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Augustinian canons

Augustinian canons (or ‘Regular’ or ‘Black’ canons) had their origin in the mid-11th-cent. ecclesiastical reform movement. Earlier communities of clerics (or ‘canons’) staffing cathedrals and large churches and organized (sometimes loosely) in a quasi-monastic rule had long existed, and following the Carolingian reform many observed the mid-8th-cent. rule of Chrodegang of Metz. This had largely fallen into disuse by the 11th cent. and reformed canons, particularly in southern France, Italy, and Germany, increasingly adopted a rule based on that drawn up for communities founded by St Augustine of Hippo (354–430). This was usually expanded by local communities, and in the 12th cent. some versions were as ascetic in character as that of the Cistercians. Many, though not all, Augustinian priories were sited in towns, particularly in continental Europe, where their canons fulfilled a wide range of roles, serving in parish churches and cathedrals, running hospitals (such as St Bartholomew's, London), and functioning as teachers. They were perhaps the most ubiquitous of all monasteries in the medieval world, appealing to a wide cross-section of lay patrons. In England, where the first truly Augustinian priory was founded at Colchester c.1100, they tended to be more contemplative, often emerging from communities of hermits, being sited in remote places, and were barely distinguishable from the reformed Benedictines, such as the Cistercians. The majority of English foundations were made in the first half of the 12th cent.: many were small, but some, like Leicester or Cirencester, retained their prosperity and prestige till the dissolution.

Brian Golding

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