Monday, June 6, 2011

St. Norbert and the Premonstratensian Order in England

June 6 is the memorial of St. Norbert of Xanten, founder of the Premonstratiensian Order also called--what a relief--the Norbertines. The Norbertines were Augustinian Canons and established monastic communities in England starting in the 12th century. Eventually, there were 48 Norbertine houses in Britain. Newhouse was the first monastery, founded in 1183. This book by Joseph A. Gribbon, recounts the history of the order in England during the late medieval era up to the suppression of the monasteries.

Since 1872, the Norbertines have re-established houses in England and this page provides a list of all the houses that Henry VIII had suppressed, with links to details.

According to this site:

Only 22 years after the foundation of the Order in 1121, the White Canons came to England to establish the first Premonstratensian Ab­bey at Newhouse, in Lincolnshire. The founder was Peter of Goxhill. Between 1143 and the Dissolution of the Monasteries under Henry VIII, our Order in England firmly established itself as part of English monastic and parochial life. Some 33 Abbeys and Priories are recorded during this period and then, as now, the main occupation of the Norbertine Canons was prayer and Apostolate in the parishes which depended on the Canons for their pastors.

Many other functions were fulfilled by our pre-Reformation Fathers. In 1200, the Abbot of Torre (Devon) was appointed King John's representative at the Papal Curia. In 1207 the Abbot of St. Radegmund (Kent) was sent as royal ambassador to Count William of Holland. Henry IV used the services of the Abbot of Alnwick (Northumberland) to negotiate with the Scottish Earl of March in 1400. The Abbot of Tichfield (Hampshire) had responsibilities for the building of Porchester Castle. England's Treasurer in 1264 was a Norbertine Prior, while a Brother Thomas was a trusted advisor to Henry III.

Many of the early Norbertines attained distinction in intellectual and ecclesiastical fields. Many of the fifteenth and sixteenth century abbots held law degrees from either Oxford or Cambridge. Abbot Makerell, took degrees at both Cambridge and Frieburg and was appointed suffragan bishop in the dioceses of York and Lincoln. Fr. Thomas Wygenhall, of the Abbey of West Dereham wrote treatises on law and moral theology. "Richard the Premonstratensian" wrote a number of theological works; while Adam the Scot, born some time in the 12th century and known to have been a member of the community at Dryburgh was ren­owned both as a preacher and a writer not only in England but also in France.

But by far the most important work of the Order before the Reformation was to be found in the parishes. In the fourteenth century the Norbertine Canons had some 150 parishes in England. The Order's contribution to the life of the Church in England is witnessed to by the number of priests who were sent to work in diocesan parishes without, however, losing contact with the Abbey or Priory to which the belonged. These close links with the parochial apostolate would be a characteristic of the Order when it returned to England in 1872 after the centuries of Post-Reformation exile. . . .

The return of the White Canons to England is the responsibility of two of the great abbeys of our Order; the abbey of Tongerlo in Belgium and the abbey of Frigolet in France.

At the request of local Catholics the abbot of Tongerlo dispatched Fr. Martin Geudens to Crowle in Lincolnshire in 1872. This mission soon grew and attracted the first English vocations to the Norbertine Order since the Reformation. The Tongerlo canons established parishes at Spalding (1875), Stainforth (1931), Moorends (1937) and Holbeach (1956). During the Chapter of Reform more emphasis was put on community rather than parochial life and so these parishes are today administered by the secular clergy. In 1889 Norbertines first came to Manchester where they lived and worked at Corpus Christi in Miles Platting. It was there that our present canonry became an independent priory in 2004. Corpus Christi Basilica was closed in 2007 and the Canons moved to St. Chad’s Church in the Cheetham area of Manchester. The community transferred to Chelmsford in 2008.

The Canons of Frigolet had first arrived on the shores of England on February 1st 1882 and were given a home in Storrington, Sussex through the benefaction of the Duke of Norfolk. In 1952 the priory of Storrington was transferred to the control of the Abbey of Tongerlo and became an independent priory of the Order in 1962. These same exiled canons of Frigolet established houses and parishes at Farnborough (now a Benedictine abbey) in 1887, Weston 1888-92, Ambleside (now the diocesan church Mater Amabilis) in 1890 and Bedworth in 1892. Storrington happily remains an active Norbertine house to this day.


The order does honor English martyrs from the era of the Dissolution, including Matthew Thomas Mackerel who was executed on March 29, 1537.

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