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Gilbertines

GILBERTINES

An extinct medieval religious order for men and women founded in England by gilbert of sempringham. The order originated in 1131 with seven young women who, under Gilbert's direction and with the support of Bp. Alexander of lincoln, formed a convent at Sempringham, on property belonging to their founder's estate. Gilbert seems to have copied Cistercian customs rather closely, but a general chapter of the cistercians meeting at cÎteaux in 1147 refused to assume the government of the community of nuns. At the suggestion of William, Abbot of rievaulx, Gilbert had already added lay sisters to attend to the needs of the nuns, and lay brothers for the heavy agricultural labor on their property. He then proceeded to introduce a small number of canons regular of st. augustine, who would undertake the spiritual direction of the community, and thereafter the Gilbertines usually lived in double monasteries, marked by great austerity in style and decoration. Papal approval of the new order came from the Cistercian Pope eugene iii in 1148. The nuns were to live by the benedictine rule, the canons by the Rule of St. augustine, and the lay brothers were to be governed by a modification of the usages of the conversi of Citeaux. The Gilbertines founded their second house in 1139 and numbered some 13 communities in 1189, when Gilbert died. The order continued to receive special favors from the English crown, for, unlike the Cistercians and the monks of Cluny, it had no foreign connections, its priories being located for the most part in Lincolnshire, with one house in Scotland and two in Westmeath, Ireland. In time the order began to decline, and its financial status was so critical that King henry vi found it necessary to exempt all its foundations from payments of any kind. Even so, the Gilbertines still controlled some 25 houses, with 150 canons and 120 nuns, when henry viii forced them to surrender all property in the dissolution (153840).

A master general, who was elected and could also be deposed by a chapter general, ruled the order with authority to make all appointments, to receive novices into the community, and to pass on all contracts entered into by the various houses. He was assisted by a number of priests and nuns who acted as visitors, as well as by the chapter general, which met yearly at Sempringham during the rogation days and consisted of the prior, prioress, and cellarer of each house. The chief difficulty in the government of the order grew out of the continued attempts of the lay brothers to work in their own interest, and even in the founder's lifetime a serious revolt developed. The Gilbertine habit consisted of a black tunic and a scapular with a white cloak and hood for the canons; the nuns, also with a scapular, were dressed in white.

Bibliography: w. dugdale, Monasticon Anglicanum 6.2:947982. r. graham, S. Gilbert of Sempringham and the Gilbertines (London 1901). The Gilbertine Rite, ed. r. m. woolley, 2 v. (Henry Bradshaw Society 59, 60; 192122). d. knowles, "The Revolt of the Lay Brothers of Sempringham," English Historical Review 50 (1935) 465487. d. knowles and r. n. hadcock, Medieval Religious Houses: England and Wales (New York 1953) 171175.

[b. j. comaskey]

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