As one of my new stories is set in Lincolnshire, England, I have been researching “bits of history” from the shire. Today, I bring you Saint Gilbert.
At Sempringham, a bit north of Bourne, we find the Gilbertine Order, the only purely English Monastic Order. Its founder was born in Sempringham into a wealthy family 1083. Gilbert was the son of Norman knight. However he could not follow his father’s footsteps, for it is said he was born with a deformity of some sort. Sent to France for his higher education, he decided to pursue seminary studies.
He had not yet been ordained as a priest when he returned to England. After his father’s death, he inherited several estates. His study of religion presented him a different view of the world from many around him. Therefore, instead of living “high on the hog,” so to speak, Gilbert devoted himself to a simple life, sharing as much as possible with the poor. Following his ordination to the priesthood he served as parish priest at Sempringham.
“Among the congregation of the parish were seven young women who had expressed to him their desire to live in religious life. In response, Gilbert had a house built for them adjacent to the Church. There they lived an austere life, but one which attracted ever more numbers; eventually lay sisters and lay brothers were added to work the land. The religious order formed eventually became known as the Gilbertines, though Gilbert had hoped the Cistercians or some other existing order would take on the responsibility of establishing a rule of life for the new order. The Gilbertines, the only religious order of English origin founded during the Middle Ages, continued to thrive.” (Franciscan Media)
This was a “double order,” meaning it housed both monks and nuns. There were two facilities – two cloisters, two dormitories, two dining halls, etc. – so the sexes could live separately within the monastery.
The Gilbertine order spread quickly across England. Gilbert, himself, live to age 100, and by the time of his death, more than 700 brother and 1500 sisters resided in the monastery’s eleven buildings. Gilbert was buried beneath the church’s altar, and he was canonized in 1202.
But the order came to an end when King Henry VIII suppressed all Catholic monasteries. The monastery was pulled down at the Dissolution of Monasteries. Only the Norman church of St Andrew’s remains. This was the church to which the monastery was attached.
Seal of the master of Sempringham ~ Public Domain