Following a visit to Walsingham in October 2017 my wife and I decided, on the way back to Lancashire, to make our return via the small hamlet of Sempringham in Lincolnshire, famous as the home of Saint Gilbert, who was the only English saint to have founded a religious order in the Middle Ages: the Gilbertine Order of Canons Regular. Gilbert became the parish priest of St Andrew’s, Sempringham in 1131 and thereafter formed a community of lay sisters, followed by lay brothers, who first maintained the Rule of St Benedict. They later came under the care of Augustinian canons, with Gilbert serving as master general of the community. The community flourished and by the time of the Dissolution of the monasteries (1536-1541) there were 26 Gilbertine houses across England.
‘[Gilbert] gave a rule to seven holy virgins who lived in strict enclosure in a house adjoining to the wall of his parish church of St Andrew at Sempringham, and another afterwards to a community of men who desired to live under his direction. The latter was drawn from the rule of the canon regulars; that given to his nuns, from St Bennet’s: but to both he added many particular constitutions. Such was the origin of the Order of the Gilbertines, the approbation of which he procured from Pope Eugenius III. At length he entered the Order himself, but resigned the government of it some time before his death when he lost his sight. His diet was chiefly roots and pulse, and so sparing that others wondered how he could subsist. He had always at table a dish which he called “the plate of the Lord Jesus”, in which he put all that was best of what was served up; and this was for the poor. He always wore a hair shirt, took his short rest sitting, and spent great part of the night in prayer. In this, his favourite exercise, his soul found those wings on which she continually soared to God. During the exile of St Thomas of Canterbury he and the other superiors of his Order were accused of having sent him succours abroad. The charge was false; yet the saint chose rather to suffer imprisonment and the danger of the suppression of his Order than to deny it, lest he should seem to condemn what would have been good and just. He departed to our Lord on the 3rd of February 1190, being one hundred and six years old. Miracles wrought at his tomb were examined and approved by Hubert, Archbishop of Canterbury, and the commissioners of Pope Innocent III in 1201, and he was canonised by that pope the year following’.
from The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Other Principal Saints by Fr Alban Butler, 1710-1773
Almighty God, our heavenly Father: we remember before thee all thy servants who have served thee faithfully in their generation, and have entered into rest, especially Gilbert, beseeching thee to give us grace so to follow in their steps; that with them we may be partakers of thy heavenly kingdom; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Divine Worship: The Missal.
Fr Lee Kenyon