The Augustine Orders in Medieval England.

As their name implies, this Order was created by St Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, in Africa. Founded in AD 1061 they first came into England  in the reign of Henry I. They had some  one hundred and seventy houses in total throughout the country. The largest were  at Plympton, Devon; Carlisle in Cumberland; at Chick or St Osyth in Essex; at Leicester; and Walsingham, Norfolk  where they had the celebrated image and chapel of the Virgin Mary referred to as `Our Lady of Walsingham`. Other big houses were at Haghmond Shrewsbury; Cirencester, Gloucestershire; Newstead, Nottinghamshire; Kenilworth in Warwickshire; Gisborough, and Bolton, Yorkshire.

Commonly called the Black Canons , their dress was normally  a long black cassock with a white rochet over it and over all, a black cloak or hood. The monks were usually clean shaven but the Canons  wore their beards and a cap or bonnet instead of their hood. The First Rule was that all property was to be relinquished before admission to the Order, and nothing was to be taken away by anyone leaving the Order. The day to day rule of the superior was absolute and any contumacy severely punished. The Second Rule proscribed the psalms to be sung; the working day, and services and readings to be given. Idle talk and gossiping was not allowed. The Third Rule concerned a very strict union - food and clothing  was distributed by the superior and everything was in common. All feelings of pride and envy were suppressed and brotherly love enjoined. Nothing was to be sung except that which was ordered, and fasting and abstinence  strictly observed. Nothing offensive was permitted by their habit or gestures and they were forbidden to  look upon women, with a requirement to defend one another`s modesty when in their company. No law suits of any kind were permitted, satisfaction was to be given for offences and harsh expressions avoided. In all things obedience was required to the superior who was enjoined to govern in charity with the aim of being loved rather than feared.

As with the Benedictines, there were Orders with some variation of their Rule.

The Praemonstratensians derived their name from  Premonstre in Picardy, France. where their abbey was founded in AD 1121 by Norbert, a German nobleman who took holy orders and became Archbishop of Magdebourg. Dissatisfied with the church he took up the Rule of St Augustine. They were called White Monks from the colour of their cassock and other dress (rather than black). They came to England in AD 1146 with their first house built by Peter de Saulia at New House, Lincolnshire. Eventually they had thirty five houses with the chief one being  at Welbeck , Nottinghamshire. They grew much faster in France where they had over one hundred abbeys within thirty years of being established.There were over a thousand abbeys and five hundred nunneries spread throughout Christendom. The Order was greatly respected for its gravity of manners and their assiduous application to the liberal arts and sciences. Their aim was to maintain a pure and contemplative life and had strict rules for admission - to be of a proper age (over 18 years) , to be able to read well, to understand grammar and Latin. Of singular note was that they were exempt from episcopal control  and did not use any episcopal insignia. The abbot  had the power of excommunication and absolution for his monks, while disputes had to be settled among themselves - there was no recourse to the secular courts.

The Gilbertines provided a link between the Augustinians and the Benedictines. It was founded by a Lincolnshire priest Gilbert of Sempringham in AD 1148, and designed for both men and women. The men living according to the rule of St Augustine and the women according to the rule of the Cistercian nuns. A consequence was that the order was very popular among poor women, in an age when domestic strife  exposed them to innumerable hardships. It  was estimated that some 1500 women joined the Order  in the course of just a few years. The special feature of accommodation was that it was adjoining but with separation for men and women. There were some twenty five houses mainly in Lincolnshire and Yorkshire, the main premises being at Sempringham and Watton.  The Order was never held in great esteem  beyond the retreat that it afforded to women.

The Bonhommes was a small order of little repute, with only two houses in England - in Buckinghamshire and Wiltshire. They followed the Augustinian rule with some variations.

The Nuns of Fontebrauld, from Font Ebrold or Fontevrauld in France,  was another small order  with but three houses founded during the reign of Henry II. They followed a Benedictine rule under the government of an abbess, and observed silence except when in chapter.

The Brigettine Nuns derived their name from St Bridget, and had only one house in England at Sion House, Northumberland. It was founded in AD 1414 by Henry V with eighty five members, representing thirteen apostles (including St Paul) and seventy two disciples. There were sixty nuns of whom one was the abbess, thirteen priests, four deacons, and eight lay brethren. The society was well endowed and took their time in accepting new applicants  enforcing long periods of probation and interviews to confirm that membership was truly desired. Finally an interview took place with the bishop who sought to establish there were no marital ties, nor were they an excommunicated person, and that entry was desired in the name of Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary.  On acceptance a lengthy ritual cum service took place after which the bishop recommended the applicant to the abbess.  A similar system was used for the admission of  nuns to other religious houses.

The Benedictine Orders.

Military Orders.

18/07/2011

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