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Premonstratensians (also known as the ‘white canons’ or ‘Norbertines’) were founded at Prémontré (north-eastern France) in 1120 by St Norbert who, after his conversion, was a canon at Xanten (his birthplace) before becoming a wandering preacher. In 1126 he was appointed archbishop of Magdeburg. The early community followed an austere interpretation of the Augustinian rule, heavily influenced, however, by the Cistercians. Originally the order included double houses of canons and nuns, but these were suppressed in 1140, the nuns being housed in separate nunneries, of which there were initially four in England. The first house of canons was established in England in 1143 at Newhouse and by the dissolution there were 35 English communities, one in Wales, and several in Scotland, including Dryburgh. Foundations were never very prosperous, perhaps reflecting the relatively modest status of most of their patrons and benefactors: the wealthiest abbey at the dissolution was Torre (Devon) with a net annual income of nearly £400.

Brian Golding

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