Houses


Introduction

The canonical life, being one of the oldest forms of religious life for priests, bears the marks of its antiquity. Like monks, houses of canons were nearly always independent of one another. The invention of congregations of abbeys and priories, e.g. Cluny, or centralized orders, e.g. the Cistercians, only arrived in the 11th Century. The Canonical Order at their height claimed thousands of houses in Europe, most of which were quite small and resolutely defended their autonomy. However, there were notable exemptions springing from the fact that successful communities attracted the interest of others. Whether through the reform of an existing house or the foundation of new ones, these centers of the canonical life often found themselves at the center of associations or even congregations of Canons Regulars.

A few general remarks about the development of the Canonical Order will help to explain some of the distinctions among them:

Ordo Antiquus

This is the oldest form of canonical life. It developed during the centuries following the legalization of Christianity in the Rome Empire and was promoted by saints such as St. Eusebius of Vercelli and of course St. Augustine of Hippo. Canons, i.e. priests inscribed on a list (canon comes from the Greek word for a rule or measure), generally lived the common life and served at cathedrals or collegiate churches. They did not take religious vows, but were bound to a variety of customs and traditions that governed their lives. These were called the Instituta Patrum or the traditions of the Fathers.

Important milestones for this form of canonical life include the reform and rule of St. Chrodegang and the Synod of Aachen, which gave a rule of life for canons in the Carolingian Empire. The principal difference between these two rules was their attitude toward private property. While both permitted the canons to hold and dispose of property as they saw fit, St. Chrodegang counseled a renunciation of private property, while the Synod of Aachen did not since it was not part of the tradition of the canons as found in the above cited traditions of the Fathers (Instituta Patrum).

With the arrival of reform in the 11th Century, the houses of the Ordo Antiquus either became regular canons or failing that, became what would henceforth be known as “secular canons.” In the latter case, those wishing to embrace the regular canonical vocation normally left to found new houses.

Ordo Novus

This form of canonical life actually originated in the eremitical and the hospitaller movements of the 11th and 12th centuries. Typically these foundations began as the mission of an individual – with or without disciples – who withdrew from the world to live a life based on the practices of the first Christian community at Jerusalem, as described in the Acts of the Apostles.

The Eremitical Movement
The withdrawal from the world and the search for perfection led many to found new communities. These were often mixed communities of priests and lay people (even some families) united in the common pursuit of holiness. Often they were begun by canons who had left their communities for a stricter life. They emphasized monastic asceticism, manual labor and poverty as important means to perfection. These were often fluid communities and eventually many adopted the Rule of St. Augustine and the canonical life to give structure to their vocations.

St. Bruno, the founder of the Carthusian monks, typifies this movement to a stricter form of life which so characterized this period. Originally a canon living under the Rule of Aachen for over 20 years, at the age of 51, he and several companions began a new community at the Grande Chartreuse. This was the origin of the Carthusian Order.

The Hospitaller Movement
Like the eremitical movement, the hospitaller movement represented a longing for holiness and the pursuit of perfection. In its manner of life, members of these communities shared much in common with their eremitical brethren. What distinguishes them is the type of apostolate they undertook. These communities dedicated themselves to the love of neighbor through hospitality and care for pilgrims, travelers and strangers.

Perhaps the most well known exemplar of this movement is St. Bernard and his hospice in the Alps, Great St. Bernard, which has welcomed pilgrims and guests for over 900 years.

The Canons Regular

The movement to “regularize” the canonical life, that is to introduce a rule of life which would include a vow of poverty, sprang up in the fervor of the 11th Century. The rise of the Cluniac Benedictine reform heralded a reform movement for the entire Church. Reform of the clergy was a priority.

The spark that ignited this movement to “regularize” the canons was the first Lateran Council in 1059. Cardinal Hildebrand’s (a noted Cluniac monk) impassioned speech encouraging the Council Fathers to mandate the regular life for all priests did not lead to the Council Fathers to promulgate his program. But it did lead them to commend and praise the common life for priests. Even this seemingly insignificant and innocuous proposal, in the excitement of the day was enough to ignite a struggle for the life of the clergy of Western Europe.

While there were already regular canons forming communities in several places, this council, the subsequent pontificate of Gregory VII (Cardinal Hildebrand) and his supporters among the episcopate, led to the widespread regularization of cathedral and collegiate canons as well as many new foundations for canons who wished the “regular” life.

A depiction of the canons down the centuries discussing the canonical vocation. Click to enlarge.

The Canons Regular of St. Augustine

By the 13th Century, there was universal adherence to the Rule of St. Augustine. This acceptance of Augustine’s rule occurred over the 11th and 12th Centuries in piecemeal fashion. There were in fact three different rules of St. Augustine from which to choose:

Regularis informatio or Regula sororum
Often considered to be the oldest rule of St. Augustine, it was composed for a convent of nuns and attached to Letter 211. Its content and style is very close to the Praecepta.

Ordo Monasterii or Regula secund
This may have been a preface to the Praecepta, but it is unclear whether it is from the hand of St. Augustine or not. It is stricter than the Praecepta and differences in style, tone and vocabulary.

Praecepta or Regula tertia
While this may in fact be the oldest of the three rules, the Praecepta clearly belongs to the Augustinian corpus. Its spirit and content are clearly Augustinian and fits his other writings on the common life.

While most Ordo Antiquus houses rejected the Ordo Monasterii, many Ordo Novus houses adopted it. Their adoption of the Ordo Monasterii did influence those communities that had not embraced it. Many of the communities embraced various usages from the Ordo Monasterii without enshrining it as legislation.

To read the current Rule of St. Augustine, which joins the prologue of the Ordo Monasterii to the Praecepta, click here.

An 18th Century Canon

The Index of Congregation and Houses is necessarily incomplete, owing to the magnitude of the Canonical Order. Therefore check back and you will find this page frequently updated.

The Index of Congregations and Houses

The names in purple indicate a link to an entry

Prior to the 11th Century

Canons Regular of the Swiss Congregation
Canons Regular of St. Eloi

11th Century

Canons Regular of St. Ruf
Canons Regular of St. Frediano
Canons Regular of St. John Lateran
Cathedral Chapters
Congregation of SS. Nicholas and Bernard of Mont Joux
Canons Regular of San Quentin
Canons Regular of St. Nikola
Canons Regular of Springiersbach
Canons Regular of Rottenbuch
Canons Regular of St. Mark
Canons Regular of Herival
Cannons Regular of the Holy Cross of Mortara
San Pietro in Cielo d’Oro
Canons Regular of Arrouaise
Canons Regular of Marbach

12th Century

Canons Regular of Santa Maria in Portu
Canons Regular of the Holy Sepulchre
Canons Regular of St. Victor
Congregation of the Canons Regular of Chancelade
Salzburg Reform Union of the Canons Regular
Canons Regular in Scoland
Canons Regular of the Holy Cross of Coimbra
Canons Regular of Premontre (Norbertines)
Canons Regular of Roncesvalles
Canons Regular of St. Gilbert
Canons Regular in Ireland
Military Order of St. James of the Sword

13th Century

Hospital Brothers of the Holy Spirit
Canons Regular of Vallis Scholarium
Canons Regular of the Holy Cross (Crosier Fathers)
Military Order of the Red Star Crucifers
Canons Regular of St. Augustine of St. Anthony

14th Century

Canons Regular: Raudnitz Observance
Canons Regular of Groenendaal
Canons Regular of the Congregation of Windesheim
Secular Canons of St. George in Alga

15th Century

Canons Regular of Fregionaia
Canons Regular of the Congregation oof the Most Holy Savior (Renana)
Canons Regular of St. John the Evangelist
Canons Regular of the Holy Spirit
Canons Regular of the Lateran

17th Century

Canons Regular of the Congregation of Our Savior
Canons Regular of the Congregation of France
Canons Regular of St. Patrick
Congregation of Krakow

19th Century

Canons Regular of the Most Holy Savior and the Lateran
Canons Regular of Immaculate Conception

20th Century

Canons Regular of the Austrian Congregation
Congfregation of St. Victor (refoundation)
Congregation of Windesheim (refoundation)
Congregation of the Brothers of the Common Life
Canons Regular of Mother of the Redeemer

Canons Regular of the Swiss Congregation of St. Maurice

St. Maurice of Agaunum is probably the oldest continuously inhabited abbey in the West. The first Bishop of Valais, St. Theodorus, founded around 370 a shrine which commemorated the martyrdom of St. Maurice and companions. Priests were probably attached to this shrine, but this is not known for certain.

In 515 King Sigismund, a convert to the Catholic faith, endowed a monastery near the shrine to St. Maurice. The life of the monks was centered on the continual choral office and became the model for monks throughout Western Europe. Charles Martel imposed one of his generals on the abbey as superior and from 762 to 858 the abbot St. Maurice of Agaunum was also the Bishop of Sion. Things went from bad to worse from 858 to 1032 when the abbey became the private property of the duke of Burgundy, thereafter passing to the house of Savoy.

It seems that canons replaced the monks sometimes around 820-830. Whatever crisis precipitated this change remains unknown. Probably these canons liveed under the Rule of St. Chrodegang as mitigated by the Synod of Aachen, which had been held just a few years earlier at the capital of the Frankish empire. It seems that the nearby cathedrals of Sion, Aosta (two of whose later Bishops, Bl. Bonifacius and Bl. Emmerich, were Canons Regular of St. Orso in Aosta), Lausanne and Geneva all adopted this rule and that by the 11th Century the common life had fallen into disuse.

This situation changed in the 12th Century when St. Hugh of Grenoble convinced Count Amadeus III of Savoy to abandon his claim on St. Maurice of Agaunum and restore the canonical life to its full splendor. Amadeus agreed to this course of action, thereby setting into motion the reform of the abbey on March 30, 1128. Until the middle of the century, canons of the Aachen observance and Augustinian canons lived side by side, seemingly harmoniously. This was typical in many houses of the canons of the Ordo Antiquus model. As the Aachener canons died off, the community became fully “regular”.

With the stabilization of the canonical life at St. Maurice, the community was able to assist other canonical houses, in particular St. Marie at Abondance and St. Marie at Sixt. Bl. Pontius was the first abbot of Sixt. A tradition relates that he began as a canon of St. Maurice, then went to Abondance, finally ending up at Sixt. To encourage one another in their vocation to the regular life, the canons of St. Maurice, Abondance, Sixt and Entremont joined together to form a congregation. This endured until Entremont split from the others to join the Congregation of the Canons Regular of St. Ruf in 1279. Abondance fell under a commendatory abbot in 1433 and finally became a Cistercian abbey when St. Francis de Sales decided to replace the canons with monks in 1615. Sixt however survived up until the French Revolution, enjoying a reputation for authentic religious life.

St. Maurice also lent support to the Canons Regular of Great St. Bernard (The Congregation of SS. Nicholas and Bernard of Mont Joux). In 1199 the abbot of St. Maurice promoted the interests of Great. St. Bernard with the Bishop of Sion, and in 1212 Innocent III entrusted the reform of Great St. Bernard to St. Maurice and two Bishops. In addition several other houses were founded from St. Maurice in France and Savoy.

However, the common life did not endure at St. Maurice. Under Abbot James of Ayent (1292-1313) the monastery became a collegiate church of secular canons. Over time the canons began to live apart in their parishes and pursue their lives independently of one another. Moreover with the arrival of the Reformation, much of Valais fell under Protestant control and the abbey was forced to be subjugated to the Protestant lords of Bern, Valais and Fribourg. Finally, in the early 17th Century a fire, an earthquake and finally an avalanche nearly extinguished the community.

Despair, however, did not overwhelm the canons. Rather, the low state to which the abbey had sunk sparked a desire for reform. The canons decided to take up the common life again. In this they were supported by the nuncio Alexander Scappi, who wished to encourage the renewal of religious life throughout Switzerland. In 1627 the first steps to institutionalizing the reform were taken and the rebuilt church was consecrated. On July 20, 1642, the nuncio, Jerome Farnese consecrated Peter IV Mauritius Odet (1640-1657) abbot and approved the new constitutions, which restored the canons to the common life. Abbot Peter also restored the abbey’s relations with Sixt, which had fallen into abeyance. As a reformer, he was supported vigorously by the Congregation of Our Savior, founded by St. Peter Fourier. An ambitious plan was put on the table that would have united these two congregations and made St. Maurice the generalate, and the abbot the de facto superior. However, the plan was widely opposed and did not come to fruition.

In 1719 the abbot of St. Maurice entered into a relationship with the Lateran Congregation. Though St. Maurice remained fully independent, the abbot was given the privileges of a Lateran abbot. Religious life at the abbey proved healthy throughout the 18th Century. However, the French inspired Swiss Revolution and the annexation of Valais to France, brought great dangers at the end of an otherwise happy period. St. Maurice and Great St. Bernard were forcibly joined and a new constitution was imposed on the abbey by the French government in 1812.

With the defeat of Napoleon, St. Maurice and Great St. Bernard separated. Subsequent attempts to enter into a voluntary union between these two houses never succeeded. Constitutional problems plagued the community and were only resolved in 1870. Peace restored, the community enjoyed vitality into the 20th Century. To its traditional apostolates of teaching and care of souls was added missionary work in the Himalayas. At the opening of the 21st Century, the canons continue to witness to Christ through the common life for priests and pastoral service to the Church through parish work and the secondary school run at the abbey.

To visit the website, click here.

St. Maurice

Canons Regular of Mont St. Eloi

The origins of this ancient canonical house are not entirely certain. One tradition holds that St. Eligius, Bishop of Noyon and Tournai, founded the abbey around 630. A further tradition reports that St. Vindiciano, the Bishop of Cambrai-Arras, organized a community of priests at Mont St. Eloi in order to carry out the apostolate. It is unclear what happened to this community. Be that as it may, in 940 Bishop Fulbert of Cambrai-Arras established eight canons in the abbey, whose community was dedicated to Saints Peter and Paul, Our Lady and St. Vindiciano. It is reasonable to conclude that at this time these canons lived under the Rule of Aachen.

Reform came to this house early and it followed one of the paths typical for house of the Ordo Antiquus. In 1066 or 1068, Lieberto, Bishop of Cambrai-Arras, decided to regularize the community according to the spirit of the Gregorian reforms. The regular canons undertook both the pastoral care of the priories and parishes which were dependents of the abbey and provided a center for intellectual life. Though entrusted with numerous parishes and dependencies, its wealth was relatively modest. Its greatest attraction was not, therefore its wealth, but rather the promise of intellectual vigor and piety.

Its notable members include Bl. John of Warneton and Nicholas Breakspeare (Pope Adrian IV). The fervent intellectual life of Mont St. Eloi produced numerous Masters of Theology in the 13th and 14th Centuries who taught at the Sorbonne and were periti (experts) at the Council of Lyon. These included Balduin de Bapaume, Jacque Desfontaines, Stephan du Fermont, Gervais, Robert d Artois, Andrew, Jean de Mareuil and Eustace Seghin. The intellectual strength of the house continued into the 16th Century, whereupon it began to wane.

The house declined in the 18th Century as the community became notoriously decadent and worldly, even earning the opprobrium of the vicar of Camblain, Thery, who published a tract denouncing them. When the fury of the French Revolution arrived at their doors in 1790, the 23 canons refused to abandon their abbey, though it does appear that some did take the civil oath. In 1792 the abbey was turned into a kind of prison for religious and in 1793 it was sold to a man named Lemaire, who destroyed the abbey and numerous churches, leaving not a trace. The ignominious end of this great house occurred on April 24, 1794, when the last abbot, Dom Laignel and his brother, a Benedictine monk, were guillotined in Arras, martyrs to the Catholic faith.

Canons Regular of St. Ruf

In 1039 four canons of the cathedral chapter of Avignon, Arnold, Udilo, Pontius and Durandus, withdrew from the world to follow the example of the Apostles in pursuit of the common life. Their Bishop, Benedict, enthusiastically supported them and gave them two small churches. They drew upon the Carolingian canonical uses, e.g. Rule of St. Chrodegang and the Rule of Aachen, and the example of other houses, including one in Narbonne, in composing their rule of life. However their historical significance lies in the fact that, as far as is presently known, they were the first religious community in the West to adopt the Rule of St. Augustine in any of its versions. This was further supplemented by numerous extracts from the writings of St. Isidore and St. Jerome, who were cited in the Rule of Aachen.

It is clear from their origins as canons seeking religious life that they belong to the Ordo Antiquus. They transferred the traditions of the earlier Aachener canons to a new context which was taking shaping in the 11th Century. A spirit of reform and rededication to the spiritual life led many canons to seek the religious life; one marked by simplicity, austerity and humility. What was indeed innovative for this community was their decision to embrace the full common life with its emphasis on holding all things in common (vita apostolica). This represented a conscious break from the past, wherein the canons had strongly upheld their right to own property according to the traditions of the Fathers (Instituta Patrum).

At the center of their life as canons was the Sacred Liturgy and their apostolates were typical: hospices for travelers, schools and the celebration of popular devotions. Though their form of life very much resembled monks, it was never as severe, being tempered by the canonical vocation and Augustinian moderation.

The constitution and observances of St. Ruf, which were codified under Abbot Lietbert around 1100, became popular throughout France and the Iberian peninsula. More than 50 abbeys adopted them; many priories and cathedral chapters did the same. Moreover, the relocation of the mother house to a prominent location at Valence in 1158 further enhanced the fame of the community. St. Ruf also produced two popes, Anastasius IV and Adrian IV (1154-59), a Canon Regular of Mont St. Eloi. A further testimony to the virtue of their way of life is illustrated by the life of St. Oldegar, who became the Bishop of Tarragona, Spain, in 1123.

As houses adopted the Consuetudines (customary) of St. Ruf, their superiors were obliged to make an annual visit to Valence. Moreover the abbot of St. Ruf retained the right to confirm the election of abbots in dependent houses. In this respect, St. Ruf organized itself in a way parallel to monastic communities. The influence of St. Ruf was much greater than its numbers. Many canonical foundations borrowed from their customs, e.g. St. Victor and Marbach, preferring the less severe observance of St. Ruf to those of the stricter Ordo Novus (e.g. Springiersbach or Premontre). Perhaps the most famous monastery to adopt its customs was that of the Holy Cross of Coimbra, Portugal. Nonetheless, it would be an exaggeration to speak of a “Congregation” of St. Ruf.

The canons also suffered setbacks. In 1210 the Albigensians destroyed the church and monastery and again during the French civil wars the mother house was destroyed in 1560. The community was finally suppressed in 1772 as part of the program to rationalize religious life in France.

San Ruf

Canons Regular of San Frediano

One of the earliest houses of the regular life in Europe, these canons played an influential role in the first stages of teh movement to promote the common life. The First Lateran Council (1059) provided a strong impetus for the “regularization” of the clergy. So too did Alexander II (1061-1073), who had already witnessed the flourishing of the common life in Lucca, where he had been Bishop.

The canons of San Frediano founded or associated with other canonical houses in a loose fashion, similar to that of Santa Maria in Portu. Though it was not a genuine congregation, there was as degree of unity among the houses belonging to this observance.

Their most important foundation became the premier canonical congregation, the Canons Regular of St. John Lateran. San Frediano and its dependencies joined the Lateran Congregation in 1512. Honorius II belonged to this congregation. At this time Pietro Retta (+1522), preacher and spiritual writer, belonged to this venerable canonry.

San Fredian

The Congregation of SS. Nicholas and Bernard of Mont Joux

This canonical foundation is representative of the hospitaller movement by which canons responded to the call to care for travelers and pilgrims. St. Bernard of Melanthon chose a particularly audacious mission in founding a hospice upon the one of the principal routes over the Alps at Mount Jupiter (Mont Joux), sometime during the middle of the 11th Century. Already a priest of Aosta, he went up in the Alps to resettle the abandoned hospice of St. Peter. He attracted disciples and founded a canonry. The canons joined the celebration of the Divine Office with love of neighbor. It appears that they lived under the rule composed by St. Chrodegang and were not initially part of the Gregorian Reform. In 1150 they adopted the influential Consuetudines of Marbach. However, it was only with great effort and after several attempts that the canons finally embraced the Rule of St. Augustine sometime during the 13th Century.

The great expense of providing free hospitality and support for the community required a healthy endowment. It came in abundance in the form of property and benefices that were not only local, but included holdings as far away as England. While the 13th and 14th Centuries witnessed great prosperity for the hospice, it did not last. The hospice and its holding were located in regions with strong and often conflicting loyalties. Differences between Valais and Savoyard members of the community would also prove very destructive to the community in the 18th Century.

Benefices abroad were progressively lost and commendatory abbots ruled from 1438 to 1586. From 1586 to 1734 the situation improved, though the hospice had to accept the nomination of provosts from the ruling house of Savoy. From 1734 to 1753 deep division along regional lines divided the canons seriously. No provost acceptable to both factions could be elected. In 1749 a provost supported by the house of Savoy and the pope was also not accepted. Finally in 1753 the community was officially divided by Pope Benedict XIV. This resulted in substantial losses for the hospice, since three-quarters of the canons and ninety percent of their parishes were secularized.

However the remaining canons, though small in number, heroically overcame this blow. A positive outcome was that they finally became a self-governing community with right to elect their own provost. Their activities were now entirely restricted to Valais, where they continued to undertake pastoral work for travelers, as well as parish work.

Unlike most religious, the canons did not suffer from the French Revolution or the Napoleonic Wars. They provided a refuge for fleeing clergy and religious. Napoleon perceived the utility of their apostolate vis-a-vis his designs to rule all of Europe. He gave the canons the care of two other passages through the Alps, only one of which they were able to maintain. In truth these were not gifts, but obligations that this small congregation could barely undertake at that time.

While they escaped the menace of the French Revolution and Napoleon, conflict in Valais nearly destroyed the community in the mid-19th Century. Radicals took power in Valais and demanded 80,000 francs to help pay for their army, which was fighting in the Swiss Civil War. The provost refused and the canons were rewarded with expropriation, imprisonment and military occupation. Despite all this, the canons refused to surrender. After the first wave of violence passed, the canons returned home and began their work anew. By 1857 Conservatives had defeated the Radicals and the canons enjoyed a great deal of good will and respect for their stand against the Radicals.

The hospice again experienced a revival and its apostolates of hospitality and care of souls was zealously embraced. Changes in modern transportation led the canons to reconsider their traditional practice of offering hospitality free of charge. Many came to the hospice in the summer time as tourists, not as pilgrims or the poor. The chapter decided in 1928 to make distinctions in the summer time between tourists and pilgrims.

In 1931 the canons accepted a call to the missions and agreed to evangelize Tibet. In 1935 the construction of a hospice on the Chinese-Tibetan border began. It did not get very far owing to the Japanese invasion of China, World War Two and the civil war that followed. However the canons worked in the region for twenty years and established a number of parishes in China and conducted missions in Tibet. Though they did find many receptive to the Gospel, Buddhist monks persecuted the canons and the new Christians. Finally the Buddhists resorted to violence when they martyred Bl. Maurice Tournay on November 8, 1949. Shortly thereafter the Chinese Communists expelled all foreign missionaries. The missions in China ended, but a new one opened in Taiwan, where the canons arrived in 1952.

Back in Valais, the canons expanded their apostolates to include vocational education and priestly formation.

To visit the website, click here.

Canons Regular of San Quentin of Beauvai

Bishop Guido of Beauvais founded a collegiate church of secular canons in 1067. Two year later the canons settled at the church of St. Quentin. After ten years of strife between the canons and the diocese, the Bishop invited St. Ivo to come and regularize the community in 1078. St. Ivo introduced the Augustinian life to the canons, many of whom were not interested in this new life. Their persistent resistance to reform caused problems, but did not prevent the determined saint from making St. Quentin into a center of canonical reform whose effects were to be felt far and wide.

St. Ivo authored the consuetudines or customs and usages of St. Quentin. Unlike the contemporary eremitical movement, which strongly emphasized solitude and asceticism, St. Ivo argued persuasively for the superiority of the common life. He did so in practice through his ordo and in letters to Robert d’Abrissel and to Rinald, two leading hermits of his day. One of the former’s disciples was the spiritual father of the hermitage of canons at Chancelade.

In composing his Consuetudines St. Ivo drew upon three principal sources: the Instituta Patrum, the Regula Tertia and the Vita S. Augustani by St. Possidius. His ordo retained the spirit of moderation with respect to fasting and abstinence, which is characteristic of St. Augustine’s rule. St. Ivo’s ordo was diffused to different communities in the neighboring areas, including Mont St. Eloi, when, in 1099, Bl. John of Warneton, Bishop of Therouanne, promulgated it for his entire diocese. In addition to the spread of the Consuetudines, St. Quentin proved particularly fruitful in fathering many new houses of canons, though it never formed a congregation or had a “mother-daughter” relationship with its new foundations.

There is a further question with respect to St. Quentin’s role in introducing the canonical life to England. At least one tradition suggests that two canons of St. Botolph in Colchester were sent to St. Quentin to study the Consuetudines of Beauvais and bring them back to England.

St. Ivo’s successor, Galone, still faced some resistance to reform within the community. Abbot Galone – the title having been introduced during St. Ivo’s reign – governed for ten years until he became Bishop of Beauvais in 1100, while retaining the position of abbot. Two year later he was sent to Poland as papal legate and finally became Bishop of Paris in 1104. In each place he promoted the common life. His successor, Eude, governed only briefly in 1105.

It was the election of Abbot Raoul on October 4, 1105 which finally broke the impasse in the community and he governed serenely for thirty-one years. He went to great lengths to conciliate with the Bishop and as a result, beneficial and fraternal relations developed between the Canons Regular and the canons of the cathedral. The Canons Regular were granted certain privileges proper to cathedral canons and were welcomed to participate in the Divine Office of the cathedral.

The community was governed by the abbot, who was assisted by the prior and the administration of the household was entrusted to the praepositus. The canons were organized by their clerical ranks or tasks within the community. In addition to the canons, some lay people lived with the community. This was a common practice at that time for regular canons throughout Europe. They were conversi, sorores and pueri. Conversi were men and woman who wished to leave the world and dedicate their lives to the Gospel. They were often penitents. Sorores were women who resided nearby and served the community. Pueri were boys sent by their parents to become canons. From the beginning it seems that the canons carried out pastoral ministry in the abbey’s priories and parishes as well as providing hospitality for travelers.

Its later history follows the usual history of French canons. Following its flowering in the 12th Century, the canons were displaced by the friars. In the 1532 the abbey became a commenda. They became part of the reformed Congregation of France in 1636 and were suppressed during French Revolution in 1790.

Canons Regular of St. Nikola

This important house of Canons Regular became the center of reform through southern Germany and Austria in the 11th Century. St. Altmann, the Bishop of Passau and an enthusiastic supporter of the Gregorian Reforms, founded this house around 1067. Shortly thereafter the obtained for the canons papal exemption (Libertas Romana). It was the first house granted this dignity. From St. Nikola he proceeded to send canons to found other houses. In 1071 he dispatched canons to St. Florian, the oldest canonical house in Austria and thereafter founded canonries at Göttweig and St. Pölten.

These were turbulent times in the Holy Roman Empire. In addition to an energetic reform program for the clergy, St. Gregory VII also wished to alter the relationship between Church and State, which in previous years had strongly favored the latter over the former, even with respect to the internal governance of the Church. This led to the Investiture Struggle between the pope and emperor. Since St. Altmann remained a stalwart supporter of the pope, Emperor Henry IV drove him and the canons out of Passau.

Before he died in exile, St. Altmann sent some of the canons to Rottenbuch to found a new house in 1085. Around 1100 Ulrich, Bishop of Passau, was able to recover St. Nikola and return the canons to their home. By 1111 the canons were given care for the Lazarum of St. Elizabeth and incorporated numerous parishes. By 1122, the canons became part of the important Salzburg Reform Union led by Bishop Konrad. On account of this, they adopted the Consuetudines of the Canons Regular of Marbach as their rule of life, as did other houses influenced by the Salzburg reform. The emperor’s widow and wife of St. Leopold, Agnes, endowed the canons anew and was honored as a patroness of the canons at Passau as she is at Klosterneuburg.

The construction of the city wall in 1209 put the abbey outside of the city. The community was conceded a measure of self-governance and independence from episcopal visitation by 1230. This advantage permitted the energetic community to become not only a religious center, but also culturally and economically influential. In the 16th Century St. Nikola also became renowned for its promotion of music and the other humanities. This was also a perilous time for the canons as Protestantism threatened their very existence.

However, by the 17th Century, the worst of the threat had passed and the canons again flourished. The community was again spiritually and economically healthy. Thereupon the canons undertook an ambitious building program that extended the abbey, renovated the gothic church according to the baroque style of the times, and commissioned new frescos to adorn the interior. The entire project was completed in 1730. Their library was likewise famous for its vast collection of works. The wealth of the canons was also spent on charitable projects. One notable practice was the habit of each of the canons to underwrite the education of a young man in Passau. In 1785 the white habit was replaced by a black one.

This thriving canonry came to a brutal end with its secularization in 1803. In the subsequent years the wealth of the abbey was plundered and most of the buildings damaged or destroyed. In 1945 the Sisters of the Teutonic Order obtained what was left of the abbey and the church, renovated them and adopted this venerable abbey as their mother house.

St. Florian

Canons Regular of Springiersbach

Around 1072-74 a new community of Canons Regular came into being at the abbey of Ravengiersburg. By 1100 they had founded a number of small canonical houses throughout the region. In 1102 Benigna, the widow of a noble minister, Ruker, decided to endow a new abbey of Canons Regular in Springiersbach. Securing the support of both the count and the Archbishop of Trier, the new house was dedicated to the Blessed Virgin. In 1110, her son Richard became provost and led the abbey to its greatest splendor. He gave the canons the common life combined with poverty and manual labor. He took the Rule of St. Augustine and the Ordo Monasterii as the governing legislation, firmly placing this house in the reform stream of the Ordo Novus.

Under Richard the house grew rapidly, expanding to Orval (1110), Steinfeld (1121), Frankenthal (1119) and Klosterrath (1124). Moreover a number of houses of canons and canonesses entered into a union with Springiersbach. The Count desired to see all the houses in his lands united with Springiersbach and the canons accepted this program (1130-40). In 1139 the Holy See granted Springiersbach the right to hold General Chapters for all its member houses. Due to the rapid rise of the canons and the possibility that the abbot could become more powerful than the Archbishop, a struggle between Springiersbach and the Archbishop of Trier broke out. Settled in 1145, it left the abbot of Springiersbach in a weakened position.

Thereafter the house entered a period of dissolution with poor leadership, leading to an intervention by the Archbishop and the suppression of two dependent houses. Under Assalonne (1191-96), an attempt was made to reform the house through an association with the Canons Regular of St. Victor, the effects of which were transitory. Wealth and a lack of a genuine canonical vocation on the part of many of the canons who were often the fatherless nobles, led to a further degradation of the canonical observance.

Though the abbey was only suppressed in 1802, its days of splendor were long passed. Its history was marked by ongoing troubles with the archbishop, failed reforms and the loss of dependent foundations. The abbey had fallen to such a low state that a plan was proposed in 1766 to convert the abbey into a home for knights.

A German Canon

Canons Regular of Rottenbuch

Rottenbuch was founded sometime during the 10th Century as hermitage. In 1073, Duke Welf I of Bavaria, on the advice of St. Altmann, decided to found a canonry. However due to the Investiture Struggle, the canons could not settled there until 1085, when some canons from St. Nikola (Passau) and St. Pölten arrived. On March 6, 1090 Rottenbuch received from Pope Urban II the much desired papal exemption (Libertas Romana). It was the first house of the later Salzburg Reform Union to attain to this privilege. This was probably due to its importance in the reform movement. Given its origins, it is not surprising that Rottenbuch was both a center of papal loyalty during the Investiture Struggle, a refuge for those exiled by the emperor and an influential leader in the canonical movement.

The constitution of Rottenbuch to which they remained faithful into the 15th Century, is very similar to the famous Marbach Consuetudines, which they adopted around 1150. Rottenbuch grew very quickly and enjoyed a good reputation throughout all of Germany. It seems that the canons provided hospitality for pilgrims and travelers on the road to Italy, and undertook the care of souls from their earliest days. Rottenbuch, like other canonries, had a number of incorporated parishes for which the abbey was responsible.

Though it never built a proper congregation, in the first two decades of the 12th Century canons from Rottenbuch founded or supplied canons to houses at Rolduc (Klosterrath) near Maastricht, Reichersberg, Berchtesgaden, Baumburg, Dießen, Hamersleben and Neuwerk bei Halle. By the end of the 13th century almost 200 canonries were founded in German-speaking lands, most of which stem in some way from the reform of Rottenbuch. Under Provost Otto I (1147-1180) Rottenbuch reached its first great flourishing. His role as a mediator between the emperor and pope gave further prestige to this canonical house.

It was in this venerable abbey that the famous Gerhoch (later of Reichersberg) entered religion, having left the unhealthy atmosphere of the cathedral canonry of Augsburg where he was active in the school. He was joined by others of his circle, among whom was Arno his brother, who succeeded him later as dean and provost of Reichersberg Abbey.

Emperor Ludwig of Bavaria elevated Rottenbuch to an imperial abbey in gratitude for their protection and assistance. This gave the abbey greater independence and stability. In the 15th Century Rottenbuch was again in the position to lead a reform of religious life as well as undertake cultural and economic projects, including the construction of new church towers and a prelature, and the restoration of the Romanesque church. Pontificals were conferred on the provost in 1442 and the canons were given the privilege to wear the almutium.

Rottenbuch remained a bastion of orthodoxy during the Protestant reformation and the canons struggled mightily to maintain the Catholic faith throughout the region under their care. Even the peasant uprising of 1525 did not deter the canons from their mission. The Thirty Years’ War (1616-1648) was fraught with dangers for the community, but under Provost Michael Fischer (1627-1663) Rottenbuch flourished yet again until its demise in 1803 at the secularization. In 1694 the abbey joined the Lateran Congregation.

During its last century, the church was renovated in the baroque style and the abbey, like Pölling, became a renowned center of scholarship. It possessed an impressive library and some of the canons dedicated themselves to research, particularly in history and astronomy. In fact the canons obtained the Mannheimer Meteorological Society’s first observatory on the Hohenpeißingberg in 1781 to advance their research into the mysteries of Creation.

When the decree of secularization came in 1803, it annihilated a healthy and vivacious community of 39 canons, 5 juniors and 3 lay brothers. The contempt and hatred for the faith with which this decree was issued, is illustrated further by the malice with which it was executed. The commissioner in charge of the secularization wanted the entire abbey pulled down. It was only with great effort that the church and some of the new buildings were saved. The priceless collection in the library was mostly sent to a paper mill.

The abbey church of Rottenbuch

Canons Regular of St. Mark

The origins of this house of canons in Mantua are not clear. Perhaps they were founded by a pious countess, Matilde of Canossa (+1076),who endowed the church of St. Mark to support priests living the common life. Another possibility is that a community was founded or reformed under the leader of Albert Spinola, a Canon Regular of Mortara, in 1194. What is certain however is that Innocent III in 1204 approved their rule of life as Canons Regular while they were under the leadership of Albert of Mantua (+1210).

Their life was marked by a contemplative vocation, monastic observances and rigorous silence in the dormitory and refectory. Communication, when it occurred at all, was through sign language. Moreover the life was characterized by its austerities: meager diet and regular fasting (except for the sick and old).

In 1220 five houses belonged to the congregation and by 1300 they numbered over ten. The poet Girolamo Vida belonged to this congregation. By Vida’s lifetime, the vitality of congregation was already mostly spent and they were united first to the Umiliati (early in the 16th Century) then finally to the Camadolese in 1584.

St. Marco Mantua

Canons Regular of St. John Lateran

Sometime during the pontificate of Alexander II (1060-72) some of the Canons Regular of San Frediano were brought to Rome to serve at this venerable basilica. This was a great honor since St. John Lateran, being the cathedral of the diocese of Rome and the residence of the popes at the time, was arguably the most important church in Christendom. However, it was later under Paschal II that the prior of San Frediano was brought to Rome and given the cathedral parish as well as the priory. The were given care of other parishes in Rome and beyond as well. Finally in 1153 Anastasius IV confirmed the rights and privileges of canons.

The canons were given a customary, the Ordo Officiorum Ecclesiae Lateranensis, in 1145 by Prior Bernard, whom Eugene III created a cardinal that same year. The celebration of the Divine Office occupied a significant portion of the day. Moreover, often the Holy Father would celebrate the liturgy in his cathedral in the presence of his canons. The observance of silence was particularly rigorous, especially during Lent. The canons were also daily given time for reading and study. In the morning a daily chapter of faults was held in the presence of the prior, there was reading during meals and frequent fasting. The canons cared for the poor and pilgrims as part of their mission at the church of San Giovanni alla Porta Latina and the neighboring papal hospice, “Xenodochium Lateranense,” which was entrusted to them by Lucius II.

The canons enjoyed the greatest flowering under Alexander III (1159-1181). At this time the magnificent cloister of the cathedral was completed. But also under this pope many inauspicious decisions were made which would lead to the decline in the canonical life. Prebends, i.e. giving ecclesiastics a role in the governance of religious communities ostensibly to assist them, the secularization of the chapters of cathedrals and collegiate churches, as well as the non-residence of superiors, i.e. superiors who did not reside in their communities, et. al., undermined the quality of priestly life throughout the Church.

The Canons Regular continued to staff the basilica until 1299, when Boniface VIII replaced them with 15 secular canons of prominent Roman families. Canons Regular would not return to the cathedral for 140 years, when they would come from the Canons Regular of San Fregionaia.

Latgeran Canon

Cathedral Chapters

For approximately 200 years Canons Regular served as the cathedral chapter of St. John Lateran. This was a practice common especially at the end of the 11th century and the opening decades of the 12th Century. Though closely associated with the Gregorian Reform program, which in fact began before the pontificate of St. Gregory VII (1073- 1085) with the first Lateran Council in 1059, there were in fact already three chapters in Italy living a “regular life” (Lucca in 1048, Atino in 1056 and Florence in 1058). The strength of this movement lay principally in Italy, southern France and Spain.

None of this is particularly odd since the canonical life had its origins in the ancient practice of bishops living with their clergy at the cathedral, as did St. Augustine, St. Chrodegang, et al. Chapters (from the Latin capitulum) of canons formed the bishop’s senate. These priests were not only entrusted with the task of praying the Divine Office and offering the Mass in the cathedral, but also carried out a variety of roles to support the bishop in his office as chief shepherd of the diocese. These offices included the dean, who presided over the chapter; a canon theologian; a canon penitentiary with the authority to hear confessions throughout the diocese; treasurer; sacristan, secretary; custos, primicerius, portarius, precentor, hospitalarius, eleemosynarius or almoner, camerarius or chamberlain.

Besides offering the bishop the manpower to govern his diocese and run his household, the chapter also formed his council, to which he was obliged, depending on the law, to ask for consent or consultation on important decisions. In the Middle Ages chapters had the right to elect the bishop (problems with this quickly brought the Holy See to curtail this privilege significantly), and held other special privileges.

It is hardly surprising that many bishops elected to regularize their cathedral chapters since it made the cathedral a focal point for ecclesiastical reform. This, however, often meant replacing existing bodies of secular canons or monks. While among the secular clergy there were doubtless some who were filled with a desire for a reformed life, there were likewise many who did not wish to give up their privileges as secular canons, as was evident in the case of the chapter at St. John Lateran. Monastic and secular chapters alike, (the former were common in England) often fought and won their right to maintain their position in the Bishop’s cathedral. For example, St. John of Chantillon tried and failed to regularize his cathedral chapter.

Whether through a holy Bishop or zealous reformer, regularized cathedral chapter were founded in Cefalu in Sicily; Gubbio (through St. Ubald), Castello, Fano, Florence, Milan, Pistoia and Lucca in Italy; Toulouse, Avignon, Nimes, Arles, Carcassonne, Pamiers, Cahors, Beziers, Narbonne, Apt, Comminges (through St. Bertrand), Mende, Albi, Nice, Bordeaux, Grenoble (through St. Hugh of Grenoble), Tarantasia, Belley and Sees in France; Pamplona, Jaca, Dertosa, Vich, Osma, Toledo, Lerida, Tarragona and Zaragoza in Spain; Haberstadt and Neumünster in Germany; Salzburg and Gurk in Austria; Down Clogher (through St. Malachy) and Dublin (through St. Lawrence O’Toole) in Ireland; St. Andrew’s and Whitehorn in Scotland and Carlyle in England.

St. Peter Arbues and St. Raymund belonged to cathedral chapters and the founder of the Order of Preachers, St. Dominic, pictured on the right as a canon, belonged to the cathedral chapter of Osma.

Consecration of a bishop

Pamplona Canon

St. Dominic

Canons Regular of Herival

Some years later, under the prior, Constantine, the hermits of Herival and two other houses, Bonneval and Aubiey, joined together under the leadership of Constantine. They adopted the Rule of St. Augustine, embraced the canonical life and Constantine composed a “Rule of Herival,” which attempted to integrate their eremitical heritage into their canonical vocation. These statues were noted for their austerity with respect to fasting, abstinences and other penances and went beyond those practiced by the Carthusians, Cistercians, and the reformed canons of Premontre. In fact, so severe were these statues, that popes Honorius III and Innocent IV introduced various mitigations into the statutes.

The congregation was governed by a life-long elected prior or master, pointing again to its eremitical origins. The life of the canons was principally contemplative. However with the intrusion of pastoral responsibilities beginning in the 14th Century, it became harder to balance the two. Among these was a hospital at Plombieres and several parishes. Social instability, plagues, war and pastoral duties led to relaxation of the rule at the end of the 15th Century. A reform of the congregation occurred und Prior Sebastian Valdenaire, who promulgated new statutes, which were considerably milder than those of Constantine. These were observed up until 1742, when Jean-Francois Callot promulgated new ones.

The Congregation of Herival ceased to exist as an independent body in 1747, when the Duke of Lorraine joined them to the newly founded Congregation of Our Savior. The French revolutionary government nationalized the priories at the end of the 18th Century and all the buildings except for the guest house were destroyed.

Canons Regular of the Holy Cross of Mortara

Mortara lay along one of the most important pilgrimage routes in Europe between Rome and Santiago de Compestella. The marquis Adam del Bosco of Mortara, a wealthy priest, decided to endow a monastery, church and hospice for pilgrims in 1082. He was a friend of Gregory VII and shared his hopes for the reform of the clergy.

However he thought that Cistercians would be quite suitable for his plan until he came to realize that monks were not able to do the priestly work, which he had envisioned. So instead in 1083 he gathered a group of his friends in the priesthood together in the house and they began to live the common life, celebrate the liturgy and carry out works of mercy. The first prior – Gandalf of Garlasco – gave them the name Canons of Mortara to distinguish the community from monks. As they grew, they established other houses along the pilgrim route. In 1097 Urban II visited and he consecrated the high altar of their church.

Initially this house was under episcopal jurisdiction since it did not belonging to the order of Canons Regular. They probably lived under the Instituta Patrum or some version thereof. Their work centered on service to travelers, pilgrims, the sick and the poor. As they continued to expand, they began to seek a more regular status for their community. In 1120 they embraced the Rule of St. Augustine “ad experimentum”; in 1134 a papal bull referred to them as Canons Regular; and finally in 1168 they officially and definitively became part of the canonical order.

They continued to grow rapidly and accepted the responsibility for the pastoral care of several parishes in Lombardy and Piedmont. During the pontificate of Innocent II, they embraced 14 abbeys and priories and by that of Urban III, 43 abbeys and priories. It was at this time that the canon counted among their numbers, St. Quirinus (Guarinus). A second saint, St. Albert, would later become patriarch of Jerusalem and give a rule of the Carmelites. Others became Bishops as well including Bl. Thomas of Milan.

Due to political instability and social unrest, the canons and their houses declined. In 1448 Rafaele Salviati convoked the General Chapter to decide the fate of the congregation. Their attempts at reform were not successful and the townsmen of Mortara no longer wished their presence. In exile, Salviati decided to seek the protection of the flourishing reform congregation of Canons Regular of the Lateran for his community. They joined to the Lateran Canons in 1449, while retaining the privilege of using their own customs and traditions. Moreover it was through the efforts of the Lateran superior general that the Mortara canons were finally able to return to their home in Mortara.

Mortara was suppressed along with the other houses of the Lateran Congregation in the lands ruled by the King of Savoy in 1798.

San Pietro in Ciel d’Oro

Perhaps the most important church in Pavia, San Pietro in Ciel d’Oro became home to Canons Regular of Mortara in 1221, though there were probably other canons there earlier. This church has a special importance for both the Canons Regular and the Augustinian friars since St. Augustine’s relics were translated to it. Probably the Bishop of Pavia, St. Folco, who was a canon regular from Piacenza, introduced those of Mortara to San Pietro in Ciel d’Oro.

The house has played an important role in the reform of canonical life. On two occasions this house gave its members to new influential new foundations in the 14th and 15th Centuries. This houses seems to have supplied Canons Regular to help found the first Czech canonry at Raudnitz in 1333. Nearly 70 years later, with the permission of the abbot of San Pietro, two reform minded canons, the prior, Leone Gheradini da Carate, and Taddeo da Bagnasco, joined Bartolomeo da Roma in 1402 and relocated to Lucca where they founded the reformed Canons Regular of Fregionaia. Just 47 years later, the entire Mortara Congregation joined this new congregation, by then called the Lateran Canons.

San Pietro in Ciel d’Oro continued to be an important house of the congregation until its suppression with other house of the Lateran Congregation in Lombardy by Joseph II, Emperor of Austria, in 1781. This was a particularly painful blow to both the canons and friars, who considered this house, which they shared, to be a spiritual center of their respective orders.

Canons Regular of Arrouaise

Located in the dense forest of Artois through which ancient Roman roads connected France to the Low Countries and England to the continent, a layman named Ruggerius established a hermitage where he provided a place of rest and safety for travelers. This was a dangerous place, home to an infamous brigand, Berengarius who murdered many, including two Irish missionaries (Luglio and Lugliano).

In 1090 Bl. Heldemar of Tournai and Kuno, a German, arrived at the hermitage. Together with Ruggerius they began to live the common life. Since Artois belonged to the Normans, it connected them to France, the Low Countries and England. Men from these lands came to Arrouaise seeking the common life and its apostolate of hospitality. Heldemar and Ruggerius died early, leaving Kuno alone to guide the fledging community according to their vision. In 1097 Bishop Lambert of Arras recognized the hermitage as a religious community.

A few later Kuno traveled to Rome to obtained papal recognition. On account of this visit, the community received papal recognition, but lost Kuno, whom Paschal II decided to make cardinal-archbishop of Palestrina (1107-1121). The community enjoyed good relations with the Bishop of Therouanne, Bl. John of Warneton, a Canon Regular of Mont Saint Eloi and the Bishop of Chartres, St. Ivo, a Canon Regular of St. Quentin, both of whom were promoters of the canonical life among the French clergy.

In 1121 the community elected its first abbot, a young canon, named Gervais, who was a cleric in the court of Boulogne. Under his long reign (1121-47), the members of the community took the title of canons in place of the original title of hermit and its golden age commenced. The Rule of Arrouaise, which combined the Regula Tertia of St. Augustine with the customs of the hermitage, was identified with the success of the community and thereupon became a power incentive for other canonical houses to associate with Arrouaise. Moreover, on account of the fact that Abbot Gervais came from a port town, the fame of the house spread swiftly to England and Ireland.

Arrouaise is historically significant because it made an attempt to create a centralized congregation, like that of Citeaux or Premontre. When a house joined the congregation of Arrouaise, their abbot was obliged to attend the annual Chapter. It was through this mechanism that Arrouaise hoped to oversee its burgeoning congregation. The Abbey of Henin-Lietard was the first house to join in 1123. During the next 10 years, the congregation expanded throughout Artois, including the cathedral chapters of Theouanne, Boulogne, Noyon and Soisson. In 1133 the first English house in Lincoln joined and in 1139 the Bishop of Carlisle regularized his cathedral chapter according to the Rule of Arrouaise.

At the same time in Ireland, St. Malachy was promoting the customs of Arrouaise as a mean of reform. Later, in 1160 St. Lawrence O’Toole regularized the cathedral chapter in Dublin. The Rule of Arrouaise found widespread adherence in Ireland, but the Irish were often unwilling to attend the annual Chapters, leading to tensions between Arrouaise and the Irish houses (go to Canons Regular in Ireland). Arrouaise also claimed houses into Germany, Spain and Poland (Silesia, Stift Sagan).

Stagnation followed Gervais’ resignation in 1147 until 1180, when Gualterius became abbot. He reorganized the order by dropping difficult or distant houses and clarified the rights and obligations of member abbeys. Though his efforts were valiant, larger forces, especially political intrigues between France and Flanders, prevented them from being successful. At the opening of the 13th Century, the congregation was already in decline. Monastic observances were added to the Rule, which opened up a division in the congregation between those who accepted these innovations and those who did not.

Though it lost much of the importance it had in the 12th Century, it still exerted influence in Artois and in England up until the Reformation. The second major blow came with the French invasion of Artois in the 15th Century. The instability and frequent warfare, which afflicted this region, put a constant strain on the health of this congregation. However, the Canons Regular of Arrouaise did persist in very small numbers up until the French Revolution, when they were suppressed in 1790.

Canons Regular of Marbach

Though it was founded at the end of the 11th Century, this house would rise to become one of the most important centers of Canons Regular in the Holy Roman Empire in the 12th Century and therefore also for the entire Church because its customs were widely diffused throughout all the German speaking lands of that time. What made this house so influential was its customs or Consuetudines of Marbach, which had the benefit of moderating the more severe aspects of life of Ordo Novus canons, e.g. Springiersbach, Rolduc (Klosterrath) or Premontre. Practically, this left room for pastoral work. Therefore many Ordo Antiquus houses of canons adopted these customs as a means of introducing the regular life.

The community, located just southwest of Colmar in Alsace, was founded in 1089 by Manegold of Lautenbach, who has been for a brief time the dean of Rottenbuch in Bavaria and Burkhard of Geberschweier, a vassal of the Bishop of Strasbourg. In 1096 and again in 1103 they obtained papal recognitions and privileges. In 1105 the Bishop of Geneva consecrated the abbey church of St. Augustine. Through the 12th Century this house gave the Church a number of reformer Bishops and other houses were founded or joined Marbach. However, the great importance of this house belongs to its Consuetudines, to which we now turn in depth.

The Consuetudines of Marbach reflect their author’s experience, spirituality and understanding of the canonical vocation. Every aspect of this life is addressed in the Consuetudines. With respect to the acceptance of novices, Manegold placed “utility” (the term evidently comes from the Synod of Lerida in 524) above all other considerations when evaluating a candidate. One must be careful not to project a modern understanding of this word, which would suggest a dehumanizing objectification of the canon. Rather, what Manegold has in mind is one’s usefulness with respect to the mission of the Church and the apostolate of the priesthood.

One of the chief concerns of the Consuetudines is pride. Since the canons play the principal role in the liturgy and were responsible for preaching, the temptations to pride were in fact enormous. To counter this tendency, Manegold stipulated poverty, readiness to serve generously as both a form of witness to the Gospel and an expression of love for neighbor and finally he mandated a careful examination of the motivation for entrance into the community. If one came without the right intentions, then one ought not be admitted to the canons.

Manegold placed prayer at the center of the life of the canons. Not only liturgical prayer, but also private personal prayer was expected. Therefore new member of the community were to be instructed in different forms of prayer with particular emphasis on contrition. Prayer itself was an offering to God and what was said in prayer mattered less than that it was said at all. The gift of time, its regularity and persistence were the qualities prized about all.

With prayer, Manegold also coupled the practice of silence, whose benefits not only included the facilitation of recollection and meditation, but also expressed an important form of charity for one’s neighbor. During recreation, conversation was directed to whatever was edifying and beneficial, while work was done in silence with signs used in place of spoken words.

Manegold placed a strong emphasis on the Rite of Investiture, which at Marbach had a sacramental character. The rite itself contained a prayer for forgiveness which came from an ancient rite of reconciliation of penitents. The superior invoked the Holy Spirit over the newly clothed novice, asking that the new habit should symbolize a genuine interior renewal.

Given the thorough and profound nature of the Consuetudines, many houses of German speaking canons chose to adopt them in part or whole as a charter for reform. A number of priories actually became dependant houses of Marbach; others accepted superiors from Marbach and the Consuetudines; others entered a kind of confraternity with Marbach or adopted some of the statues and still others remained entire autonomous, but borrowed from the liturgical practices and Consuetudines of Marbach, freely combining them with those of other houses, e.g. Rottenbuch.

In addition the 36 communities in Alasce, Switzerland, Germany and Austria, there were another 20 to 30 dependent houses of the Salzburg Union and Rottenbuch that adhered in part or in whole to the Consuetudines.

After the 12th Century, as a result of epidemics, social instability and other problems, the discipline of the Marbach waned and the community declined. In 1464, the canons adopted the observance of the Windesheim Congregation, which remained in force until 1769.

St. Augustine presents his Rule and the Consuetudines of Marbach to the canons and canonesses

Canons Regular of Santa Maria in Portu

Though the first recorded mention of this canonry occurs in 1103, it is probably 11th Century springing out of the ferment of the Gregorian Reforms. In 1106, Peter of Onesti arrived at the church of St. Maria in Portu on the isle of Corizo near Ravenna, where he renovated the church and built a cloister on the earlier 11th Century foundation. He was pious and hardworking and attracted disciples. Together they began to live the full common life (vita canonica) and he became prior of the community.

The canons received papal recognition from Paschal II, who congratulated Peter in a letter dated May 7, 1114 for leading the regular life secundum sanctorum Patrum institutionem.” Shortly thereafter a new rule of life, called the Portuense Rule, was promulgated for the community. It bears many similarities to the Rule of St. Augustine and the Aachen Statutes. With respect to its origins, there is some dispute over whether Peter composed it specifically for this community at Santa Maria in Portu or an earlier one. Either way it was approved by Paschal II on Dec. 21. 1116.

Peter died prematurely, but he left his foundation is good shape. It grew rapidly and expanded to other places. Within a few years, there were eight dependent houses belonging to the abbey, though they were only loosely joined together and not a genuine congregation. The rule enjoyed a much broader diffusion to Italy, France, Germany and Spain. For example, St. Ubald introduced the rule to the canons of the cathedral at Gubbio.

The canons were models of priestly sanctity. Most famous in this tradition is St. Hildebrand, who was educated by the canons, became one himself and later served as provost in Rimini and Bishop of Fossombrone.

By the 15th Century, moribund community nearly slipped into extinction on account of the absence of leadership and direction that was a direct result of the practice of commendatory abbots. With no one in charge, buildings fell into disrepair and were abandoned and vocations plummeted until finally in 1419 the community dwindled to just two: the prior and one canon. However, a pious aristocrat from Ravenna, Obizone, took it upon himself to make sure that this ancient canonical house should not die. He arranged a union between Santa Maria in Portu and the newly founded Canons Regular of Fregionaia. Like a sickly branch grafted onto a healthy vine, it drew revitalizing sap from this reform congregation and was soon again filled with vigor and vocations.

Its fate, like the other houses were grafted onto the canons of Fregionaia, was bound to the health and well being of their successor body, the Lateran Congregation, which was suppressed by Napoleon in 1799.

Canons Regular of St. Victor

When William of Champeaux retired from public life as archdeacon of Notre Dame in Paris in 1108 and left his teaching post at the school of Notre Dame, he could have little imagined the ramifications of his decision. He withdrew to the quiet hermitage of St. Victor on the outskirts of Paris. His peace was short lived since many of his students, including Peter Abelard, followed him. It was not long before William resumed his lectures in his new venue. From these humble origins came the Royal Abbey and School of St. Victor.

William and some of his students (Gilduin, Gottfrid, Robert, Gunther and Thomas) subsequently adopted the canonical life and founded a new community at St. Victor. William himself did not remain long since he became Bishop of Chalons in 1114. He left the community in capable hands and vocations were plentiful. Under the leadership of his successor, Gilduin (1113-1155), the school flourished and the community expanded to include over 40 houses. These houses included the venerable Abbey of St. Genevieve in Paris and ones in France, England, Ireland and Italy.

The scholarly tradition of its founder, William of Champeaux, continued after his departure. Rooted in the theological method of St. Augustine, the Victorines contributed significantly to the development of Scholastic Theology. Moreover, the School itself, along with those of St. Genevieve and Notre-Dame formed the embryonic University of Paris. During the 12th and 13th Centuries St. Victor attracted outstanding men of piety and learning from all over Europe. Sometimes called the Victorines, the Masters of this School include Hugh of St. Victor, Andrew of St. Victor, Adam of St. Victor, Richard of St. Victor, Bl. Achard and Peter Comestor.

Other less well know figures include Walter, who composed sermons on Jesus and Mary; Godfrey, who wrote the Fons philosophiae; and Thomas of St. Victor, known as Thomas Gallus, who founded and governed the monastery of St. Andrew at Vercelli, wrote scriptural commentaries and an influential work of the pseudo-Dionysius. Thomas was close to many of the early Franciscans.

With the arrival of the 14th Century and the increasing decadence of Scholasticism and the errors of Nominalism, the school declined in importance. Though there were attempts to reform it through the inspiration and model of the Windesheim Congregation in the 15th Century and later, none succeeded in restoring the earlier spirit of piety and learning.

In the 17th Century many of the canons sympathized with Jansenism. The one to make a name for himself was the poet Jean-Baptiste Senteul, whose classical Latin compositions were incorporated into the Gallican liturgy. This august school finally came to its end in during the French Revolution.

In the 20th Century, a successor congregation was founded in Champagne, France. They serve in France and Tanzania.

St. Victor
Click to enlarge

Hugh of St. Victor

Canons Regular of the Holy Sepulcher

With the conquest of Jerusalem in 1099, Geoffrey de Bouillon established a chapter of secular canons in the basilica of the Holy Sepulcher to offer the sacred liturgy according to the Latin rite. In 1114 the Patriarch of Jerusalem, Arnaulf, imposed the common life on the canons. They took the Rule of St. Augustine and elaborated it with the their own set of customs. Callistus II recognized the community in 1122, entrusting them with care of the basilica and pilgrims in Jerusalem and beyond.

These canons were never a military order, like the Order of Malta or the Templars. Fundamentally a contemplative order, their first duty was to offer the sacrificium laudis (sacrifice of praise) for our redemption. This explains the order’s insignia, the cross, for it is through the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ that salvation has come into the world.

Though originally founded in the Holy Land, where it quickly spread, it also gained a wide adherence throughout Europe. A second order of canonesses was likewise founded. After the fall of Jerusalem, the superior moved to Acre, the last Christian stronghold in Palestine until it fell in 1291. Thereafter the generalate relocated to Perugia and it was divided into provinces. Although the order was suppressed in 1489 and its holdings transferred to the Order of Malta, in continued to exist in Italy until 1560.

Holy Sepulcher Canon

Congregation of the Canons Regular of Chancelade

Around 1120 a portion of the secular canons of Perigueux, accompanied by other ecclesiastics and laymen, withdrew from the world to found a community to study and pray. This simple hermitage was overseen initially by Foucauld, a hermit disciple of Robert d’Arbrissel. Unlike other eremitical movements of this time however, this one developed rather quickly into Canons Regular, though some resisted and remained hermits. The church was dedicated in 1129 and Gerard of Montlava became the first abbot of this new community. Upon the completion of the abbey, i.e. the church and residence, in 1132, the first canons professed vows in 1133. The community numbered ten members, including seven priests and three laymen. They first took their rule of life from canons of La Corona in the diocese of La Rochelle; only later did the embrace the rule of St. Augustine.

The abbey was now poised to take off, which it proceeded to do. During the next one hundred years, new houses were founded and existing ones joined. The benefactors of the community were numerous and generous. As its numbers grew, so too did its responsibilities. Parish work was added to the contemplative vocation of Chancelade.

Beginning in the 15th Century, Chancelade suffered from the instability and poverty caused by social unrest and wars. By the arrival of the 17th Century, the abbey was in dire straits. The liturgical and canonical life of the abbey was in free fall; the canons did little pastoral work and there were barely any signs of life at all for this once thriving abbey.

But there was hope. The vision of the Council of Trent was beginning to enter the Church in France. The 17th Century witnessed a great flourishing of holiness and zealous reform throughout France manifested in the saints, e.g. St. Vincent de Paul, St. Louise de Marillac and many others. When a first attempt to reform the community had failed, the reformer, Arnald, decided to try a different strategy. He decided to send his nephew Bl. Alanus de Soliminhac to take over the community and restore the canonical life to its earlier vigor. In order to do this, Alanus went to learn the canonical life from the Canons Regular of St. Vincent de Senlis, a house of reformed canons, where the Congregation of France originated under the direction of Charles Faure. He spent four years living with this community before he returned to Chancelade in 1623 to become abbot.

While it does happen that communities do not want to be reformed and tenaciously resist every attempt to do so, the canons of Chancelade welcomed Alanus for the most part. As a result of their openness to reform, God blessed their community with abundant vocations. Additionally the community was able to build a badly needed new abbey, which was completed in 1633.

The heart of Alanus’ reform was the re-establishment of the common life. This meant the return to common meals, recreation taken together and common prayer. Again at Chancelade the faithful were able to attend the solemn and public celebration of the Divine Office: all the hours were recited in common, Vespers were sung and the Office of Readings were held at midnight. Moreover, daily there was a sung Mass.

Alanus wanted the canons to be outstanding in their care of souls. To this end he formed them to exercise of pastoral ministry with zeal and excellence. He emphasized preaching and catechism, visits to the poor and sick and confession. Moreover to insure the quality of the canons and the longevity of the reform, Alanus took a direct interest in the novices and their formation of future canons. Not only concerned for his community, he worked closely with the Bishop to reinvigorate the life of the diocese.

His program is summed up in these words of his: “The canon ought to sing day and night to the praise of God, to offer the sacrifice of the Mass with great solemnity, to dedicate himself to preaching and the administration of the sacraments to the sick. To his great credit, his reform endured even after he was elevated to the episcopate as Bishop of Cahors, where he spent the rest of his life.

The reform of Chancelade spread to three other houses of canons before Cardinal de la Rochefoucauld, the patron of the Congregation of France, checked its growth. Though both the blessed and the Cardinal were reformers, their visions of the canonical life were rather different. Bl. Alanus’ reform was a traditional reform. He desired to return the canons to their roots and revitalize them according to their more ancient forms of life. The Cardinal preferred a modern canonical life that was based on provinces and a national congregation and not on individual abbeys. In fact the Cardinal even intrigued against Alanus to destroy his reform, but he was thwarted. In fact, Charle Faure, the superior of the Congregation of France was a friend of Alanus and refused to take part of this conspiracy.

Though two of the four houses did eventually join the Congregation of France, a small congregation of Chancelade endured until the French Revolution, made up of two abbeys and a priory which Bl. Alanus had founded in Cahors, so that he could continue to live the common life while he was Bishop. This small congregation seems to have faired better than the Congregation of France. Bl. Alanus gave them a strong canonical vision and when the French revolutionaries suppressed the abbey on February 2, 1790, three of the canons gave their lives as witnessed to Christ. Those that survived the chaos of those times became secular priests.

Canons returned to Chancelade at the end of the 20th Century, when members of the refounded Canons Regular of St. Victor arrived.

Chancelade Canon

Bl. Alanus de Solminihac

Salzburg Reform Union of the Canons Regular

In the early 12th Century Salzburg became a major center of the canonical life as a result of the efforts of Bishop Konrad I (1106-47). While he was not the first Bishop to introduce the canonical life in Bavaria and Austria, he greatly extended his predecessors efforts. St. Altmann of Passau had already founded houses of Canons Regular at St. Nikola of Passau and St. Florian in Upper Austria and regularized the canons of St. PÆlten in Lower Austria. He also had vigorously supported the Canons Regular of Rottenbuch, which became the center of canonical reform in Bavaria.

Konrad’s predecessor in Salzburg had followed the example of the Bishops in the neighboring diocese of Passau and Freising. Bishop Gerard founded the Canons Regular of Reichersberg (1080-84). However these canons, like others, were driven from the home as a result of the flaring up of the investiture struggle between the emperor and the pope (1086-88). Gerard’s successor failed to undertake any important reforms in Salzburg, leaving it to the work of his energetic successor.

Konard spent quite a bit of his episcopate in exile (1112-21) on account of his opposition to the emperor and his support for the Holy Father. When he finally returned to his diocese in 1121 he had to make up for lost time. He had decided to undertake a total re-organization of his diocese and the Canons Regular were the center piece for his program. From the regularized cathedral chapter of Salzburg, he little by little regularized all the houses of his diocese. Beginning with Reichersberg and Maria Saal (1121-22), he then introduced the regular life to the cathedral chapter of Gurk (1123), Herrencheimsee (1125-29), Gars on the Inn (1129), Zell am See (1129), Högwärth (1129), Weyarn (1133), St. Zeno-Reichenhall (1136), Feistrtiz-Seckau (1140), Bishofshofen (1139-43) and Suben (1142). The two pontifical monasteries of Baumburg and Berchtesgaden joined the union as well (1136-42).

The appeal of this reform led houses in neighboring dioceses to welcome the Salzburg Canons Regular. These include Ranshofen (1125-26), Klosterneuburg (1133), Waldhausen (1138), Beyharting (1122-38), Novacella (1142), the cathedral chapter of Trent (1138-45), S. Michele d’Adige (1138-45). After Konrad’s death in 1147, however only three more houses joined.

The Salzburg Union was part and parcel of the Konrad’s diocesan reform program. He reorganized the relationship between the Bishop and the religious houses (monks and canons) in his diocese. He gave them episcopal protection, which extended to the most basis matters of law and order; he had a hand in naming the superiors of all the houses of the union and indeed the Bishop was the head of the union. The canons were the Bishop’s men as they were always envisioned to be. Through them he was able to govern effectively his diocese and bring about his reform program.

Taking the apostolic life of the early Church as their model, the Salzburg canons adopted – unlike Rottenbuch – the observances of the Ordo Novus canons. That means they took not only the Rule of St. Augustine, but also the Ordo Monasterii. In practice there was a mitigation since the sections on the liturgy and other more severe observances were dropped. One could therefore characterize this life as a moderate version of the Ordo Novus, similar to Springiersbach or Klosterrath (Rolduc). In fact, the Consuetudines of these two other houses formed the basis for those of Salzburg. These prescribed silence, manual labor, abstinences and nocturnal prayer.

The canons of the Salzburg Union produced its own versions of the Consuetudines, one called the Scutum canonicorum regularium, by Arno of Reichbersberg, the other, now lost, by Bl. Hartmann, the first provost of Klosterneuburg. In either case, the spiritual father for both works was Gerhoh of Reichersberg (1132-69).

Since the Union from its inception was tied so closely to the interested and effort of Bishop Konrad, his death marked the beginning of its decline. The houses began to go their separate ways. By 1180, the Union was no more. An attempt to revive it in 13th Century was unsuccessful.

Konrad of Salzburg

Austrian Canon

Canons Regular in Scotland

The introduction of the canonical life in Scotland is closely tied to the decision of St. David to install Canons Regular, who came from Merton in Surrey, at the monastery next to the Holyrood palace in Edinburgh in 1128. This decision is representative of the ecclesiastical reform begun under his mother, St. Margaret, whose efforts brought the Church in Scotland into greater harmony with the practices and organization of the rest of the Church. It is particularly through the unusual bonds created by Normans that Scotland was again reunited to Europe after a century of isolation account of Viking invasions. Like his mother’s decision to introduce Benedictines from Canterbury to Scotland at Dunfermline, St. David’s decision to promote the Benedictines, Cistercians and Augustinian Canons made concrete his commitment to the same program.

Ten years later in 1138, this saintly king with the help of Bishop John of Glasgow, endowed another monastery at Jedburgh, whose Canons Regular came from St. Quentin in Beauvais. In 1140 Canons Regular from Arrouaise founded a house at Cambuskenneth (Sterling). Bishop Robert, himself an Austin canon, founded the most important community of Scottish Canons Regular at St. Andrew’s in 1144. Drawn from Nostell priory in Yorkshire, these Canons Regular replaced the Culdees, a kind of local religious community, to serve as his cathedral chapter. The Premonstratensians received their first house in 1150 at Dryburgh and later served at the chapter of the cathedral in Whitehorn (Candida Casa). By 1153, the year of St. David’s death, the canons accounted for ten of the twenty-five religious houses in Scotland. King David’s reign was unparalleled in the history of Scotland on account of his wise governance and prosperity, the rapid growth of religious life and the reorganization of the Church. Moreover thanks to his efforts, Scotland, or at least the south and eastern portions thereof participated fully in the spiritual, cultural and economic life of Western Europe.

Like other religious orders, the canons grew into the 13th Century and contributed to the spiritual, cultural and economic life of Scotland. However, the closing years of the 13th Century presaged decline for religious in Scotland. This began with King Edward I’s decision to conquer Scotland in 1296. Thereupon war between Scotland and England (1297-1300) followed, resulting in the sacking of numerous religious houses including Jedburgh, Dryburgh and Holy Rood. Though by the middle of the 14th Century the canons could boast of thirty-three houses, surpassed only by the friars in numbers, who had thirty-six houses, the health of the order would be sorely tested in the 15th Century. Indeed, by 1500 the canons had diminished to thirty houses, while the friars grew to forty-three houses.

The trials the canons faced were numerous. Broad political instability due to the One Hundred Year’s War in England cut the canons off from their European counterparts and the important reform congregations which flourished at this time. The Black Death decimated the ranks of clergy and religious and the Western Schism, which for political reasons found Scotland loyal to the Avignon anti-pope, led to further confusion and demoralization. Moreover, economic problems, especially the impoverishment of parishes, further weakened religious life and the Stuart Kings were conceded by Innocent VIII an indult in 1487 to name bishops and abbots. Thereupon the fickle and degenerate heirs of St. Margaret and St. David distributed important pastoral offices to unworthy and uninterested family members or friends. Moreover, the practice of commendatory abbots eroded the quality of leadership of religious communities and lastly a broad and dangerous gap had opened up between the bishops and other prelates and the rest of the clergy and religious.

Though there was plenty of bad news, the canons still managed to do considerable good in these difficult times. The canons at Holy Rood enjoyed especially close relations with the Stuart family in the 15th Century, being the place of important family occasions such as weddings and baptisms. The golden age for St. Andrew’s came under the leadership of two notable men, James Bisset and John Haldenston (1393-1443). In addition to sponsoring and running a grammar school and a song school, Bisset was one of the founding fathers of St. Andrew’s University. Established on Pentecost in 1410 due to the exclusion of Scottish students from Paris, Oxford and Orleans on account of the Western Schism, St. Andrew’s was Scotland’s first university. Bisset and his successors remained involved in the affairs of the university, especially through the theology faculty. Moreover at this time, two important historians, Andrew of Wyntoun, author of De Orygnale Cronykil of Scotland and W. Bower, continuator of J. de Fordun’s Scotichronicon, were canons of St. Andrew’s. A later prior, John Hepburn (1483-1522), and Archbishop James Stuart, the brother of King James IV, founded St. Leonard’s College “for poor clerks,” i.e. novices and juniors of the Augustinian Canons, in 1512.

Sadly, beyond these details, we do not know much about the life of the canons in Scotland. Their numbers and their royal and aristocratic patrons indicate they were well-regarded, well off and no doubt played an important role in the Church. Indeed nowhere else in Europe did the canons enjoy such close contacts with a royal family. It is therefore slightly ironic that the best known Scottish canon, Richard of St. Victor, belonged to the Canons Regular of St. Victor in Paris. There were probably others like him who joined communities on the Continent, particularly in France.

The destruction of the canonical life in the 16th Century is one of the results of Scotland’s labyrinthine political, dynastic and religious circumstances. Already Lutheran – and later Calvinist and Zwinglite by the 1550’s – notions had crept into the teaching of the theology faculty of the University of St. Andrew’s, opening up divisions with the order. Such too was increasingly the case throughout the Scottish aristocracy and beyond. Moreover dynastic interests, which involved England and France, further complicated the situation. Finally, the balance was tipped in favor of the Protestants, when Elizabeth I took the throne in 1158.

No doubt emboldened by the support of the English crown and army, John Knox and his followers attacked churches and abbeys including Holy Rood and St. Andrew’s cathedral in 1559, whereupon many were left thereafter abandoned. In the summer of 1560, with Edinburgh firmly in the hands of the Protestant faction and the English army, the Scottish parliament rejected papal authority and broke with the Catholic Church after more than eleven centuries of communion. Of the twenty-eight canons belonging to St. Andrew’s, twelve abandoned the faith for a career in a new church, while the remaining eighteen remained stalwart Catholics.

Though just a year later, Mary, Queen of Scots, returned from France to rule, her reign was not restoration, just an unpleasant delay in the Protestant victory. With her abdication in 1567, the eradication of Catholic Scotland could be brought to conclusion. The canons, like those at St. Andrew’s, faced a choice: join the new church, go into pension or go abroad. Whichever they chose, the canonical life, which had flourished in Scotland, came, as it so often has throughout history died not through laxity, exhaustion or decadence, but through murder.

Canons Regular of the Holy Cross of Coimbra

This Portuguese congregation of Canons Regular was founded in Coimbra by the archdeacon Tello and members of the local clergy, most importantly Don Juan Peculiar and St. Theotonius. However, without a doubt, the most famous member of this congregation is St. Anthony of Padua, who began his priestly vocation in this house before he left at the age of 25 to become a Franciscan, for whom – partially on account of the excellent theological formation he received at Coimbra – he was a leading preacher and teacher.

The house received a generous endowment and construction began on June 28, 1131. The following year, on February 25, 1132 the common life commenced. Under St. Theotonius, who was the first prior, the community flourished, enjoyed widespread support, and received privileges and royal patronage. Their success however stirred up considerable jealousy among the cathedral canons and local Bishop. In order to secure the position of the community, the canons sought and obtained Papal protection from Innocent II on May 5, 1135, which was successively reconfirmed.

They adopted the customs of the Canons Regular of St. Ruf and in addition to the choral office undertook the care of souls at the neighboring parish of St. John and a little later at a second parish. Soon other houses and parishes were added to the house and other adopted the rule of life of the canons, including numerous houses of monks, who became canons. The liberation of Portugal, begun in 1139 under King Alphonsus Henriques reached its conclusion in 1147. Grateful for St. Theotonius’ prayers, the king lavishly endowed the canons. That same year the canons gained their first house in Lisbon, St. Vincent de Fora. At this time, the canons gave the Church in Portugal two Bishops, Juan Peculiar, Bishop of Porto and later Braga and Odorio, Bishop of Viseu.

Besides offering the sacred liturgy and pastoral work, the canons, here as elsewhere, promoted research and scholarship in both the sacred and profane sciences. Canons authored important historical works on Portugal including Annales Domini Alfonsi Portugalensium Regis, Chronica Gothorum, Cronicas breves; produced manuscripts of Bible and Fathers and many other topics; and translated scientific and medical works from Arabic.

In addition the canons were involved in various charitable works. It was a time of the great migrations of people due to the wars between the Portuguese and Moors. As such the hospices at Coimbra and Penela served numerous migrants and travelers. Moreover under St. Theotonius, the canons played a special role in protecting the Mozarabic Christians, who were initially treated with suspicion by the victorious King Alphonsus Henriques.

At the beginning of the 13th Century, donations were less frequent and less generous and struggles between the Bishops and various houses and internal dissension among the house intensified. Poor administration, a lack of resources for charitable works and few vocations further harmed the canons – as it did Portuguese religious – in the 14th and 15th Centuries.

However the general malaise and corruption of the clergy provoked as it has throughout the history of the Church as deep desire for reform and sanctity. The King named a new prior to canons, Fr. Gomes (1441-1459), an abbot of the Benedictine reform congregation of Santa Giustina in Padua, who had previously undertaken the reform of the Camadolese monks. It is interesting to note that the impetus for the Congregation of Santa Giustina came from the Canons of San Giorgio in Alga, who provided the canon turned monk, abbot Ludovico Barbo, and three canons, who assisted in the monastery’s reform, and the spirituality of the Devotio Moderna. Other attempts at reform were made sporadically throughout the 15th and early 16th Century, the result of which was the suppression or transference of many canonical houses to other orders.

The last major reform came in 1556 when Paul IV erected the Congregation of the Holy Cross of Coimbra, which centralized the order and established triennial visitations and named Hieronymite, Blaise of Braga to carry out this task. The reform effectively cured the economic, spiritual and cultural malaise of the twenty houses. Moreover, it renewed the canons’ intellectual efforts, especially at the university of Coimbra. However, the new congregation was fragile and lacked the vitality to founded new houses besides the one at Viana do Castelo.

The 18th Century saw the affliction of the Jacobeia, a kind of rigorism which damaged the congregation seriously. The “Jacobeists” branded their opponents “sigillista” since they accused them of violating the seal of confession! Innocent XIII intervened hoping to repair the damage, but the wounds left by this dissension weakened the congregation considerably. By the end of the century, the congregation had slipped into decadence, several houses had been suppressed and in 1791 the Commission to Examine Religious Orders closed almost all novitiates in Portugal. The French invasion and occupation of Portugal (1807-11) left the canons further diminished. However they held on for a few more years until the decree of final dissolution in 1834.

St. Anthony of Padua as a Canon

Canon of the Holy Cross of Coimbra

Canons Regular of Premontre (Premonstratensians)

This great order of Canons Regular is especially marked by the life and spirituality of its founder, St. Norbert von Gennep. A brilliant young aristocrat, he was drawn to the priesthood for less the evangelical reasons. He enjoyed a successful career and soon was serving in the imperial court of Henry V, the Holy Roman Emperor. Norbert’s life in the court was worldly and he gave himself over to these with little consideration for his station in life.

When the Emperor was excommunicated in 1115 over the question of lay investiture, Norbert retired to Xanten, where he underwent a profound conversion. Soon he began to the live the apostolic life in many of its literal details. He earned many enemies as result and applied to Gelasius II for his approbation, which he received. St. Norbert likewise attracted disciples and in 1120 with support of Bishop Bartholomew of Laon, they repaired the abandoned chapel of St. John the Baptist in Premontre, where they settled.

St. Norbert joined the canonical and apostolic lives together in his new community. He attracted both clerics and the lay faithful – men and women alike – and they laid the foundation for a new kind of apostolic life. Though St. Norbert was deeply impressed by the example of the Cistercians, he decided to adopt the Rule of St. Augustine for his new order since he and many of the others were already canons and St. Augustine had given the apostolic life to his clergy in Hippo. Therefore, on Christmas 1121, the community embraced the Rule of St. Augustine. To the Rule, St. Norbert added the Ordo Monasterii, which was used by other Canons Regular, e.g. Springiersbach.

As the Cistercians had flourished among monks in the 12th Century, so the Premonstratensians flourished among the canons. They grew rapidly all over Europe, founding new houses, reforming others. In 1126 St. Norbert became the Archbishop of Magdeburg from which he energetically promoted the reform of the Church.

St. Norbert’s successor, Bl. Hugh of Fosse (1128-1161), gave the Premonstratensians their distinctive organizational structure which adopted the model of the Cistercians with respect to annual chapters for all the houses of the order and regular visitations. This gave the Premonstratensians a distinct advantage in terms of governance of the order through an Abbot General, General Chapter and a method of visitations. Only the houses of the Magdeburg province resisted and successfully won a mitigation of this move to centralization.

The Premonstratensians, like most canons, found the core of their vocation in the offering of the liturgy. Their celebration thereof stood somewhere between the grandeur of Cluny and the austerity of Citeaux in these matters. The life was marked by the monastic observances of the Ordo Monasterii and a return to manual labor. Although St. Norbert himself often went on preaching missions, the Premonstratensians understood themselves as a contemplative order in the Church. Pastoral work was mostly directly to the community and missionary work was principally accomplished by prayer and the example the canons offered in their simplicity, humility and sanctity of life.

Throughout the 12th Century the Premonstratensians came into possession of many parishes. It was their practice, initially to install secular priests therein. However by the later half of the 12th Century canons were often staffing these parishes and undertaking the care of souls. Like other canons, the Premonstratensians also ran hospices for pilgrims and travelers.

The holiness of this order is manifested in the numerous saints and blesseds honored by the Church as examples for all the faithful.

The 13th Century, which was generally a period of exhaustion and decline for the canons, also took its toll on the Premonstratensians. Wealth and the independence that came with parochial assignments militated against the cohesion and zeal of their houses. By the 15th Century, the system of commendatory abbots and increasing national differences, which led Premonstratensians in Spain, England and Denmark to seek independence from Premontre, further weakened the order. This situation left the canons unable to cope with the challenges of the Protestant Reformation, which saw the suppression of houses through northern Europe.

Abbot John Despruets, the first non-commendatory abbot since the 15th Century, helped to revive the order following the Council of Trent. He successfully united the houses of France, Belgium, Austria and Germany in one order again. In 1630 new statutes were promulgated and the goals of the order were specified: the Divine Office, the Eucharist, devotion to Our Lady, penance and care of souls. The result of this reordering was growth and renewed vigor as evinced by plentiful vocations, baroque building programs, intense scholarship and extensive pastoral work.

At the end of the 18th Century, the Premonstratensians suffered setback at the hands of Joseph II, Emperor of Austria and the French Revolutionaries. The order was again broken up into constituent national bodies or entirely suppressed. However the order did survive these upheavals and those of the opening decades of the 19th Century. A new plan to unite the order was promoted by the Premonstratensians of the abbey of Strahov, near Prague, where St. Norbert has been translated in 1627. In 1852 the abbot of Strahov became the superior of the Austrian province. In 1869 he became abbot general of the entire order. Abbeys were also reopened in France and Belgium and new foundations were planted in the United States, England, Ireland, Brazil, Denmark and Canada. The Premonstratensians also worked in the missions in the Belgian Congo and India.

The Communist dictatorships in Hungary and Czechoslovakia did great harm to the Premonstratensians. However one of the blessings of this suffering was the founding of St. Michael’s Abbey in California (click here to visit their website). With the liberation of these countries, the Premonstratensians have recovered their homes and are looking forward to a brighter future in a free Europe.

St. Norbert von Gennep

Premontre Canon

Canons Regular of Klosterneuburg

For a history of the community, click here.

Canons Regular of Roncisvalle

This Spanish house of canons remains a unusual case since it is a diocesan community under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Pamplona, whose cathedral chapter was served by Canons Regular. It was founded, like many other canonries, in the 12th century to serve as a pilgrim hospice along the route to Santiago de Compostella and Rome. The Bishop of Pamplona, Don Sancha de la Rosa (1121-42), founded a community at an existing church and monastery in 1132. The pilgrims faced many dangers, not the least of which was the harsh climate, wild animals and brigands. It is therefore not surprising that the community was founded as a military order under the Rule of St. Augustine. By 1137 Canons Regular were evidently part of the new order since a papal bull mentions their presence.

Needless to say, these canons were not typical of most. The statutes of 1287 lay down rules for the canons, who lived a monastic observance, military brothers and sisters. An agreement between Charles V and Clement VII divided the wealth of the community among the chapter, the priory and the hospice. Beginning in 1590, the house underwent two hundred years of trials and difficulties. In fact the canons disappeared altogether and the chapter went into extinction.

However in 1864, Severo Andriani and Francesco Polit, the secular abbot of Roncisvalle, decided to re-establish the canonical life. Thanks to both the support of Queen Isabella and Bl. Pius IX they were able to realize this wish. The life consisted in the choral office, the regular life and claustral observances and the apostolate consisted in service to pilgrims. A reform of the statues was undertaken in 1953.

Roncisvalle Canon

Canons Regular of St. Gilbert (Gilbertines)

This is the only properly English order of Canons Regular, though the canons themselves were exceedingly numerous encompassing many independent houses until Henry VIII seized control of the Church and suppressed the monasteries. This order of Canons Regular were also called Gilbertines after their founder, St. Gilbert of Sempringham.

It was in Sempringham in south Lincolnshire that the Gilbertines began. Seven young women withdrew from the world in 1131 in order to lead the contemplative life. There was a genuine lack of options for women desiring the religious life. In fact this foundations signaled the revival of religious life in England for women. While there some 220 houses of monks and canons in 1131 in England, there were only 30 to 40 houses for women. Since the Norman invasions religious life for men had flourished, but it was not so for women.

They lived near St. Gilbert’s parish and he served as their spiritual director. On account of their success, they attracted the interest of men and women alike who wished to join them. Therefore in 1139 a new double monastery was build with a large church to house the expanding community. It is likely that St. Gilbert had based his decision to attempt a double monastery because of the success of Fontevrault, one such house in France, founded by the Robert d’Arbrissel. This community of 150 women and 50 men was well known at this time, especially to one like St. Gilbert, who had studied in France, and his constitution for his foundation reflects that of Fontevrault.

The Gilbertines are an eclectic order. The nuns were governed by the Rule of St. Benedict and Cistercian observances, while the canons lived under the Rule of St. Augustine. St. Gilbert composed the elaborate constitutions, hoping to maintain the unity and parity of the different branches of the order. The enclosures were strictly maintained; a canon would only enter the nun’s enclosure to perform the Last Rites. Much of the household economy was held in common, e.g. the kitchen, so as to reduce the need to duplicate the necessities of life. The lay brothers lived under a version of the Cistercian observances.

The canons essentially led a regular canonical life and were self-governing. They served the nuns as chaplains, confessors and spiritual directors as well as having other usual pastoral duties.

The new foundation grew rapidly and a second was soon opened at Louth Park. The responsibilities for these foundations weighed heavily on St. Gilbert and he tried in 1147 to join the women’s community to the Cistercians. They however were unable to assume the responsibility due to their recent acceptance of fifteen houses of nuns in France. Thereupon St. Gilbert appealed to Eugene III for the permission to found a new order.

Between 1148 and 1164 the nuns continued to grow to eight houses and St. Gilbert founded two houses of canons. By 1189 there were fourteen double monasteries and eighteen canonries with 940 nuns and 500 canons and lay brothers. This was the age of its flourishing.

Oddly, the Gilbertines did not produce many notable personalities. It remained essentially a local foundation and never spread beyond Lincolnshire. It, like other religious communities, was suppressed under Henry VIII (1538-39).

Gilbertine Canon

Canons Regular in Ireland

The appearance of the Canonical Order indicates Ireland’s entrance into the Gregorian Reform Movements. At its height, there were 120 houses of Canons Regular, the vast majority of which came into existence within the first one hundred years of the first house. To be sure, this phenomenal expansion was part of an general trend that began at the First Lateran Council, picked up momentum during the pontificate of St. Gregory VII and blossomed in the 12th Century. Circumstances in Ireland, as well as elsewhere in Europe, led to a groundswell of support for reform. The Irish reformers, like others, struggled to liberate the Church from the control of powerful laymen who often supplanted the Bishops as governors of the Church and from a poorly educated and badly formed clergy. Moreover owing to its unusual history, the Irish Church was in need of a reorganization to harmonize it with the diocesan and parochial structure of the Church on the continent.

Two saints, St. Malachy and St. Lawrence O’Toole, represents the two phases of the reform of the Church in Ireland. They and their clerical and lay supporters turned to the canonical life as one of their chief instruments for their program. In so doing, they introduced a new possibility for religious life, which hitherto had been exclusively monastic. The canons offered a form of religious life proper to the clergy.

The canons proved themselves to be highly attractive to the reformers throughout the Church since they were closely bound to their Bishops. As priests, they formed part of the Bishop’s clergy, even if they were religious, and were often his principal agents of reform. Moreover, given the flexibility of the Rule of St. Augustine, houses of canons could be more easily founded than those of Cistercians, the great 12th Century monastic reform movement, since they required a lower minimum number of members per house. In fact, throughout the history of the canons in Ireland, most houses were small, being only six to twelve members at most. There were of course notable exemptions, where the community might number in the thirties or forties.

The appearance of the Canons Regular in Ireland comes relatively late vis-a-vis England or the continent, where the first houses began at the mid-11th Century in Italy. The first vigorous promoter of this reform for the clergy was St. Malachy Ua Morgair, Archbishop of Armagh, whose obit states that he was “the man who restored the monastic and canonical rules of the Church in Erinn”. Under his reign, forty houses of Canons Regular were founded in the northern half of Ireland beginning in the 1130’s. In many cases, these were pre-existing houses that were regularized rather than new foundations.

The first house is probably in Armagh in the early 1130’s, followed by the regularization of the pilgrim sanctuary at Lough Derg and a new foundation at Devenish. In addition to foundations Lisgoole and St. John’s Downpatrick, St. Malachy’s brother, Christian, the Bishop of Clogher, founded more regular houses in his diocese. As Primate of All Ireland, St. Malachy also promoted the spread of the Canonical Order to Munster, where his friend Cormac MacCarthaigh, decided to regularize Gill Abbey in Cork through the introduction of canons from Cong in Galway. This latter house had been reformed by the king of Connacht, Toirrdelbach Ua Conchbair and thereupon became a key canonical foundation in the west of Ireland, which also included canonical foundations at Roscommon, Annanghdown, Clonfert, Tuam, Clonmacnosie and Clontuskert. Other houses from this period include Molana, Roscrea, Lorrha and Mothel.

In 1140 St. Malachy journeyed to Rome to obtain papal recognition for the metropolitan status of Armagh and Cashel. Though this aspect of his mission was unsuccessful, his visit to Rome by way of France, had important effects for the canons in Ireland. Not only did St. Malachy visit his good friend, St. Bernard of Clairvaux, but he also evidently visited a canonical house in France. The subsequent influence of this house in Ireland suggests that it was none other than Arrouaise in Artois. Having found the customs of these canons to his liking, St. Malachy set out to promote their usages for all Irish canons upon his return home. The effects during the last decade of his life were nothing less than dramatic. By his death in 1148, the Cistercian Order counted eight houses, while canons had added another twenty-five houses! These foundations include Bangor, Saul, Knock and double foundations of canons and canonesses in Kells, Duleek, Clonard, Durrow, Trim and Navan. Again the growth remained concentrated in the north of Ireland, whereas there were only a few houses of canons in the south including Killeigh and Inis Padraig.

With the passing of St. Malachy, new leaders of the reform movement arouse, including the Abbot of Mellifont, the first Irish Cistercian abbey, Gilla Crist Ua Connairche, the next Archbishop of Armagh, Gilla Meic Liac and the Bishop of Clogher, Aed Ua Caellaide. Between 1148 and 1169 the Cistercian Order added another five houses while the Canonical Order added another twenty five houses to bring the number to approximately 90. It was during this period that the Canonical Order begin to make inroads in the kingdom of Leinester, where the canonesses actually arrived first. Diarmait Mac Murchada founded St. Mary’s in Fern in 1158 on the advice of his friend and spiritual counsellor, Aed Ua Caellaide.

St. Lawrence O’Toole (Lorcan Ua Tuahthail) took another important step it the history of the canons through the regularization of the chapter of Holy Trinity cathedral. A monk from the ancient monastic settlement of Glendalough (“Valley of the Two Lakes”), which was founded by St. Kevin in the 6th Century, he was selected to be the second Archbishop of Dublin in 1162, whereupon he undertook the reform and reorganization of the cathedral chapter. He probably made this decision for a number of reasons.

Dublin was now a metropolitan see and the rudimentary nature of the existing chapter proved inadequate for the burdens of the much expanded responsibilities of the Archbishop. Though earlier a monastic chapter existed in Dublin, Benedictine monks following the example of Canterbury, it seems that they had already been replaced by secular canons for a long time. Given St. Lawrence’s swift move to regularize the chapter, it seems likely that he had already given considerable attention to this matter before he took over his see.

Perhaps following the example of St. Malachy, St. Lawrence chose not only to introduce the canonical life, but he championed the customs of Arrouaise for this purpose. Arrouaise was one of the most influential canonical houses in Europe and had strong papal support. Moreover it gave intelligent rules regarding the election of Bishops, something which St. Lawrence wanted given earlier difficulties with episcopal elections in Dublin. Finally, St. Lawrence himself decided to become a canon. He was the prior of the community and lived the canonical life to the fullest extent possible. It was probably shortly after this time that his former abbey, Glendalough, became a community of Canons Regular as well.

In addition to Holy Trinity, new canonical foundations of All Hallow’s, Dublin, Stephen’s Leighlin, Aghmacart, Seikeiran, Abbeygormacam, Aughrim, Aughris and Ballysdare were all founded in the 1160’s. The Anglo-Norman occupations did nothing to stop the growth of this canons. The most prestigious of the Anglo-Norman houses was St. Thomas the Martyr in Dublin, endowed by king Henry II and all the leading Anglo-Norman barons. The latter also founded houses throughout their lands in the south and east of Ireland. Besides these, Irish patrons continued to support the canons with new houses at Ballintober, Kilmore and four in Clare. New foundations continued until 1220 when the new mendicant orders became the preferred object of lay patronage.

The popularity of the canons was founded first and foremost on their utility as a reform order. They also proved to be attractive because they were less expensive than other groups, e.g. the Cistercians, since a new house could begin with as few as four canons and required a smaller endowment to support it. Moreover, being priests under the Rule of St. Augustine, they possessed a flexibility which permitted a variety of apostolates. Their role in pastoral work was however often a source of tension since these small communities were often stretched too thin to maintain the essence of the canonical life: priests living in common.

Besides parish work, the canons provided a place of burial for their founders and other benefactors. This extended beyond a crypt to include spiritual intercession for the souls of the faithful departed. Often certain families would be bound to a specific canonry; a relationship that endured for generations. Canons also staffed shrines of relics and other sanctuaries, the most famous being Patrick’s Purgatory at Lough Derg. For these, the burden of hospitality often weighed heavily on the canons and partially explains their financial difficulties.

In addition, the canons also provided support for students and their infirmaries formed part of the medieval health care system. Owing to their education and position in Irish society, canons also played a limited political role, some holding civil offices or serving as envoys, treasurers, justices and keepers of the peace. Moreover Bishops relied on them as envoys, vicars-general and visitors to religious houses.

It is therefore not difficult to imagine that a canonry exerted a considerable influence in the region where it was located. The Augustinian canons accounted for one quarter of all religious houses in Ireland and were present in all thirty two counties. Though the Cistercians were a wealthier order overall, many individual houses of canons were well looked after and wealthy in their own right.

Given the wealth and number of Irish houses, it might seem strange that they had little to do with the rest of the Canonical Order. Indeed, though Ireland became home to numerous communities adopting the customs of Arrouaise or St. Victor, they had little to do with them. Irish houses maintained their distance and independence from these congregations, while at the same time freely adopting their form of life and customs. In fact the abbot of Arrouaise complained often about the absence of Irish superiors from their General Chapters. Even Eugene III (1145-53) and Innocent III failed to get the Irish to attend these important meetings. The Irish abbots and priors always wished to uphold their independence. This is characteristic of canonical life in general since the notion of a congregation of Canons Regular is an innovation that first found success in the Windesheim Congregation in the 15th Century.

At the dawn of the 16th Century, the canons could still claim approximately 116 houses, despite financial difficulties in the 14th Century. They had remained an influential religious community on both sides of the Pale. Though racial discrimination with respect to the admission to houses did exist, it was never severe or long lasting; only the royal foundation of St. Thomas in Dublin remained fiercely and exclusively English. With the waning of English influence in Ireland by the end of the 14th Century, the effects of the Henry VIII’s schismatic policies in the 16th Century were considerably mitigated. He could only impose his state church on the Pale, leaving the rest of Ireland to Catholic faith. Given the choice of belonging to Henry’s church or leaving, many Canons Regular simply resettled in Gaelic Ireland and continued to serve there or abroad in exile.

The situation deteriorated in the 17th Century, whereupon a decision was made to create a national congregation for the canons, something entirely innovative and outside of the canonical practice in Ireland. It is under the heading of the Congregation of St. Patrick that this stories continues.

An abstract
from the annals
of St. Mary’s in Dublin
reports:

Anno 1162
Gregory,
the first Archbishop
of Dublin,
a man
in every respect
praiseworthy,
fell asleep in the Lord.
He was succeeded
by Laurence,
who was abbot
of St. Kevin’s, Glendalough.
He was consecrated
in the church of Dublin
by Gelasius,
the primate of all Ireland,
in the presence
of many Bishops
and amidst popular rejoicing.
He dispatched
two of his canons
to Rome
to obtain
the Arrousian rule
(usum et consuetudinem
Arroacesnsis ordinis).
As a result of the mission
he gained his objective
of papal approval.
The order
of Canons Regular
having been duly established
in the church
of the Holy Trinity,
Laurence himself
adopted the habit
and the rule of life
(vivendi normam suscepit)
of the Canons Regular.
Once he became a canon,
he abstained
from eating meat
thereafter.

Military Order of St. James of the Sword

In 1170 Pedro Fernandes and companions founded a religious military order under the patronage of St. James the Apostle. In 1171 the Archbishop of Santiago embraced the order and put them under his patronage and King Ferdinand of Leon generously endowed them. They grew rapidly and gained property throughout the Iberian peninsula and even beyond.

In 1175 Alexander III gave his approbation to the order with the stipulation that a clerical branch be founded to serve as chaplains to the knights. The chaplains and well as the knights lived under the Rule of St. Augustine. These canons served in various spiritual capacities, but they were never involved in combat.

The military order grew in wealth and influence thanks to its successes on the battlefield in the reconquest of Spain. It was joined to Spanish crown in 1493. The biblical scholar Benito Arias Montanus was a member of this order.

Canon of St. James of the Sword

Canons Regular of Vallis Scholarium

In 1201 four Masters of Theology, Guillaume, Richard, Evrard and Manasse, and 37 of their students from the University of Paris withdrew from the world to establish a new community, which they called “The General Chapter.” They settled in a remote and mountainous region of the diocese of Langres. The house was dedicated to Our Lady and Guillaume presided over the community.

They adopted the Rule of St. Augustine and the Liber Ordinis of the Canons Regular of St. Victor as their rule of life and devoted themselves to serve God. Honorius III approved them in 1219 and thereupon they grew rapidly. Within twenty years, their congregation encompasses twenty priories. Each year the all the priors met in the General Chapter.

The founding priory was transferred to Laumont-en-Bassigny, which became known as the “Val-des-Ecoliers” or the “Grand Val “in 1234. In 1539 Paul III conferred the title of abbey to this priory. True to its name – the valley of scholars – this congregation continued to emphasize intellectual endeavors. Its priory in Paris, St. Catherine-de-la-Coutre, which King Louis IX gave them, housed many students and theologians. Later it became a Collegium of the University of Paris, where priories of the congregation sent their students and financially supported the house.

In 1637 Innocent X united this congregation to the reform Canons Regular of Congregation of France.

Vallis Scholarium Canon

Military Order of the Red Star Crucifers

These canons have their origins in a confraternity established during the Crusades to care for pilgrims, the sick and the poor. In this respect their belong to the hospital movement from which so many new foundations of Canons Regular arouse. Whatever their precise origins, with the Muslim conquest of the Holy Lands, the Red Star Crucifers fled to Europe and found themselves in Prague. Queen Constantia, wife of PYemsyl Ottokar I, King of Bohemia, and their daughter, St. Agnes of Prague, patronized the confraternity.

In 1233 St. Agnes endowed the Red Star Crucifiers with the church of St. Peter and the hospital of St. Francis. A few years later on April 14, 1237, Gregory IX acknowledged that the Red Star Crucifers belonged to the Ordo Canonicus, i.e. Canons Regular living under the Rule of St. Augustine. The new canons soon grew too large for their first home and St. Agnes built for them a larger complex near the Hraschin, the royal castle, and the famous Charles Bridge.

In the years that followed, the canons added the red star to the cross they already bore on their cloaks, which gives rise to their name “Red Star Crucifiers.” The title “military order” is much later, appearing only in documents from the 17th Century.

Not only did them continue their confraternity’s apostolate when they became canons by operating hospitals in Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia, they also took on widespread pastoral ministry. These were turbulent times as both Hussite and Protestant agitators tore the fabric of society apart. As the wars did considerable damage to the Red Star Crucifier’s hospitals, they turned more to the spiritual work of care of soul and the refutation of errors. They were particularly successful in prevent Lutheranism from penetrating Western Bohemia and their parishes were bastions of orthodoxy.

Their effort were of great importance since the archiepiscopal see of Prague was vacant for 140 years, beginning in 1421, when Bishop Conrad of Vechta went in heresy. It was only in 1561 that the situation had become sufficiently stable for Emperor Ferdinand I to appoint Red Star Crucifer, Anthony Brus, as Archbishop. Only four years earlier had this man been made Bishop of Vienna on account of the advice of St. Peter Canisius. Brus’ successor, Martin Medek was also a Red Star Crucifer. From 1561 to 1694, the order was at the direct disposal of the Archbishop of Prague. It was only in 1694 that George Ignatius Prospichal restored self governance to canons.

Owing to its close connection with the imperial family, the Red Star Crucifers, have traditionally run the famous St. Charles Church in Vienna. The Red Star Crucifers continue to run parishes and hospitals. Two communities of sisters were founded by priests of this order and one introduced the Society of St. Vincent de Paul to Prague. The destruction of the Austria-Hungarian Empire after World War One led to an impoverishment of the order and a loss of houses in the Bohemia and Moravia. Furthermore the canons were deeply compromised during the Communist rule of Czechoslovakia. In recent years, however, they have had some good news. They again serve as parish priests in Vienna at the St. Charles Church (Karlskirche).

Canons Regular – Raudnitz Observance

This 14th Century center of reform was founded on May 25, 1333 as the first house of Canons Regular of St. Augustine in Bohemia. The founder, Bishop of Prague, John Drazice (1301-1343), appears to have been inspired by the same spirit that stirred up Gerhard Groote and the Devotio Moderna in the Netherlands. Both of these movements shared very similar goals and both found the canonical life to be the most genuine priestly expression of this spirituality. Though there is some discussion about the origin of the first canons, it seems most likely that they from San Pietro in Ciel d’Oro in Pavia, a house of the Mortara Congregation.

Raudnitz was founded specifically as a Czech house. This perhaps hints at the changes in the air in the 14th Century with a growing love for particularity and nationality against the reigning Christian universalism of the Middle Ages. Moreover, Bishop Drazice wanted to promote the independence of the diocese of Prague from that province of metropolitan see of Mainz. Founding a reform community of canons appears to have been part of this program.

The Raudnitz canons focused their efforts on what we could call today the evangelization of culture. Their houses, which were often small, consisting of no more than twelve canons, specialized in intellectual, cultural and economic endeavors. Their day was centered on the liturgy and choral office and their way of life was typified by a strict observance that made them an important model for reform in the 14th and 15th Centuries.

The great importance of this Czech house stems from its influential Consuetudines Rudnicenses (Customs of Raudnitz). These addressed many practical matters, including admission to the community and the novitiate; disciplines regarding community life, e.g. silence; the relationship between the community and the others, e.g. parents, relatives and other religious. Thanks to the support of Charles IV of Luxembourg and his Excellency, Ernest of Pardubice (1343-64), these customs were widely diffusions to existing and new houses of canons.

The houses adopting these customs or being founded from Raudnitz were located in Bohemia, Moravia, Poland, Austria and Bavaria. The greatest number of houses were not surprisingly found in Bohemia. These twenty houses contributed considerably to the development of Czech literature and were centers of Christian humanism.

Among the more important foundations were the Karlshof monastery in Prague, founded by Charles IV as a imperial abbey on September 9, 1350 and tied to the University of Prague; the church of Corpus Christi near Krakow on March 3, 1426 and finally Stift Santa Dorothea in the center of Vienna, which Archduke Albert V founded in 1414. Although there were attempts to build a true congregation of canonical houses through this reform, none succeeded.

As a result of their convincing model of the canonical life, Raudnitz canons were often entrusted with the task of visiting and reforming other canonical houses. During the famous visitations of religious communities in the mid-15th Century, Cardinal Nicholas of Cusa used the Raudnitz Customs as a bar for measuring the quality of the observance of canonical houses. Moreover, Nicholas V sent the provost of Santa Dorothea and the abbot of Kleinmariazell, a Benedictine monastery, to evaluate the Benedictine abbey of Melk.

Raudnitz itself did not fair as well as many of its daughter foundations. In 1421, the Hussites utterly destroyed the monastery. The Hussite wars made religious life more difficult in general and the canons eventually resettled at St. Mary on the Sand in Breslavia. With Raudnitz no longer a center of vigor, some houses abandoned Raudnitz for local grouping. The Moravian houses formed their own congregation as did the Austrians houses. Corpus Christi in Krakow likewise went its own way. However with the cessation of hostilities and a reform of the constitution, the canons were able to return to Raudnitz in 1457. Novices returned and there were even new foundations made again.

Though Protestant Reform further depleted the community of members and vigor, it was not destroyed until Emperor Joseph II suppressed the remaining houses under his jurisdiction in 1790 and Napoleon did likewise in Bavaria in 1809.

Canons Regular of Groenendaal

The founding of this 14th Century canonical house is tied closely to the story of three men: Jan Hinckaert, Francis de Coundenberg and Bl. Jan van Ruysbroeck. These three priests, the first two of whom were secular canons of the collegiate church of St. Gedulda in Brussels, desired to live the common life as priests. Unable to do so in Brussels, they desired a more remote location. They found it in the hermitage of Groenendaal (“green valley”).

This hermitage in the forests of Soignes in Flanders is first mentioned in 1304. The first hermits – John of Busco, Arnold and Lambert – lived alone. In 1343, the hermits left for a new location and the Duke of Flanders, on whose property the hermitage was, welcomed the three canons. The following year, the Bishop of Cambrai gave permission for a chapel in 1344 and in 1349 Jan Hinckaert and Francis de Coundenberg were clothed as Augustinian Canons, taking the first steps to erecting a new canonical house.

Their group grew to four when Jan of Leuveun arrived and soon others followed. These new Canons Regular adopted the Liber Ordinis S. Victoris, the statues and observances of the Canons Regular of St. Victor. Francis governed as the first provost. Upon his death, Bl. Jan succeeded him. The community continued to grow under the blessed’s leadership, so that by 1400 there were 20 canons.

Moreover other canonical houses associated with Groenendaal and adopted its spirit and traditions. These were Rouge-Cloitre (1374), Sette Fontane (1389), Eemsteyn (1382), Corsendonck (1389) and Bethleem (1407). In addition the canonesses regular of Val-Sainte-Barbe in Tirlemont (after 1388) associated with this foundation.

In 1412 the Congregation of Groenendaal affiliated with the Windesheim Congregation. It was an easy union since Windesheim and Groenendaal had much in common. Gerhard Groote was an admirer of Bl. Jan van Ruysbroeck and it was at Groenendaal where he conceived of the idea of associating his Devotio Moderna movement with the way of life the canons of Groenendaal.

While their life was exclusively contemplative from its foundation – something it shared in common with the Windesheim canons – this did not preclude an apostolate of spiritual writing. The most famous representatives of this apostolate are Bl. Jan van Ruysbroeck, Jan of Leuveun, William Jordaens and John of Schoonhoven.

Groenendall

Groenendaal Canon

Canons Regular of the Congregation of Windesheim

Founded by some of the disciples of Gerhard Groote, this important community of Canons Regular remained a source of hope and light for the Church through difficult times. It became a beacon of reform in the 15th Century and its members strove to promote the holiness of the Church through the spirituality known as the Devotio Moderna. Though the community has many famous members, none is more so than Thomas a Kempis, whose Imitation of Christ remained for centuries one of the most influential books on Christian spirituality. Another of the well known canon whose community in Gouda belonged to the Windesheim Congregation is the Christian humanist and friend of St. Thomas More, Erasmus of Rotterdam. His disputes with the ex-Augustinian friar, Martin Luther, left Erasmus a Catholic, but his hot temper and merciless criticism of the Church won him few friends.

The Congregation was founded in 1386, two years after Groote’s death, and given papal approval in 1395. Unlike most canonical houses or congregations, this new congregation looked to the example of the more centralized orders, e.g. Cistercians, Dominicans, Franciscans, for a model of governance. One of the major difficulties for canonical houses was their independence. While this was a benefit for healthy and well run communities, it was a source of endless trouble for smaller and sick communities. Without the support of other houses, the latter would die because they lacked the strength and will to reform themselves. One need only consider the Parable of the Good Samaritan to see the problem.

Hoping to solve this problem, the Windesheim Congregation adopted a more centralized form of governance. Though each house retained the right of election for provost or prior, there was greater mobility in terms of assignments. Though a canon always retained his stability to his house of profession, he could be transferred to another house for the good of the Order or for other grave reasons. The canon would retain his relationship to his house of profession, but would enjoy full membership in the chapter of the community in which he lived. This allowed the Congregation to send new canons to communities that were dying or in need of reform.

Moreover, the superiors of all the houses of the congregation met frequently at general chapters at the mother house in Windesheim. These were significant legislative events for the entire congregation. The regular practice of canonical visitations ensured that the 80 houses of the congregation remained faithful to the spirit and form of the canonical life.

In addition, many houses or small congregations of canons adopted the constitution of Windesheim without formally joining the congregation. For example, Johannes Busch introduced the Constitution of Windesheim to the canons of Neuwerk bei Halle, whose Provincial Chapter voted to adopt the constitution and accept visitations, without joining the congregation because their work was principally pastoral in nature.

The Low Countries and Germany were the Windesheim canons mission field. The life of the canons was exclusively contemplative and focused on the spirituality of the Devotio Moderna. While some have argued that the Devotio Moderna was a kind of proto-Protestant movement, the reaction of the Windesheim canons to Protestantism commends the opposite interpretation. The Windesheim canons were ardent reformers of the Catholic Church and stalwart defenders of the Catholic Faith.

However, Protestantism’s rise augured the decline of the Windesheim canons since their contemplative life relied heavily on the local population for vocations and support. As Calvinism swept through the Netherlands in particular, support for the canons dwindled. Sometimes this rejection even burst into violence and destruction. Windesheim, the mother house was destroyed in 1581 and there were many martyrs including St. Jan of Osterwijk, Johann Brinckmann, prior of Sulte, Gerard Wybrandsz Hoen, Arnold Zomeren, Jan de Gangelt, Leonard Leetgens, Cornelius d’Amersfort and Laurence Vaux.

Though the Windesheim Congregation was greatly weakened by the Protestant Reformation since much of the Netherlands and northern Germany became hostile to the Catholic faith, it nevertheless flourished again in the 17th Century. At this time it also entered into a union with the Lateran Congregation. The center of activity moved to Germany and the canons left behind their contemplative life for an active pastoral ministry of administering parishes, preaching and missionary work among Protestants.

New calamities struck the congregation at the end of the 18th Century. In 1790 Emperor Joseph II closed 11 houses in the Austrian Netherlands. However with his early death, the resilient Windesheim canons began to look forward again to a bright future. However, just few year later the French Revolution unleashed a tidal wave of chaos and violence that swept Europe, that ultimately put this vibrant congregation to death. The last house, Frenswegen, which had been the first German house in 1400, was closed by Napoleon in 1809. The last Windesheim canon, Clemens Leeder, who spent his priesthood as a theologian at the cathedral of Hildesheim, died in 1865.

With Leeder’s death, the one hundred year clock began to tick. The Church permits a religious institute to exist after the death of the last member for one hundred years before it goes into oblivion. In 1960, the abbot primate of the Confederation of the Canons Regular of St. Augustine support a proposal to re-found the congregation. In 1961 the Holy See granted its permission and the Windesheim Congregation was saved from oblivion. Its member now live and serve in Germany, the Czech Republic and Italy.

Jan of Osterwijk

Windesheim Canon

Canons of San Giorgio in Alga

The story of this influential community of canons is intimately bound up with spread of the Devotio Moderna in Italy. This reform movement, whose provenance under that name was the Netherlands, probably arrived in Italy through the many foreign students, who attended the prestigious University of Padua. It was in the Veneto of northeastern Italy that Devotio Moderna particularly found a home. The major promoters of this movement were Bartolomeo da Roma, St. Laurentius Giustiniani and Ludovico Barbo. Bartolomeo da Roma was an itinerant preacher and priest, whose message and example inspired many to take up the cause of reform. Two of these were the cousins Antonio Correr and Gabriele Condulmer, the future pope Eugene IV, whom he met in 1396. He encouraged them in their desire to seek perfection and this laid the foundation for the canons.

In 1400 the two young Venetian aristocrats began a community along the lines of the Brothers of the Common Life. Initially they undertook this life at St. Nicolo al Lido, a house belonging to Garbriele’s uncle, Cardinal Condulmer, the Patriarch of Jerusalem. In 1400 Bartolomeo left the Veneto region for Lucca, where he assisted two Canons Regular from San Pietro in Ciel d’Oro in Pavia to found a reform house, which would become the Canons Regular at Fregionaia.

Gabriele and Angelo were soon joined by Laurentius Giustiniani, who is properly considered the father of this congregation. Deeply imbued with the Devotio Moderna, Laurentius provided a sure spiritual foundation for the newly founded community, which from the beginning was joined with the canons of St. Augustine in Vicenza, where Bartolomeo da Roma had begun a reform in 1399.

The aspiring canons came into possession of San Giorgio in Alga, an abbey of Augustinian friars, through Ludovico Barbo, a Venetian aristocrat who had also been strongly impressed by the message of Bartolomeo da Roma. Earlier, in 1397 he had became the commendatory prior of San Giorgio in Alga and so a few years later, when he was introduced to this fledging community through his brother Francesco, he decided to give them the almost empty abbey in 1404. Located on a small island between Venice and the mainland, it was well suited for their purposes and Barbo joined them shortly thereafter.

On Nov. 30, 1404 their monastery received papal approval. The community had already grown to 17 members, all whom were clerics (priests, deacons or subdeacons). The priests were Antonio Correr, Gabriele Condulmer, Stefano Morosini, Francesco Barbo (brother of the commendatory abbot Ludovico who made the monastery available to the group) of Venice; Matteo di Strada of Pavia; Romano de Rudellis of Milan and Luca d Este of Ferrara. The deacons were Mariano Quirini, St. Laurentius Giustiniani, Michele Condulmer, Venetians; Giovanni Picenardi and Simone Persico of Cremona and Girolomo di Missis of Pavia. The subdeacons were Angelo Gastaldis, Agostino Serdonato of Pavia, Marco Condulmer and Dominco Morosini of Venice.

The canons of San Giorgio in Alga were not religious, for they professed no vows. In fact, they only became a religious community in 1568 following the Council of Trent with the help of the Canons Regular of St. John the Evangelist, a canonical community they inspired in Portugal! Their life consisted in solitude, prayer and meditation on the life of Christ; they shared the common life and committed themselves to simplicity of life and poverty. Though essentially contemplative in their vocation, some did undertake the apostolate. The superior, who was elected annually, did not enjoy most of the privileges of a prelate. Their spirituality drew upon the deep wells of the Devotio Moderna, the reformed Dominicans of Bl. Giovanni Dominici, the Carthusians, Bartolomeo da Roma and the reformed canons of Fregionaia.

The canons of San Giorgio in Alga had created a new form of priestly common life. They successfully combined aspects of devotion, humility and solitude with the solemn celebration of the Liturgy. They enjoyed a reputation for both simplicity and nobility and appear to have achieved the canonical idea of claustral discipline without religious vows.

The success of the community led to the swift spread of the congregation. St. Laurentius spent many years at St. Augustine’s in Vicenza and assisted in numerous other foundations until he became a Bishop. In 1408 Gregory XII appointed Ludovico Barbo as the abbot of Santa Giustina in Padua, which he reformed with help of two monks, two Camadolese novices and three canons of San Giorgio in Alga. It was then that Ludovico became a Benedictine. Through his leadership, the congregation of Santa Giustina became an important center of reform in Italy.

In 1424 the canons elected their first superior general to oversee the houses of their burgeoning congregation. Pope Gregory XII called his nephew Antonio Correr and Gabriele Condulmer to Rome to serve as Cardinals. Condulmer became Eugene VI and St. Laurentius Giustiniani became the Bishop of Venice, promoting the reform of the city and the spread of the Gospel throughout his episcopate. For these canons, the 15th Century was their heyday. Like the Theatines in the 16th Century, this congregation enjoyed much more influence and importance than its size would suggest.

The canons hit hard times by the 17th Century. Vocations and the quality of the canonical life declined. Finally in 1688, the Canons Regular of San Giorgio in Alga, like the Canons Regular of the Holy Spirit, were liquidated to raise money for the defense of Venetian Republic against the threat of the Ottoman Turks.

Canon of San Giorgio in Alga

Canons of Fregionaia

Founded at Santa Maria of Fregionaia, this important 15th Century, would in a short period of time grow rapidly throughout Italy and become the successors to the Canons Regular who served at the cathedral of Rome, St. John Lateran, by mid-century. This community would become the Congregation of the Canons Regular of St. John Lateran, serving with distinction in Italy and beyond during the 15th and 16th Centuries in a wide variety of apostolates and missions.

The itinerant preacher, Bartolomeo da Roma sought the reform of the Church “in capite et in membris” (in the head and in the members) as was the popular slogan of his time. Involved in the formation of the Canons of San Giorgio in Alga (1399-1401), he came to Lucca, to the empty monastery of Santa Maria. He was not alone. Leone Gherardini da Carate and Taddeo da Bagnasco left their canonry, San Pietro in Ciel d’Oro in Pavia, with their abbot’s permission to find a more demanding canonical life.

This new life would be less worldly and more contemplative in nature. They believed a stricter enclosure would better preserve the zeal of the canonical life. Therefore they eschewed direct pastoral placements, but rather took on a variety of pastoral activities that did not require the canons to live in the world. These included preaching, catechesis and the administration of the Sacraments. They began in 1402 and their life attracted others so that by 1406 the community had grown to two houses (Lucca and Milan) and fourteen members, most of whom probably had met or heard the preaching of Bartolomeo da Roma. He remained provost only for a year and soon left to continue his work elsewhere. Gregory XII gave them a third house in Rimini in 1407.

The distances between the houses (Lucca, Milan and Rimini) begged the question of organization for the canons. So in 1408 Gregory XII erected a chapter for three houses, though they remained independent of one another; required the priors of Fregionaia and Rimini to be elected annually, while Milan remained a dependent of Fregionaia (Lucca); suppressed stability to house and made the profession to the congregation and permitted the canons to have their own laws.

The congregation spread to include seven additional houses. Moreover in 1420 it welcomed Santa Maria in Portu and its five dependencies. The canons received their definitive legal foundation from Martin V in 1421. They became a congregation with the rights to hold general chapters, elect a general superior, accept or found new houses and transfer members among its various houses. During the 15th Century it grew to 55 houses throughout Italy and welcomed the Canons Regular of the Holy Cross of Mortara and its four dependent houses in 1449.

The heart of the congregation had been Fregionaia, where the first reform canons lived. However, that changed when the canons were called to Rome to take over the Basilica of St. John Lateran. This invitation came in 1431 from Eugene IV, Gabriele Condulmer, a Canon of San Giorgio in Alga and friend of Bartolomeo da Roma. Sadly it turned out to be a bitter experience. Eugene IV requested 30 canons, quite a few for the young congregation whose many commitments spread their members thin. Moreover, when the canons were finally introduced on the feast of the Presentation on February 2, 1439, they faced many difficulties. Eugene IV had many enemies in Rome and they made the canons suffered as well. In fact, they were driven out of the cathedral just a little more than a year later. Eugene IV called them back in 1442 and they reluctantly but obediently returned – this time with 50 canons! – in 1444. Two years later wit the Bull “Cum ad sacratissimam” Eugene he confirmed the position of the Canons Regular at the basilica and changed their name to the Canons Regular of the Lateran, indicating their spiritual continuity with the 12th Century Canons Regular who briefly served the basilica.

Canons Regular of the Lateran

It was not without sadness that many of the Canons Regular of Fregionaia accepted the new name. But they did with humility and obedience. The Lateran experiment did not last. The Romans themselves were suspicious of the canons as foreigners and the secular canons conspired against them. On twelve days after his election, Callistus III, Alfonso Borgia, removed the Canons Regular from the basilica in 1455. Paul II, a nephew of Eugene IV and the cardinal protector of the congregation, reintroduced the regular canons to St. John Lateran again in 1464. As long as he reigned they were secure, but upon his death and before the election of Sixtus IV in 1471, a mob stirred up by the secular canons violently expelled the Canons Regular from the basilica. It was the last expulsion since they never returned to the cathedral.

The negative experience of the Canons Regular in Rome is symbolic of the institutional weakness of the papacy in the 15th Century and its lack of strength to both promote and complete a reform program. The popes too often were unwilling to confront the forces opposed to the canons and their program of reform for the Church. Moreover it left a great deal of hostility between the Lateran canons and the Roman clergy. It was only in 1483 that the Lateran Canons received Santa Maria della Pace as a home in Rome. This church and residence did bring some peace and stability to the canons by making more sound their juridical and economic position in the Eternal City.

However the failure in Rome did not detract form the overall success of the Lateran canons, adding houses, including San Andrea in Vercelli (1472), San Pietro in Ciel d’Oro (1503) and San Frediano in Lucca (1517). It is interesting to note that in general the canons did not do parish work per se. They were not parish priests. Rather they returned to more primitive apostolic work, especially that of popular preaching and catechesis. They also rendered spiritual guidance to lay organizations and houses of nuns, canonesses and other woman’s communities as well as supported generously hospitals, lazarums, free education for the poor and every kind of work of mercy.

The 15th Century was the heyday for the Lateran canons. Numerous canons were renowned for their preaching and spiritual writing, e.g. Bartolomeo Pasolini, Nicolo Zannolini, Paolo and Timoteo Maffei and Serafino Aceti da Fermo. The latter was active in various places including Brescia, where he served St. Angela Merici, the foundress of the Ursulines, as spiritual director and confessor. St. Angela Merici belonged to the Oratory of Divine Love, an important reform movement that originated in Genoa under Lateran direction.

Generously supported by the Lateran canons of San Teodoro, the lay reformer Ettore Vernazza founded around 1495 the spiritual and charitable reform institute, the Oratory of Divine Love. Vernazza’s ties to the Lateran canons were deep. His three daughters, including Battista Vernazza, the spiritual writer and likely redactor for St. Catherine of Genoa, were Lateran canonesses. With the help of the Lateran canons, especially in Brescia, Naples and Florence, Vernazza was able to spread the Oratory, bringing with it a salutary zeal for reform through prayer, conversion and works of mercy. This cooperation was repeated elsewhere in Italy where Lateran canons joined with the lay faithful in confraternities and the like to relieve the suffering of the sick and the poor.

A certain institutional weakness set into the sixty houses of the Lateran congregation with the arrival of the 16th Century. The General Chapter often had to remind the 1300 canons to live according to the disciplines of the institute and financial difficulties plagued the canons until their demise in 1799. However their greatest disappointment was neither due to finance nor observance, but betrayal: abbot Pietro Martire Vermigli defected to the Protestant cause around 1542. It was a painful and humiliating experience. Despite this, the canons patiently remonstrated with Vermigli, hoping for his reconciliation to the Church.

Despite these difficulties, the congregation still had managed to grow to eighty houses as of 1620 and had moreover given the Church ten bishops over a forty year period (1585-1625). Moreover, at this time numerous canonical houses and congregations from outside of Italy joined the Lateran congregation (e.g. Windesheim Congregation, German, Austrian and Polish houses, etc.). Since the Lateran Congregation was the most prestigious canonical congregation and had been given many privileges, it conferred these on those congregations and houses, which joined them. In practice, these other congregations and houses remained self-governing, though they bore the name “Lateran” as part of their official names.

However the Lateran canons only went into steep decline, indeed extinction during the latter half of the 18th Century. Poverty, the anti-clericalism of the so-called Enlightenment and the decadence of religious life had already reduced the canons by one third in 1722, when they numbered 749 members. The suppression of houses throughout Italy by hostile civil authorities deprived the canons of many of their most venerable houses, including their first, San Fregionaia, in 1770. Josephenism, the policy of evaluating the mission of the Church in relation to worldly practicality and named after Emperor Joseph II of Austria, struck the canons in Lombardy in 1781 and also in Tuscany, which was ruled by Joseph’s brother Leopold, in 1778. The Venetian Republic and the King of Savoy closed their houses in 1783 and 1798 respectively. The destruction of the congregation was completed by the French invasion of Rome and the suppression of religious communities in 1799.

The noble legacy of this venerable congregation passed to its successor, the Congregation of the Most Holy Savior and the Lateran, through the one surviving house of canons at Santa Maria di Piedigrotta in Naples.

Lateran Banner

Canons Regular of Most Holy Savior at Bologna (Renana)

This important Italian congregation of Canons Regular came into being when Pope Gregory XII, whose nephew was one of the founders of the Canons of San Giorgio in Alga, transformed a house of Augustinian friars into Canons Regular in 1408. The transition was not welcomed by most of the friars and was strenuously opposed by the General of the Augustinian Friars. As a result, the house went back to the friars and a small group of seven canons left, led by Bl. Stefano Agazzari.

They wandered for several years to different locations until finally in 1414 Pope Gregory XII settled them at the hermitage of Sant’ Ambrogio near Gubbio. Four years later in 1418, thanks to the intercession of Pope Martin V, the bishop of Bologna welcomed the community to his diocese, giving them the church of the Most Holy Savior in the city and Our Lady in Reno (hence Renana) in the countryside. Also in 1418 Pope Martin V made them a congregation with the name “Congregation of the Most Holy Savior” and gave them the right to elect their own general. The blessed Stefano was thus chosen to be their first General and he governed until his death in 1433.

With their excellent location in central Bologna near the university and their holiness of life, they attracted many vocations and grew quickly. Within 100 years they had grown from 2 to 29 houses, including two in Rome, San Agnese Fuori le Mure and San Pietro in Vicolo. One of their more unusual apostolates was to care for the large number of English students who attended the University of Bologna. There was a chapel dedicated to St. Thomas a Becket and their church served as a kind of national parish for the English.

The organization of the congregation was more modern. There was no stability to a house and canons could be transferred. In this and many in other ways, they were very much like the Lateran Congregation. In the 16th Century, the congregation faced many difficulties and on several occasions the papacy intervened to set the community on the right track. At the same time however this congregation still produced many esteemed members including Lucius Vitruvius Rossi (+1545) Latinist, Leonhard Malaspina (+1571) Latinist, Marini (+1594) Hebraist, Agostino Steuco (+1549) Vatican Librarian and Bl. Archangelo Canetoli (+1513), and grew to encompass 41 houses all over Italy. In 1627 the congregation numbered some 780 members.

Having over come the trials of the 16th Century, the Congregation faced a long slow decline. The congregation numbered 415 members distributed among 26 by 1740. Despite the reduction of numbers, the congregation still produced many notable scholars, among whom Giovanni Crisostomo Trombelli (+1784) is the most remarkable.

With the arrival of the French Revolution in Italy, all religious orders were suppressed and the canons dispersed. Many continued to serve in lay dress as priests. The picture was not a complete disaster as a house of canons at San Pietro in Vicolo did survive. With the restoration of religious life after the chaos of those years, Vincent Garofali, the abbot general, successfully negotiated the union of the Renana and Lateran canons, the Canons Regular of the Most Holy Savior and the Lateran. The plan took effect in 1823 and received papal approval in 1829.

Renana_Banner
Click to enlarge

Renana Canon

Archangelus Canetoli

Canons Regular of St. John the Evangelist

Portugal produced two important congregations of Canons Regular. The first, the Canons Regular of the Holy Cross of Coimbra arouse in the fervor of the Gregorian reforms. This community arouse during a period of reform that is rightly associated with the Devotio Moderna. In fact the connections between this spirituality and these canons are personal. One of the founders was a canonist in Bologna, where he would have likely come into contact with this new movement and more importantly they adopted their rule and constitution from the Canons of San Giorgio in Alga, a community which spread the Devotio Moderna throughout Italy.

This was a time of great problems in the Portuguese clergy and so these canons were called to an especially difficult mission: the reform of the clergy. Founded in 1420 in Olivais, near Lisbon the founders were John Vicente, a medical doctor and professor of the University of Lisbon, Martino Lourenco, a theologian and Alfonso Nogueira, a celebrated canonist at Bologna. From the start, they encountered opposition and had to moved more than once to a new home. Finally they found a strong patron in the Archbishop of Braga, Fernando da Guerra, who gave them the former Benedictine abbey of Vilar de Fraders (Barcelos) as their home.

On July 1, 1427 Martin V approved them as a new congregation of religious priests taking the customs of the Canons of San Giorgio in Alga with some modifications as their rule of life. Three years later on October 10, 1430 they were given the right to live by the Rule of St. Augustine, become a priory, open other houses in Portugal and enjoy the privileges of the Hieronymites. By this time they enjoyed the support of both the royal family and the future pope and canon of San Giorgio in Alga, Gabriele Condulmer, who became on March, 3, 1431. In fact Eugene IV named John Vicente Bishop of Lamego on July on July 5, 1432.

However all this success was not without consequences. It stirred up jealously in their former patron, the Archbishop, who sought to establish tighter control over the canons. This led to a seven year long struggle between the Archbishop and the canons, which was only resolved in 1447 by the Holy See after Queen Isabella intervened. Ironically the patronage of the royal family was perhaps the greatest reason for the Archbishop’s unhappiness with canons.

In the meantime many Portuguese houses joined this new congregation and others were founded. The royal family endowed them twice with houses in Lisbon in 1440 (San Eligio) and again in 1455 (the oratory of St. Benedict). It is from the former, San Eligio, where they got their nickname “Loios.” With two houses in Lisbon, the canons were better able to realize their desires to carry out pastoral and intellectual work. Moreover, Alfonso Nogueira became Archbishop of Lisbon in 1459. Therefore it was with good reason that they transferred the mother house to St. Benedict’s in Lisbon. In 1462 the official name of the order was set as the Canons Regular of St. John the Evangelist.

Difficulties with the Archbishop of Braga and Bishop of Evora continued to weigh on the flourishing order. However even these were finally resolved by the second decade of the 16th Century. It was at this time that the canons reached their height. Their apostolate continued or expanded earlier works including a widespread preaching apostolate, rural missions, elementary education, care of prisoners, promotion of confraternities and popular devotions, publication of Portuguese devotion works and lives of the saints, and relief service during the plagues of 1458, 1493, 1569 and 1579. They administered royal hospitals and hospices for traveler and pilgrims and carried out the vitally important work of pre-Tridentine reform of Portugal and even helped the canons of San Giorgio of Alga when in 1568 they became Canons Regular.

The canons also served in the missions in the Congo. There were at least fours missions in 1484, 1504, 1510 and 1512. Many who went did not come back alive. Their mission was the formation of indigenous clergy which was done both in Lisbon and in Africa. On Easter Sunday April 3, 1491 a priest – a Dominican, a Franciscan or a Canon Regular of St. John the Evangelist – baptized the king of Sonyo and his son. Shortly thereafter, on May 3, 1491 the king and queen of Congo were baptized and later their son, who took the name Afonso I. By 1493 however the king of Congo apostatized, rejecting monogamy. He and his non-Christian son conspired to destroy the spread of the Gospel, but they failed. Afonso I remained a strong supporter of the mission and sent his own son to Portugal to be educated by the Canons Regular in preparation for episcopal ordination. He was ordained Bishop at the age of 24 and made an auxiliary to the Bishop of Funchal in Sao Tome. Unfortunately Portugal did not have the manpower to support the mission and Bishop Henrique never had the priests he needed. He died young in 1530 and there was not another African Bishop ordained until 1939.

These canons also served in the missions in India, probably in Goa, and Ethiopia.

Despite all this activity, the vitality of the congregation waned with the approach of the 17th Century. It was displaced by Jesuits and other orders and progressively abandoned of many of its apostolates because of a lack of manpower. The post-Tridentine preference for centralized congregations also made life difficult for the canons as did the desire on the part of some in Spain to suppress them. Having come through these difficulties, the later half of the 17th Century was again marked with a modest vitality. The canons did what they could well. They again obtained a reasonable intellectual life and some of the canons taught at the University of Coimbra, the most famous being the historian Francis of St. Mary, who wrote a chronicle of the order, a life of St. Laurentius Giustiniani and a chronology of Portuguese history.

Beyond 1697, there are few records regarding the canons. They doubtless suffered the ravages of the rigorist movement of the Jacobeia as did the Canons Regular of the Holy Cross, they were likely prohibited from taking vocations in 1791 by the Commission to Examine Religious Orders and further harmed by the social divisions that emerged as a result of the French occupation of Portugal (1807-1811). In 1822 the Liberal government reduced their houses to one quarter. Two years later they were restored by the Absolutist government, but the restoration was short lived since the Liberals definitely triumphed in 1834 and vindictively suppressed all religious communities in Portugal in 1834.

Congregation of France

Canons Regular of the Holy Spirit

These canons originated in the reform efforts of an Augustinian friar, Gabriele Garofoli of Spoleto. The General of Augustinian friars sent him to Santa Maria di Nazareth in Venice to reform community. He was given ample authority and office to carry out his work in 1421 and succeeded in attracting vocations and four novices of noble families entered the community. The joy of the General soured when he began to understand that these novices were not being formed to be mendicant friars. They delayed their professions and a crisis ensued. Finally a decision was made to found a new community of Canons Regular and this plan was approved by Martin V on May 19, 1423.

The five novices and Garofoli began to live the common life in Pavia. Later they returned to Venice and took over the monastery of the Holy Spirit from which their name derives. The Canon Regular of the Holy Spirit were always a small congregation of limited importance. Garofoli, one of the great preachers of his day, did not remain. He remained a friar and later Bishop of Nocera dei Pagani (Salerno). Bl. Andrea Bondumier (one of the four novices) became Patriarch of Venice and Filippo Paruta became Bishop of Cittanova.

Like the Canons of San Giorgio in Alga, this community was liquidated in in 17th Century to help pay for the defense of Venice against the Turks.

Canons Regular of the Congregation of the Holy Savior

Lorraine had since the 11th and 12th Centuries been the home of numerous abbeys and houses of Canons Regular. Whether Premonstratensians or independent, these canons in the diocese of Metz, Toul and Verdun were given into their care many parishes as well. Following the Council of Trent, the great wave of reform swept over the Church. In Lorraine this first arrived through the efforts of the Bishop of Toul, Jean des Porcellets, who promoted the reform of the Premonstratensians and the independent houses of the Canons Regular under his jurisdiction. He undertook a visitation of all canonical houses in the three diocese of Lorraine and in 1621 appointed a canon of Chaumousey, St. Peter Fourier, to reorganize the canons into a congregation.

St. Peter Fourier was already a well known reformer. A canon of a house of not particularly zealous canons, he was sent to the poor parish in Mattaincourt in 1587 probably because many of his fellow canons did not approve of his ideas and he their laxity. At Mattaincourt he revived parish life with a special attention to the catechesis and education of children. In 1598, he and Bl. Alexia de Clerc founded a new community, the Canonesses of Our Lady, whose apostolate it was to give free education to girls. Fourier’s sanctity and success drew the attention of Cardinal Charles of Lorraine, who had the task of reforming religious life in Lorraine. Together they had made two attempts through visitations in 1595 and 1604, both of which failed, to reform the canons. Clearly another strategy would be necessary.

When Fourier and the Bishop of Toul undertook their reform of the canons in 1621, they did so in light of the failures of 1595 and 1604. Though they desired the same goals, they decided to try new means to obtain them. Like Cardinal Charles of Lorraine, they desired to found a congregation of Canons Regular for all of Lorraine. Their new method required a new and free profession of vows to the new congregation for all who wished to belong. In other words, all the canons of Lorraine would again have to undergo a novitiate according to the principals of the reform and profess new vows.

Through this means, Fourier was able to reform the canons. He composed new statutes for the congregation and established a general novitiate for the entire congregation in 1622 at the abbey of Luneville, whose commendatory abbot was the son of the Duke of Lorraine and a strong supporter of the reform. Fourier was the novice master and he formed the canons in the spirit of the new congregation. The first clothing occurred on February 2, 1623 and the first profession of vows on March 25, 1624.

Supported by the Bishop and the duke, the reform spread quickly through the dioceses of Lorraine, leading to the reform of existing houses and the foundation of new ones as well. In fact the growth was probably too fast since the congregation lacked the manpower to maintain the canonical vocation in so many places. In 1625 the congregation was erected canonically and on February 11, 1628 it was given additional privileges and named officially as the Congregation of Our Savior.

Its apostolates included the rural missions, priestly formation and education of the children. In neighboring France a new congregation of religious founded by St. Vincent de Paul shared the same purposes. However, the new congregation was in many ways very different from more ancient forms of canonical life, which emphasized autonomy of the communities. Instead of each house having its own elected superior, there was a superior for the entire congregation, called the General, who served for life. Each house was governed by a prior and two counselors, all of whom were named by the General. The General was assisted by a General Chapter and each house was subjected annually to a visitation. They lived by the Rule of St. Augustine and supplementary legislation.

The congregation, which had come into existence during a moment of peace and stability, found itself threatened by the French invasion of Lorraine in 1632. In fact Fourier, who had become the General that same year, was forced to flee because he steadfastly refused to profess an oath of loyalty to France. Yet despite these problems, the congregation continued to grow and expand into Germany and Belgium. In addition they administered the seminary in Verdun from 1696 – 1737.

However the 18th Century was not kind to the canons. The congregation lost houses and the seminary. Jansenism and other errors hurt the spiritual life and a certainly decadence set into the congregation. In 1768 France annexed Lorraine and the King of France – not the Church – gave them new statutes the following year. The canons were thoroughly Gallicanized, which is deeply ironic given the origins of the this congregation and Fourier’s own refusal to take the oath of allegiance. With the suppression of religious communities in 1791, some continued to undertake some pastoral work. One finds examples in 1802 of canons true to their ordinations and those that were not.

In 1851 there was an attempt in Verdun to refound the Congregation of Our Savior. The Clerics Regular of the Most Holy Savior did not however succeed and went out of existence in 1919.

Holy Savior in Lorraine

Fourier Canon

Canons Regular of the Congregation of France

This relatively late congregation is representative of the kind of reform of religious life that occurred in Catholic Europe following the Council of Trent. It points to the resurgence of state interference in the life of the Church and the tendency to view religion through utilitarian eyes. The parish was becoming the principal location of pastoral activity. As such there was a definite decision to sacrifice the cloister, silence, contemplative prayer and choral office in favor of useful activities, e.g. pastoral work, teaching, etc. Equally important at this time was the decision to curtail significantly the independence of religious houses and to incorporate them into national congregations by which they could be more easily managed.

France was long home to some of the most prestigious and ancient canonical houses. However the life of many of these houses, those great and small, had suffered enormously as a result of the destructive forces released by the Protestant Reformation, which included wars, poverty and social unrest. As a result of their independence and poor circumstances, these houses found themselves unable to reform themselves or improve their spiritual and material circumstances.

On account of this, Louis XIII and his counselors decided to impose a congregation on the French canons centered on either the abbeys of St. Victor or St. Genevieve, both of which were located in Paris and were amongst the most ancient and prestigious houses in France. The task was entrusted to Cardinal Rochefoucauld, who decided to start this plan by creating a center of reform at the Abbey of St. Vincent of Senlis. This abbey lay in the diocese under his jurisdiction and he nominated a new abbot and encourage a group of younger reformed minded canons and juniors to govern the community.

Success at St. Vincent encouraged Rochefoucauld to take the next step. He dispatched Charles Faure and 12 canons of St. Vincent to reform the Abbey of St. Genevieve. While not easy, Faure and the others succeeded in winning the community to the reform and from St. Genevieve the Congregation of France spread quickly.

What made the reform possible was a new strategy, which St. Peter Fourier had innovated in his reform of the canons of Lorraine. Since canons were joining a new congregation, they were obliged to profess new vows. This meant that those who wished to join the Congregation of France had to go through a new novitiate and embrace the reform or they could simply accept a pension and go into retirement.

Thanks to this requirement, Faure incorporated over 100 abbeys, priories, hospitals and cathedral chapters into the Congregation of France, though both the Canons Regular of Chancelade and St. Victor remained independent. The Congregation was divided into four provinces, each with its own regional chapter. The general chapter was held annually at St. Genevieve. Provincial novitiates were founded to promote the interests of the congregation among the future canons.

While the reform was a success in many ways, it failed to deal effectively with the problems of autonomy, benefices and wealth. At St. Genevieve, many aspects of life remained unreformed in practice. For example, the abbatial and conventual tables remained separate and the commenda abbots still took little interest in their community. The greatest challenge that Faure faced was the resistance of many canons to pastoral work, which meant often living away from their communities. This led him to insist on the profession of a fourth vow of obedience to one’s superior with respect to pastoral assignments. This vow was absorbed back into the vow of obedience in the 18th Century.

This congregation did produce many notable scholars including the historians Jean Fronteau (1614-1662), Claude de Molinet (1620-1687), Peter Lallemand (1622-1673), Raymond Chaponnel (1636-1700), Joseph Barre (1692-1764) and Louis Anquetil (1723-1806); the Hebraist and Hellenist Claude Mailhol (1700-1775); and the astronomers Alexander Pingre (1711-1796) and Jean-Theodosius Bouin (1715-1795).

The 18th Century brought more trouble. Jansenism struck the Congregation so hard that in 1745 the King directly intervened at the General Chapter and in 1769 the Commission of the Regulars began its task of suppressing struggling houses. In the name of Faure, they pushed the canons to sacrifice whatever stood in the way of a total commitment to pastoral work. Though it is true that Faure wanted the canons to do pastoral work, he himself was faithful to the canonical life. The Commission closed one quarter of the houses and the congregation was further consolidated. Though it was doing better by the end of the 18th Century, the French Revolution brought an end to the congregation. Like other French religious, some remained faithful to the Church and their vows, others did not. In the case of this congregation, the canons of the smaller houses tended to be more faithful, while those of larger houses, like St. Genevieve, were less so. The church of St. Genevieve was confiscated and turned into the “Pantheon” of national glory. Several canons were martyred on various occasions including three beatified by Pius XII, Bl. Jean-Francois Bonnel of Pradal, Bl. Claude Ponse and Bl. Gabriel Pergaud.

In the 19th Century Dom Grea reintroduced the canonical life to France through the Canons Regular of the Immaculate Conception.

James Emmericus

St. Genevieve Canon

Canons Regular of St. Patrick

The Protestant Reformation did not directly touch Ireland for a long time. Even the legislation of suppression in 1534 changed little for the canons. The situation worsened considerably in the 17th Century with the closure of houses, persecution, imprisonment and exile. In fact many Irish canons continued in their vocation abroad, especially in France. One of the most important was Francis Kirwin, who working with Charles Faure, hoped to build a congregation of Canons Regular for Ireland as Faure had for France.

Thanks to much hard work and encouragement, Francis Kirwin secured papal support for this idea and Innocent X erected the Canons Regular of St. Patrick. Like other canonical congregations at this time, it was conceived rather differently from more ancient forms of canonical life. Rather than being centered on a particular house, this was a national congregation with a superior.

However the congregation faced constant struggles and set backs. For example when William Henegan won the right to take over the empty abbey of Beaulieu from the abbot of the Arrouaise Congregation, the new foundation was opposed and successfully blocked by the commendatory abbots of the French court. Hoping to secure its position, it united with the Lateran Congregation at the beginning of the 18th Century. The head of the congregation was given all the rights and privileges of a Lateran abbot. This union was undertaken because this was a dire time for the canons as well as all Irish religious houses since vocations were by and large not forthcoming.

However the union did not prove to be a remedy for the Irish canons. Just 50 years later the Lateran Congregation was suppressed by Napoleon. In 1800 there were just seven Irish Canons Regular, though there were many more who did not identify themselves as such. The last Canon Regular of the St. Patrick, Patrick Predergast, abbot of Cong, died in 1829.

Congregation of Krakow

The canonry of Corpus Christi, a foundation of the Raudnitz reform and later a house of the Congregation of St. John Lateran became the center of a Polish congregation in the 17th Century. Provost Martin Kloczynski (1612-1644) brought new splendor to the house through a comprehensive reform program. He put the liturgy at the center of the life of the canons, introduced stricter statues, improved the education and formation of the canons, enlarged the abbey and beautified the church through the addition of a new altar and new choir stalls. Success in Krakow encouraged him to found new houses in Poland and Lithuania including Bychow, Wilna, Wolbrom and Sucha. A recognized reformer, he was appointed visitor to other religious houses.

His successor, Hyacinth Liberius (1644-1673), a famous professor at the University of Krakow, consolidated Kloczynski’s reform and under his leadership the canons became the “Canons Regular of the Lateran of the Congregation of Krakow.” This vital congregation enjoyed great prosperity in the 18th Century. Its last foundation was in Ozierany in Byelorussia in 1774.

This flourishing congregation fell victim not to decadence or corruption, but to the brutal realities of 18th politics as Austria, Prussia and Russia carved up and annexed Poland to their respective lands. Though the houses in Prussia and Russia were destroyed, mercifully the ones under the rule of the Austrians survived and even enjoyed a measure of success. Provost Sebastian Kwiatkowski was able to overcome the lessening of religious zeal at the end of the 18th Century and return the community to its early health. However by the mid-19th Century the congregation was reduced to one house, Corpus Christi, whose canons subsequently united with the Canons Regular of the Most Holy Savior and the Lateran in 1892.

Polish Canon

Canons Regular of the Most Holy Savior and the Lateran

This congregation arouse out of the ashes of the chaos the engulfed Europe beginning with the French Revolution, passing through the Napoleonic Wars and continuing in the uncertain peace of the Congress of Vienna and the so-called restoration it brought about. It was not new as such, but rather the successor to two venerable Italian congregations, the Lateran canons and the Renana canons. It was however not merely a renewal of what had been, but rather a new vision of the canonical life according to Vincent Garofali, the man most responsible for this 19th Century union.

Garofoli’s vision was founded on an honest admission that only a deep reform and renewal of the canonical life could open a way to the future. He believed that this reform must not only look back, but must engage the present circumstances and that only those of a zealous and spiritual disposition would make the necessary sacrifices for the congregation to survive and flourish. With these principals, Garofali sought to refashion the canons in such as way as to attract young people, not with fades or gimmicks, but genuine substance and real religious life.

If in the past the canons were able to carry the dead weight of those who joined without any real sense of vocation, it was no longer possible to bear them. He sought to thin the ranks of those who only sought a comfortable life and a career, but not a vocation and a mission. He also expanded the mission of the canons beyond the choral office, confessions and preaching to include parish missions, visitation of the sick, education, spiritual direction and retreats. He also reformed the habit to make it more convenient for the more active apostolate of the canons.

Garofoli therefore is rightly considered the father of this new congregation since he gave it the form and structure it now lives. In moving away from the typical conventual or monastic observances to a more active and pastoral form of religious life, Garofoli’s program illustrates well the tensions present within the canonical life. It is always a question of balancing the needs of the common life with those of pastoral ministry.

The new congregation, which was officially united in 1829, evinced its dual ancestry. It inherited the privileges and prestige of the Lateran canons and the spirit, way of life and most of its members from the Renana congregation. At its inception the new congregation numbered 105 canons (94 Renana canons, 11 Lateran canons; 12 abbots, 44 priests, 5 solemnly professed, 31 conversi and 13 novices) and was divided into four provinces, all in Italy.

The new congregation enjoyed a modest revival, the return of lost churches and canonries and a growth in new members. Moreover, their success soon attracted the attention of the Canons Regular of Corpus Christ in Krakow, who in 1859, petitioned to join them. This was the last remaining house of the Congregation of Krakow. Though there were suspicions regarding their intentions, they were later to be revealed as honorable and the union finally took place in 1892. A second union with a small congregation of Canons Regular of San Egidio of Verres in Aosta occurred in 1868.

However, these were tumultuous times for religious in Italy. The rising tide of Italian nationalism with its strong anti-papal and anti-clerical character threatened to harm both the papacy and the fledging community, which relied heavily on the papacy for encouragement and financial support for the necessities of life. Indeed, when the anti-clerical government of the Kingdom of Piedmont, under Count Cavour, suppressed contemplative religious orders and stole their property in 1855, it was correctly perceived as a portend of things to come in the rest of Italy.

With the threat to religious life growing ever clearer, it was deemed prudent to consider foreign foundations as a insurance against another devastating suppression of religious life, as had occurred under the Napoleonic occupation. Ironically, it was to France that the Lateran canons went first in 1864 and a Franco-Dutch-Belgian province was organized. This first attempt however failed due to the Franco-Prussian war, but they later returned in 1872 to care for the Marian shrine of Beaucheme in the Vendee. A second house was founded in 1878 in Mattaincourt in Lorraine, where St. Peter Fourier had been the pastor. However an anti-clerical government in France expelled all foreign religious in 1881, bringing these houses to an end.

However, these canons were not defeated. They took up new missions in England, where they began working in Cornwall in 1881 and in Spain in 1884. They enjoyed a measure of success in Spain and even expanded to Argentina in 1893. Houses were also founded in Louvain in 1887, Liege in 1889, Namur in 1902 and Bouhay in 1905. The order also successfully returned to France. The Argentine foundation grew and was able to open houses in Uruguay. With this vitality, the congregation was divided into French (actually Belgian), Italian and Spanish provinces. In 1937 the Belgians opened a house in the Congo and in 1946 the Italian province began a mission in Brazil. In 1952 the canonry of Corpus Christi was erected as a Polish province.

The current Abbot Primate of the Confederation of the Congregations of Canons Regular, the Right Reverend Anthony Maggs, belongs to this community.

Canons Regular of Immaculate Conception

Following the satanic destruction of religious life in France and beyond through the bloodshed and chaos of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars, religious life underwent a dramatic resurrection in the 19th Century, that can be justly understood as a sign of the working of the Holy Spirit. As Dom Gueranger had brought monastic life back to France through his foundation at Solesmes, so Dom Grea hoped to do the same for the canonical life.

Adrian Grea, a disciple and friend of Bl. Frederick Ozanam, discerned a call to the priesthood, which he took up despite his father’s opposition. Eventually he traveled to Rome, where he was ordained a priest in 1856. When he returned to France, he ministered among the workers of his uncle’s factory and began a school for boys, a kind of junior seminary. There he introduced his students to the religious life with a rule of life, the celebration of the Divine Office and even a habit.

In 1863, just seven years after his ordination, he was appointed vicar general of the diocese of St. Claude. He continued to guide his students at a new location and two years later was joined by two other priests with whom he began to live the full common life. Finally on September 8, 1871 the first five Canons Regular took their solemn vows. The community grew rapidly, drawing many members from the school that Dom Grea had founded as a new priest.

Grea emphasized the primacy of the Divine Office and its careful and solemn celebration. He conceived of pastoral ministry and priestly formation as the principal apostolates of the canons. To these, he wished to introduce a rigorous asceticism, which included penances, fasts and abstinences that were part of the customs of some historic congregations. This however proved to be difficult to balance with the demands of modern life and became a point of contention among the members of the burgeoning congregation.

This difference in vision led to a rift in the community between the founder and some of its prominent members. The dispute over the rule of life was finally settled by the Holy See, which modified Grea’s rules. The Canons Regular of the Immaculate Conception – the name comes from Bl. Pius IX – was given a centralized government of a superior and his council and simple vows. In this respect it resembled congregations of its time or later canonical congregations rather than the more ancient canonical houses, who prized stability as characteristic of the canonical life.

The story has a sad ending for Grea, who, feeling that the new constitutions rejected his vision and hope for this new congregation, withdrew from it and never returned to it before his death in 1917.

The Canons Regular of the Immaculate Conception however survived the loss of Grea and went onto to grow into an international order.

Dom Adrian Grea