Monday, February 4, 2013

St. Gilbert of Sempringham


Today the martyrology records the feast of the founder of England's distinctive double order, the Gilbertines (alas, long since defunct!):

"At Sempringham in England, St. Gilbert, priest and confessor, who founded a religious order at Sempringham."

St Gilbert (1083-1190) founded an order after failing to gain the assistance of the Cistercians for a group of women.  His order included nuns, who followed the Rule of St Benedict with a Cistercian spirituality, supported by lay-sisters, lay brothers, and canons who followed the Rule of St Augustine (to say Mass and provide spiritual direction to the nuns).  By the time of the dissolution of the monasteries, there were 28 houses of the Order in England.

St  Gilbert himself was born at Sempringham, near Bourne in Lincolnshire, the son of the local lord.  There is some evidence that he was physically disabled.  In any case, he studied theology at the University of Paris, and on his return in 1120 he became a clerk in the household of Robert Bloet, Bishop of Lincoln, where he started a school for boys and girls.  He was eventually ordained a priest.

When his father died in 1130 he became lord of the manor of Sempringham, and immediately began using his inherited wealth to fund expansion of the Gilbertines, his new order. Eventually he had a chain of twenty-six convents, monasteries and missions. 

He was imprisoned in 1165 on a charge of aiding Thomas Becket when Thomas had fled from King Henry II after the council of Northampton, but he was eventually found innocent. Then, when he was 90, some of his lay brothers revolted, but he received the backing of Pope Alexander III. Gilbert resigned his office late in life because of blindness and died at Sempringham in about 1190, at the age of 106.

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