the contemplative life, the institute embracing in its scope the sanctification of its members and the administration of the sacraments. It grew large even during the lifetime of its founder, and now has charge of many parishes and schools, especially in Austria and Hungary. The Premonstratensians wear a white habit with white cincture. They are governed by an abbot general, vicars, and visitors.

The origin of the Congregation of the Holy Cross appears to be uncertain, although all admit its great antiquity. It has been divided into four chief branches: the Italian, the Bohemian, the Belgian, and the Spanish. Of this last very little is known. The branch once flourishing in Italy, after several attempts at reformation, was finally suppressed by Alexander VII in 1656. In Bohemia there are still some houses of Croisier Canons, as they are called, who, however, seem to be different from the well-known Belgian Canons of the Holy Cross, who trace their origin to the time of Innocent III and recognize for their Father Blessed Theodore de Celles, who founded their first house at Huy, near Liege. These Belgian Croisier Canons have a great affinity with the Dominicans. They follow the Rule of St. Augustine, and their constitutions are mainly those compiled for the Dominican Order by St. Raymond of Pennafort. Besides the usual duties of canons in the church, they are engaged in preaching, administering the sacraments, and teaching. Formerly they had houses in Belgium, Holland, Germany, France, England, Ireland, and Scotland. Till some years ago they served missions in North America. At present they have five monasteries in Belgium, of which St. Agatha is considered the mother-house. To these Croisier Canons belongs the privilege, granted to them by Leo X, and confirmed by Leo XIII, of blessing beads with an indulgence of 500 days. Their habit was formerly black, but is now a white soutane with a black scapular and a cross, white and black, on the breast. In choir they wear in summer the rochet with a black almuce.

To St. Gilbert of Sempringham is due the honor of founding the only religious order of distinctly English origin. Having completed his studies in England and in France, he returned to the Diocese of Lincoln, where he began to labor with great zeal for the salvation of souls, becoming a canon regular in the monastery of Bridlington. But finding that the discipline of the order was not strictly observed, he conceived, in 1148, the idea of introducing a reform in those regions. After much prayer, thought, and taking advice from holy men, he came to the conclusion that it was necessary to establish a new congregation, composed of both men and women, who should live under the same roof, though of course separated. This idea he put into execution, giving the rule of St. Benedict to the women and that of canons regular to the men, with special and carefully elaborated constitutions for both. The Gilbertine Congregation spread especially in the North of England, and, as already stated, at the time of the general dissolution it had twenty houses and one hundred and fifty-one religious. At the temporary University of Stamford, Sempringham Hall, founded by Robert Lutrell in 1292, was especially for the students of the Gilbertine Congregation.

The canons regular, usually called monks, whom visitors find serving at the Hospice on the Great St. Bernard, belong to the Congregation of St. Augustine, St. Bernard, and St. Nicholas, as it is officially called. They were established on this famous pass of the Alps by Bernard of Menthon, a canon regular of Aosta, about the year 969, according to some, or later, according to others. The religious institute in such a place was only meant by the founder for the convenience of pilgrims and travellers who cross the Alps at a point always full of dangers. The hospice, the canon their work are too well known to need more than a short mention here. Besides lay brothers and servants, there are always at the hospice about fifteen canons, who come from Martigny, their mother-house, where also resides the superior general of the congregation. Some canons have charge of the hospice on the Simplon Pass, and a certain number of parishes in the Canton Valais are served by canons of the same congregation.

The origin of the Windesheim Congregation is due to Gerard Groot, a zealous preacher and reformer of the fourteenth century, at Deventer in the Low Countries. Touched by his preaching and example, many poor clerical students gathered around him and, under his direction, “putting together whatever they earned week by week, began to live in common”. Such was the beginning of the institute known as that of the “Brothers and Sisters of the Common Life“. This institution spread rapidly, and in a short time nearly every town in Holland and the adjacent countries contained one or more houses of “The New Devotion”, as it was then called. But difficulties were not wanting. The members of “The New Devotion” were not bound together by any vows, and the institute had received no formal approval from the ecclesiastical authorities. Groot foresaw that the only safeguard for the continuance of the new institute was to affiliate it in some way to some great religious order already approved by the Church, to the authority of which the “devout brethren and sisters” might look for guidance and protection. Having heard of the famous Blessed John Ruysbrock, prior of a house of canons regular at Groendael near Brussels, he went to visit and consult him. Deeply edified by what he saw and heard there, Gerard Groot resolved to place this new institute under the spiritual guidance of the canons regular. The execution of this resolve was left by Gerard Groot, at his death, to his beloved disciple, Florentius Radewyn. A beginning was soon made, and the foundation of the first house laid at Windesheim, near Zwolle. This became the mother-house of the famous congregation, which, only sixty years after the death of Groot, possessed in Belgium alone more than eighty well-organized monasteries, some of which, according to the chronicler John Buschius, who had visited them all, contained as many as a hundred, or even two hundred, inmates. The congregation continued in its primitive fervor until the devastations of the Reformers drove it from its native soil, and it was at last utterly destroyed during the French Revolution. To this double institute the Church owes many pious and learned men—as Raymund Jordan, called Idiota, John Ruysbrock, Mauburn, Garetius, Latomus, and Erasmus. Some, like St. John Ostervick, canonized by Pius IX, shed their blood rather than deny their Faith. Chief among these learned and holy men stands Thomas a Kempis, who when still a youth joined the institute, and knew the saintly Florentius and the first founders of the congregation.

Although the canonical order possessed so many houses in Ireland before the dissolution by Henry VIII; yet, on account of the persecution, little by little it appears to have languished, and by 1620 to have been nearly extinct; it somewhat revived, however, for canons regular were once more to be found in the country not long after this. It is not improbable that at the outbreak of the persecution, like many members of other religious orders, some of the Irish canons may have retired to foreign monasteries and maintained a quasi-independent existence, and have been joined by others of their compatriots who were desirous of entering the canonical institute. In 1645 Dom Thaddeus O’Conel was butchered at Sligo by the Scotch Puritans together with the Archbishop of Tuam, Malachy O’Queely. At the commencement of 1646 the canons were sufficiently numerous to be formed by Innocent X into a separate congregation, that of St. Patrick, and this congregation, as the same pope declared, inherited all the rights, privileges, and possessions of the old Irish canons. In the year 1698 the Irish Congregation, by a Bull of Innocent XII, was affiliated and aggregated to the Lateran Congregation. From the moment the union was made the two congregations formed but one, and the members of each enjoyed all the rights and privileges of the other. The constitutions of the Lateran Congregation were adopted with some little modification by the Irish. In 1703 Dom Milerius Burke, Abbot of St. Thomas, Dublin, was appointed by the abbot general, Clappini, with the approval of Clement XI, vicar-general in the three kingdoms. In 1735 the Irish canons were claiming before the Congregation of Propaganda their right to several churches, parishes, and houses. The cause was settled in their favor, but there were many difficulties, and they could get possession of only a few. In the “Spicileum Ossoriense” (III, 148) we find that Henry ‘Kelly, a canon regular, obtained from Pope Benedict XIII letters in virtue of which he not only called himself Abbot of St. Thomas, Dublin, but also claimed the parochial rights over a great part of the city, without any dependence upon the metropolitan. The last canon of the Irish Congregation died towards the beginning of the nineteenth century. But the Irish Congregation having been united, as we have stated, with the Lateran, all its rights and privileges still survive in the last-named.

The Austrian Congregation, formed in 1907, is composed of the various ancient monasteries, abbeys, and collegiate churches of canons regular in Austria. These are St. Florian, Klosterneuburg, Herzogenburg, Reichersburg, Voran, Neustift. The president of this new congregation is the Abbot of St. Florian.

Other more or less distinct congregations now no longer in existence have been those of St. Rufus, founded in 1039, and once flourishing in Dauphine; of Aroasia (Diocese of Arras, in France), founded in 1097; Marbach (1100); of the Holy Redeemer of Bologna, also called the Renana (1136), now united to the Lateran Congregation; of the Holy Spirit in Sassia (1198); of St. George in Alga, at Venice (1404); of Our Savior in Lorraine, reformed in 1628 by St. Peter Fourier.


—To most religious orders and congregations of men convents of nuns are related, following the same rules and constitutions. There are canonesses regular, as well as canons regular. The Apostolic origin is common to both. As Suarez says, “with regard to origin and antiquity the same is to be said of orders of women both in general and in particular as of orders of men. The one generally began with the other. St. Basil in his rules addresses both men and women. And St. Augustine founded his first monastery for women in Africa at Tagaste”. Most, if not all, of the congregations which go to form the canonical order had, or still have, a correlative congregation for women. In Ireland St. Patrick instituted canons regular, and St. Bridget was the first of numberless canonesses. The monasteries of the Gilbertine Congregation were nearly always double, for men and women. As with the canons, so also among the canonesses, discipline and love of community ‘life now flourished now languished, so that in the tenth and eleventh centuries many of them became canonicae sceculares and, though living in the same house, no longer cherished the spirit of religious poverty or kept a common table.

On the other hand many communities of canonesses willingly took the name and the rule of life laid down for the congregations of regular canons. There still exist in Italy, France, Spain, Belgium, Holland, England, Germany, Africa, America, nuns and convents belonging to the Lateran or to some other congregation of canons regular. The contemplative life is represented by such convents as Newton Abbot in England, Sta. Pudenziana at Rome, Sta. Maria di Passione at Genoa, Hernani in Spain, St. Trudo at Bruges. The Hospitalarians were till lately well represented in France with convents of canonesses at Paris, Reims, Laon, Soissons, and elsewhere.

Occupied in the education of children, there are, besides some of the ancient convents of canonesses of various congregations, the canonesses of the Congregation of Notre Dame, instituted in 1597 at Mattaincourt, in Lorraine, by St. Peter Fourier. This congregation, whose object is the gratuitous education of poor girls, spread rapidly in France and Italy. There are now convents of Notre Dame in France, Belgium, Holland, Austria, Germany, Italy, and Africa. In France alone, until the persecution of 1907, they had some thirty flourishing communities and as many schools for externs and boarders. Driven away from France, some have taken refuge in England, like those of the famous convent of Les Oiseaux, Paris, who are now at Westgate, and those of Versailles who have settled at Hull. With some modifications the work was soon introduced into the New World in a remarkable way. The canonesses of the convent at Troyes had for some time earnestly desired to carry on their institute in Canada. Circumstances, however, prevented their going, but at their request Margaret Bourgeoys, the president of the confraternity attached to their convent, gladly crossed the ocean. In 1657 she opened a school at Montreal, in which, in accordance with the rules laid down by Peter Fourier, the poor were taught gratuitously. The school was a great success. Margaret returned to France to ask for helpers, and found them among her sisters, the Children of Mary of Troyes. Returning to Canada with four fellow-workers; and soon followed by others, she opened a school for boarders as well as a day school. In 1676 these pious women were formed into the “Congregation of Notre Dame”. Margaret died in 1700 and has since been declared venerable. The work she had transferred to Canada is still flourishing. At her death there were ten houses in the Dominion; there are now more than a hundred spread over the whole of North America under a superior general, who resides at the mother-house, Montreal.

In 1809 Bishop Wittmann founded, in Bavaria, “The Poor Sisters of the Schools of Notre Dame”, an institute similar to that founded by St. Peter Fourier. This association is now widespread in Europe and in America, and has done excellent work in the field of education.

There are English canonesses at Bruges, and at Neuilly, near Paris. In England there is a convent of the Holy Sepulchre at New Hall, with a flourishing school, originally at Liege; also a filiation of that at Bruges, at Hayward’s Heath, with a large school; at Newton Abbot a numerous community, with a colony at Hoddesdon, devoted to the contemplative life and the Perpetual Adoration. This last convent is, as it were, a link with the pre-Reformation canonesses, through Sister Elizabeth Woodford, who was professed at Burnham Priory, Bucks, December 8, 1519. When the convent was suppressed, in 1537, she was received for some time into the household of Blessed Thomas More. Later on she went to the Low Countries and was received into the convent of canonesses regular at St. Ursula’s, Louvain, of the Windesheim Congregation. So many English ladies, daughters and sisters of martyrs; like Ann Clitheroe, Margaret Clement, Eleanor and Margaret Garnet, followed her that, in 1609, they formed an English community, St. Monica’s, Louvain. Towards the end of the eighteenth century, this community of English canonesses returned to England, first to Spettisbury, afterwards to their present home at Newton Abbot. The chronicles of this ancient convent are being published, and two very interesting volumes have already appeared.


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