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Gilbertines. St Gilbert, parish priest of Sempringham (Lincs.), became spiritual adviser to a group of seven anchoresses c.1131. His following increased and in 1147, after his unsuccessful attempts to persuade the Cistercians to take over responsibility for his communities, they were organized as an order. It was intended for nuns (who followed the Benedictine rule), Augustinian canons, lay brothers, observing a version of the Cistercian rule, and lay sisters. They lived in double houses: however, following early scandal and dissension, they were rigidly segregated. Though these were ultimately virtually indistinguishable from other nunneries and while the canons gradually came to dominate, the order represented one of the best-articulated attempts to organize communities of religious men and women in medieval Europe. It enjoyed considerable success in eastern England, and by Gilbert's death in 1189 there were nine double houses and four for canons only. However, the order never successfully spread outside England and disappeared following the dissolution of its 24 communities in 1538–9.

Brian Golding

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