Secular canons by contrast belong to a community of priests attached to a church but do not take vows or live under a rule.
Canons Regular are sometimes called Black or White Canons, depending on the order to which they belong.
According to the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life of the Holy See, "Canons Regular, who combine the clerical office and state with the observance of community religious life and the evangelical counsels, have their origin in the communities of clergy which lived with their bishop. It was Saint Augustine who, at the end of the fourth and the beginning of the fifth centuries, gave this form of religious life its most characteristic features.
Historically, the French Canons had the care of St. Victor's Abbey, Paris, pre-cursor body to the University of Paris, and the pre-Reformation English Canons were the custodians of the shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham.
The characteristic habit of canons regular is the rochet. With regard to the other parts of their dress, as a general rule, they wear the white habit and black cloak, although some have added a scapular and others have taken to wearing the black soutane (cassock) of the secular clergy. Most wear the rochet as part of their daily dress, though sometimes reduced to a small linen band hanging from the shoulders in front and behind - as it is currently worn in some houses in Austria e.g. Klosterneuburg Monastery.
In 1959, four congregations of Canons Regular came together to form a confederated Order, which with time has grown to the extent that there are currently nine congregations. These Congregations of Canons Regular elect an Abbot primate who is currently Rt. Rev. Fr. Maurice Bitz, Abbot of St. Pierre, and General Abbot of the Congregation of Canons Regular of St. Victor. The Order has houses in Argentina, Austria, Brazil, Canada, the Czech Republic, England, Italy, France, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Switzerland, Poland, Peru, Uruguay and Taiwan.
The Austrian Congregation of Canons Regular, based in the ancient monasteries of Herzogenburg Priory, Klosterneuburg Priory, Neustift Priory, Reichersberg Priory, St. Florian's Priory and Vorau Priory, look after over 100 parishes in Austria.
To explain further the nature and distinctive spirit of the canonical order, we may quote St. Augustine that a canon regular professes two things, "sanctitatem et clericatum". He lives in community, he leads the life of a religious, he sings the praises of God by the daily recitation of the Divine Office in choir; but at the same time, at the bidding of his superiors, he is prepared to follow the example of the Apostles by preaching, teaching, and the administration of the sacraments, or by giving hospitality to pilgrims and travellers, and tending the sick.
But the canons regular do not confine themselves exclusively to canonical functions. To this day they give hospitality to pilgrims and travelers on the Great St. Bernard and on the Simplon, and in former times the hospitals of St. Bartholomew's Smithfield, in London, of S. Spirito, in Rome, of Lochleven, Monymusk and St. Andrew's, in Scotland, and others like them, were all served by canons regular. In fact, many congregations of canons made it their chief end to work among the poor, the lepers, the insane and the infirm. The clerics established by St. Patrick in Ireland had a Guest House for pilgrims and the sick whom they tended by day and by night. And the rule given by Chrodegang to this canons enjoined that a hospital should be near their house that they might tend the sick. The Council of Aix-la-Chapelle (Aachen) also ordains the erection of a hospital for pilgrims over which a canon regular is to preside.
St Augustine of Hippo is also regarded by the Canons as their founder. Ives, bishop of Chartres promoted the order in Italy through the newly founded congregation of Blessed Peter de Honestis, and elsewhere through the congregation of St. Rufus. History tells us that about the eleventh century the regular or canonical life hitherto observed almost everywhere by the clergy was given up in many churches, and thus a distinction was made between the clerics who lived in separate houses and those who still preserved the old discipline. The former were called canonici saeculares> (Secular Canons), the latter canonici regulares(Canons Regular). It is also true that in the year 763 Chrodegang, Bishop of Metz, assembled the clergy of his cathedral around him, led with them a community life, and gave them a rule taken from the statutes of ancient orders and canons, a discipline also recommended shortly after by the Councils of Aix-la-Chapelle and Mainz; but in doing this he was only following the example of Augustine of Hippo who had introduced among his own clergy the manner of life which he had seen practiced at Milan.]
Eusebius, the historian, relates that St. Mark, the disciple of St. Peter, established this discipline at Alexandria, as did St. Crescentius in Gaul, St. Saturninus in Spain, and St. Maternus in Germany. We know that St. Eusebius introduced it at Vercelli in Italy, and St. Ambrose at Milan. Popes Urban I (A.D. 227), Paschal II (1099), Benedict XII (1334), Eugenius IV (1431), Sixtus V and Pius V in various Letters and bulls, are quoted by the historians of the order, to prove distinctly that St. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, only restored, or caused to reflourish, the order of canons regular, which was first instituted by the Apostles.
St. Antoninus, Vincent of Beauvais, Sigebert, Peter of Cluny, Prospero Fagnani and many others tell us that the canonical order traces back its origin to the earliest ages of the Church. Suarez sums up the case very clearly, after having stated that the Apostles taught by Christ formed the first order of clerics, and that the order did not perish with the Apostles, but was preserved by continuous succession in their disciples, as proved by letters of Pope St. Clement and Urban I (though these letters are Pseudo-Isidorain in character): 'The Life of St. Augustine says when he was made priest, he instituted a monastery within the church and began to live with the servants of God according to the manner and rules constituted by the holy Apostles.
Many therefore suppose that the Order of Regular Clerics, or Canons Regular, was not instituted by St. Augustine, but was either reformed by him or introduced by him into Africa and furnished witha special rule. Pius IV maintains that the Order of Regular Clerics was instituted by the Apostles, and this Benedict XII confirms in his preface to the Constitutions of the Canons Regular. There is no question as regards the continuance of this state from the time of St. Augustine to this time, although with great variety as far as various institutes are concerned.' When a controversy arose between the Benedictine monks and the canons regular with regard to precedence, the question was settled by Pius V in favour of the canons, on account of their Apostolic origin.
We may then conclude with the words of Cardinal Pie, who, addressing the canons regular of the Lateran Congregation, whom he had established at Beauchene in his diocese, says: 'These that are clothed in white robes, who are they, and whence come they? Come, I shall tell you. Their origin is nothing else but the society and the common life of Jesus and the Apostles, the original model of community life between the bishop and his clergy. On that account they chiefly come from Hippo and from the home of Augustine, who has given them a Rule, which they still glory to observe.'
The name Austin (or Augustinian) Canons is commonly used instead of Canons Regular, and there are some who erroneously think that Austin Canons are so styled because they were instituted by St. Augustine, but St. Augustine did not found the order of canons regular, not even those who are called Austin Canons, there were canons regular before St. Augustine as various authoritites prove; all St. Austin did was to induce his clergy to live secundum regulam sub sanctis Apostolis constitutam, which he had seen practised at Milan, adding to the Apostolic Rule hitherto observed by clerics living in common, some regulations, afterwards called the "Rule of St. Augustine."
Or, in the words of Pope Paschal II in a Bull quoted by Pennott, "Vitæ regularis propositum in primitiva ecclesia cognoscitur ab Apostolis institutum quam B. Augustinus tam gratanter amplexus est ut eam regulis informaret" (A regular mode of life is recognized in the Early Church as instituted by the Apostles, and adopted earnestly by Blessed Augustine, who provided it with new regulations) -- Hist. Tripart., Lib. II, c. iv, 4. These regulations which St. Austin had given to the clerics who lived with him soon spread and were adopted by other religious communities of canons regular in Italy, in France and elsewhere. When, in and after the eleventh century, the various congregations of canons regular were formed, and adopted the Rule of St. Augustine, they were usually called Canonici Regulares Ordinis S. Augustini Congregationis, and in England Austin Canons or Black Canons, but there have always been canons regular who never adopted the Rule of St. Augustine. Giraldus Cambrenisis mentions some in his day in England. In a word, canons regular may be considered as the genus, and Austin Canons as the species; or we may say that all Austin Canons are canons regular, but not all canons regular are Austin canons. If further proofs of the Apostolic origin of the canonical order are desired, many may be found in the work of Abbot Ceasare Benvenuti (see bibilograhpy at end of this article), who century by century, from councils, Fathers, and other ecclesiastical sources, proves that from the first to the twelfth century there had always been clerics living in common according to the example of the Apostles. It will be enough to citehere the authority of Döllinger who, after saying that from the time of the Apostles there have been in the Church, virgins, laymen, and ecclesiastics named ascetics, continues:
At Vercelli the holy Bishop Eusebius introduced the severe discipline of the Oriental monks among his clergy both by word and example. Before the gat of Milan was a cloister for monks under the protection of St. Ambrose. St. Augustine, when a priest, founded a cloister at Hippo, in which with other clerics he lived in humility and community of goods. When Bishop his episcopal residence was converted into a cloister for ecclesiastics. (Eccl. History, tr. by the Rev. E. Cox, II, 270). To this again may be added, among many others, the words of popes Benedict XII, Eugenius IV, Pius IV and Pius V, in their bulls, all asserting almost in as many words, what has been here said. The following words, taken from the Martyrologium for canons regular and approved by the Congregation of Sacred Rites, will suffice for the purpose: Ordo Canonicorum Regularium, qui in primaevis Ecclesiae saeculis Clerici nominabantur utque ait S. Pius V. in Bullâ (Cum ex ordinum 14 Kal. Jan., 1570): 'ab Apostolis originem traxerunt, quique ab Augustiono eorum Reformatore iterum per reformationis viam mundo geniti fuere', per universum orbem diffusus innumerabilium SS. agmine fulget.
(The order of canons regular, who in the early ages of the Church were called clerics, and who, as St. Pius V says in the Bull Cum ex ordinum, 1570, derived their origin from the Apostles, and who later were born anew to the world through a process of reformation, by their reformer, Augustine, being spread throughout the universe, are renowned for an army of innumerable saints).
On the authority of Sir James Ware, Canon Burke (Life and Labours of St. Augustine) asserts that "all the monasteries founded in Ireland by St. Patrick, were for canons regular." This opinion is also maintained by Allemande, who affirms (Histoire monastique de l'Irlande) that "the Regular Canons of St. Augustine were so early or considerable in Ireland before the general suppression of monasteries, that the number of houses they are said to have had seems incredible. They alone possessed, or had been master of, as many houses as all the other orders together, and almost all the chapters of the cathedral and collegiate churches in Ireland consisted of canons regular." To these authorities we might add that of the Rev. R. Butler, who, in his notes to the "Registrum Omnium Sanctorum", expressly affirms that the "old foundations in Ireland were exclusively for Canons."
We might also quote the words of Bishop Thomas De Burgo, who, in his "Hibernia Dominicana", does not hesitate to say that St. Patrick was a canon regular, and that, having preached the Christian faith in Ireland, he established there many monasteries of the canonical institute. After this no one will think that the same writer exaggerates when he appends to his work a catalogue of 231 monasteries which at some time or other belonged to canons and canonesses regular. The Irish clerics became the most learned scholars in Europe, Ireland's seats of learning, monasteries, nunneries and charitable institutions were unsurpassed in number or excellence by those of any other nation. The Abbots or Priors of Christ Church and All Hallows in Dublin, of Connell, Kells, Athessel, Killagh, Newton and Raphoe had seats in Parliament.
There seems very little doubt that the canonical institute was introduced into Scotland by St. Columba. This saint, called "monasteriorum pater et fundator", in reference to the numerous churches and monasteries built either by him or by his disciples in Ireland and Scotland, was formed to the religious life in the monastery of St. Finnian. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, anno 565, relates that Columba, Masspreost (Mass-Priest), "came to the Picts to convert them to Christ", or, as another manuscript says: "This year, 565, Columba the Messa-preost, came from the parts of the Scots (Ireland) to the Britons to teach the Picts, and built a monastery in the island of Hy." To what order this monastery, founded by Columba, belonged, we may judge from other monasteries built by the saint in Ireland and Scotland. As we have already stated, St. Columba was the disciple of St. Finnian, who was a follower of St. Patrick; both then had learned and embraced the regular life which the great Apostle had established in Ireland.
Moreover, such writers as Ware, De Burgo, Archdall, Cardinal Moran, Bower, expressly tell us that Columba built monasteries for canons regular in Ireland and Scotland. So, for instance, Ware, in his "Antiquitates Hiberniae", writing of Derry, says: "St. Columba built (this monastery) for Canons Regular in the year 545." This monastery was a filiation of the monastery of SS. Peter and Paul at Armagh -- which, according to the same writer, had been founded by "St. Patrick for Canons Regular." Again, tradition places the first landing of the saint on leaving Ireland at Oronsay, and Fordun (Bower) notices the island as "Hornsey, ubi est monasterium nigrorum Canonicorum, quod fundavit S. Columba" (where is the monastery of Black Canons which St. Columba founded). Speaking of the very monastery built by the saint at Hy, the historian Gervase of Canterbury, in his "Mappa Mundi", informs us that the monastery belonged to the Black Canons.
Some writers think that the monasteries established by St. Columba in Scotland were for Culdees. It will be remembered that numerous opinions have been expressed concerning the origin and the institute of the Culdees, some calling them monks, some secular canons and hospitallers, and others going so far as to say that they were Independents, or Dissenters, nay even the forefathers of the modern Freemasons. Others are of opinion that the Culdees originally, and some even to the very end, were nothing else but clerics living in common just as those St. Patrick had established in Ireland and St. Columba had introduced into Scotland.
At the time of the Reformation there were in Scotland at least thirty-four houses of canons regular and one of canonesses. These included six Premonstratensian houses, one Gilbertine, and one of the Order of St. Anthony. The others seem to have been chiefly of the Aroasian Congregation, first introduced into Scotland from Nostall Priory, in England. The chief houses were:
Many of the houses founded by St. Columba remained in possession of the canons till the Reformation. Oronsay and Crusay were of the number.
Much valuable information concerning many of the canonical houses may be found in Fordun's Scoti-Chronicon, written before 1384 (ed. Skene, Edinburgh, 1871-72). As Walter Bower, its continuator and annotator, was a canon regular, and abbot of Inchcolm, he no doubt derived all his materials at firs hand from the archives of the order, and thus many important particulars are related by him concerning the foundations of the houses, their inmates, and particular events.
There are not wanting writers who, on the authority of Jocelin of Soissons, William of Malmesbury, "Gesta Pontificum" and others, are of opinion that the canonical order was established in Britain by St. Patrick, on his return from Rome to Ireland. Be this as it may, the Saxon conquerors of the country extirpated not only the religious establishments, but almost the faith of Christ from the land. The faithful either were obliged to dwell in the fastnesses of Wales or were made slaves. It was in these circumstances that Pope Gregory the Great sent to England St. Augustine with forty clerics, who according to the Bull of Pope Eugenius IV (quoted by Lingard in his Anglo-Saxon Church, I, iv), by which, in 1446, he restored the Lateran Basilica to the canons regular, formed a Canonical Institute.
Speaking of the order founded by the Apostle and reformed by the holy Bishop of Hippo, the pope says: "Blessed Gregory commanded St. Augustine, the Bishop of England, to establish it as a new plantation among the nation entrusted to his care and spread it to the utmost distant parts of the West." And William of Coventry, in his Chronicle, A.D. 620, tells us that "Paulinus with twelve clerics was sent by the Pope to help Augustine." In the North also the disciples of St. Columba were preaching the Gospel and establishing the canonical order among the nation they were converting to Christ.
The Roman and British clergy amalgamated, and were learn from English historians that most if not all the cathedral and large churches were served by regular clerics or canons regular till the tenth century, when they were replaced by Benedictine monks by royal authority, and sometimes by means even less lawful. Dr. Lingard clearly states that: 'in many of these religious establishments the inmates had been Canons Regular from the beginning. In many they had originally been monks and had converted themselves into Canon, but all considered themselves bound by their rule to reside within the precincts of their monasteries, to meet daily in the church for the performance of divine service, to take their meals in the same hall, and to sleep in the same dormitory.'
In fact, this same historian is of opinion that St. Augustine and his companions were clerics living in common. Writing of the clergy in Anglo-Saxon times, Dr. Lingard says: 'The chief resource of the Bishop lay in the Cathedral monastery, where the clergy were carefully instructed in their duties and trained in the exercise of their holy profession. They were distinguished by the name of Canons because the rule which they observed had been founded in accordance with the canons enacted in different councils.' and he adds this explanatory note from the Excerptiones of Egbert: Canonen dicimus regulas quas sancti Patres constiturerunt in quibus scriptum est quomodo canonici, id est clerici regulares, vivere debeant. (By the term canons we designate those rules which the holy Fathers have laid down, in which it has been written how canons (canonici), i.e. regular clerics, ought to live).
We have also the fact that in the twelfth century many churches served by secular canons, like Plympton, Twynham, Taunton, Dunnow, Gisburn, were given to canons regular, who, it would seem, were the original owners. This view is confirmed by various historians. In his History of the Archbishops (ed. William Stubbs, Rolls Series, London, 1876), Ralph Diceto tells us that at Dunstan's suggestion King Edgar drove the clerics out of most of the churches of England and placed monks in their stead. In Liber de Hyda we find that canons had been introduced at Winchester by King Ethelred, and that Bishop Grimbald, a zealous reformer of the clergy, had established a community of clerics whose duty it was to perform the Divine Office. Speaking of Ælfric, a monk who had been elected Archbishop of Canterbury, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, A.D. 995, remarks that when he came to his cathedral he was received by a community of clerics, when he would have preferred monks.
It would seem, then, that writers like Tanner, the modern editors of William Dugdale's Monasticon, and others, who think that the canons regular were introduced into England after the year 1100, or after the coming of William the Conqueror, may have been misled by the fact that it was only after the eleventh century that the canons regular were so styled generally; nevertheless these are the same ecclesiastics, until then commonly called religious or regular clerics. It is also true that, as elsewhere so in England, in the twelfth century there was a great revival in the canonical order on account of various congregations newly found in France, Italy and the Low countries, and it was some of these new canons that came with the Conqueror; but this does not prove that the canonical life was unknown before.
In England alone, from the Conquest to the death of Henry II Plantagenet, no fewer than fifty-four houses were founded where the canons regular were established. Colchester in 1096 was the first, followed ten years later by Holy Trinity in London. In 1100 Ralph Mortimer, by consent of Gerard, Bishop of Hereford, founded a canonical house at Wigmore, and in 1110 another house for Austin Canons was built at Haghmond. At Taunton a colony of secular priests became a monastery of canons regular. Secular canons were also replaced by canons regular at Twynham, Plympton, Waltham and other places. In the period mentioned there were, among others, the foundations of the Austin houses at Dunmow, Thremhall, Southampton, Gisburn, Newnham in Bedfordshire, Norton in Cheshire, Stone in Staffordshire, Anglesey and Barnwell in Cambridgeshire, Berden in Essex. This was a period of great prosperity for the canonical order in England, but soon evil days came.
There was first the Black Plague, and like every other ecclesiastical institution, the canons regular were fairly decimated, and we may say that they never quite recovered. To remedy the evil Cardinal Wolsey thought it expedient to introduce a general reform of the whole canonical order in England. In the capacity of papal delegate, on 19 March, 1519, he issued the Statuta, which were to be observed by all the Austin Canons. These ordinance, as Abbot Gasquet observes, are valuable evidence as to the state of the great Augustinian Order at that time in England. The statutes provide for the union of all the Austin Canons; for the assembly of a general chapter every three years; for various matters concerning obedience, poverty, and the general discipline of the cloister. Special regulations are given for the daily recitation of the Divine Office and singing of Masses.
Directions are laid down for the reception and profession of novices, for uniformity in the religious habit, and sending young students to Oxford University. But troubled days soon came over the land, and these statutes, good though they were, could not keep off the evil times. The canonical houses were suppressed, and the religious dispersed, persecuted, little by little disappeared from the land altogether. Yet, in spite of the previous disasters, by Abbot Gasquet's computation ninety-one houses belonging to the canons regular wee suppressed or surrendered at the time of the Reformation between 1538 and 1540, with one thousand and eighty-three inmates -- namely, Austin Canons, fifty-nine houses and seven hundred and seventy-three canons; Premonstratensians, nineteen houses and one hundred and fifty-one religious. This number of houses and religious does not include the lesser monasteries with an aggregate of one house and five hundred monks and canon, nor the nuns of the various orders estimated at one thousand five hundred and sixty.
Their best known canonical houses were at: Walsingham, Waltham, St. Mary's Overy, Bolton, St. Bartholomew's Smithfield, Nostall, Bridlington, Bristol, Carlisle, Newbury, Hexham, Lanercost, Bodmin, Colchester, Dunstable, Merton, Kertmele, Llanthony, Plympton, St. Frideswide's at Oxford and Osney.
At Walshingham there was a famous shrine of Our Lady, a model of the Holy House of Nazareth, founded two hundred years before the miraculous removal to Loretto. Erasmus, writing in the sixteenth century, gives a vivid description of the shrine and the canons, its custodians. At Bourne Abbey lived from 1300 to 1340 Robert de Brunne, a canon regular, who had been styled the "Father of the English language." In his monastic seclusion he welded together the diverse dialects, which then divided shire from shire, into the grammatical structure which the language has since retained. Bridlington Priory, where William de Newbridge and several other historians lived, was also sanctified by the life, virtues, and miracles of its holy prior, John de Tweng, the last English saint to be canonized prior to the Reformation. He died in 1379. In 1386 a mandate was issued to collect evidence with a view to canonization.
The body was translated in 1405 de mandato Domini papae, and Boniface IX by a Bull, the original of which was found in the Vatican Archives by J. A. Twemlow, formally canonized him. The holy prior was a very popular saint in the North of England. A rich shrine had been built over his tomb, from which the people begged Henry VIII Tudor to withhold his hand; but all in vain. Lest the people should be reduced in the offering of their money, the shrine was pulled down and destroyed. Sempringham saw the beginning by St. Gilbert, and the wonderful growth of the only pre-Reformation institute of distinctly English origin.
Here, too, Peter de Langtoft, the historian, lived and wrote his well-known works. Within the walls of Merton Abbey Thomas of Canterbury, when a youth, received his education and made his profession as a canon regular before he was consecrated archbishop. Chic Priory, whence came William de Corbeil, Archbishop of Canterbury, was renowned for the learning of its religious clerics: "clerical litteraturâ insignes." Thurgarton was the home of the spiritual writer Walter Hilton, who, about the year 1400, wrote the Scala perfectionis 'ladder of perfection', usually attributed to some Carthusian monk. St. Frideswide's, founded for canons regular at Castle Tower by Robert d'Oiley, and translated to Osney in 1149, became, as Cardinal Newman tells, "a nursery for secular students, subject to the Chancellor's jurisdiction." At Lilleshall Priory lived John Myrk, the author of Instructions for Parish Priests, a work written in irregular couplets, doubtless that they might be easily committed to memory; it was edited by the Early English Text Society. The following verses, where Myrk gives excellent and explicit directions for behaviour in church, are a fair sample of the author's style:
When the English religious houses were dissolved, many canons regular gave up Catholicism. Others retained their faith: Of this number were W. Wold, Prior of Bridlington, the Sub-Prior of Walsingham, with sixteen canons, and Laurence Vaux.
The canonical order was in the early 20th century represented in England by Premonstratensians at Crowley, Manchester, Spalding and Storrington; the Canons Regular of the Lateran Congregation at Bodmin, Truro, St Ives, and Newquay, in Cornwall; at Spettisbury and Swanage, in Dorsetshire; at Stroud Green and Eltahm, in London. Besides the occupations of the regular life at home and the public recitation of the Divine Office in choir, they were chiefly employed in serving missions, preaching retreats, supplying for priests who ask their service, and hearing confessions, either as ordinary or extraordinary confessors to convents or other religious communities.
The canonical order must have been introduced into the New World soon after its 'discovery' by Columbus. In fact, tradition tells us that some canons regular from Spain were his companions in one or other of his voyages. Certain it is that at the general chapter of the Lateran Congregation held at Ravenna in 1558, at the request of many Spanish canons, Don Francis de Agala, a professed canon regular from Spain, who for some ten years had already laboured in the newly-discovered country, was created vicar-general in America, with powers to gather into communities all the members of the canonical institute who were then dispersed in those parts, and the obligation to report to the authorities of the order. There are canons regular of the Lateran Congregation in the Argentine, and in Canada the Canons of the Immaculate Conception serve different missions. The premonstratensian Canons also are in different places in South America.
Popes Gregory the Great, Eugenius II, Sergius III and Alexander II, all endeavoured to maintain the observance of the regular life established among the clergy of the basilica. As relaxation had crept in, the last name pope, at the request of St. Peter Damian, called some canons from St. Frigidian at Lucca, a house of strict observance. The reform spread, till at length the houses that had embrace it were formed into one large congregation. In the eighteenth century the Lateran Congregation numbered forty-five abbeys and seventy-nine other houses in Italy, besided many affiliated convents of canonesses, monasteries, and colleges of canons regular outside of Italy.
The canons regular served the Lateran Basilica from the time they were put in possession till 1391, when secular canons were introduced by Boniface VIII. Several attempts were made to restore the basilica to its original owners, and finally in 1445 Pope Eugenius IV gave it over to them, an act which was confirmed by Nicholas I. But the arrangement did not last long, and eventually the canons regular were definitively displaced, and the basilica made over to secular canons. All that remains now to the canons regular is the nae they derive from the basilica and a few other privileges, such as precedence over all the other religious orders and the faculty of saying all the Offices which are said by the Lateran Canons in all their Church.
There are houses belonging to the Lateran Congregation in Italy, Poland, France, Belgium, England, Spain and America. The congregation is divided into six ecclesiastical provinces, each presided over by a visitor or provincial. The abbot general and procurator general reside in Rome at S. Pietro in Vincoli, where is also the directorate of the confraternity called "The Children of Mary." There are novitiate houses, where young men are prepared for the order, in Italy, Belgium, Spain, England and Poland. The proper habit of the Lateran Congregation is a white woolen cassock with a linen rochet, which is worn as an essential part of the daily dress. Their work is essentially clerical, the recitation of the Divine Office in church, the administration of the Sacraments and preaching. In Italy they have charge of parishes in Rome, Bologna, Genoa, Fano, Gubbio and elsewhere.
âFrom this congregation, in 1149, sprang another, that of the Sainte-Geneviève Abbey, which in its turn became very numerous and, reformed as the Gallican Congregation, in the sixteenth century, by a holy man called Charles Faure, had, at the outbreak of the Revolution, no fewer than one hundred abbeys and monasteries in France. Both these congregations became extinct, as far as men are concerned, but the ancient congregation of St. Victor is still represented by a very old community of canonesses at Ronsbrugge, near Ypres in Flanders (Belgium).
In the year 1698 the Irish Congregation, by a Bull of Innocent XII, was affiliated and aggregated to the Lateran Congregation. From the moment the union was made the two congregations formed but one, and the members of each enjoyed all the rights and privileges of the other. The constitutions of the Lateran Congregation were adopted with some little modification by the Irish. In 1703 Dom Milerius Burke, Abbot of St. Thomas, Dublin, was appointed by the abbot general, Clappini, with the approval of Clement XI, vicar-general in the three kingdoms. In 1735 the Irish canons were claiming before the Congregation of Propaganda their right to several churches, parishes, and houses. The cause was settled in their favour, but there were many difficulties, and they could get possession of only a few. In the "Spicilegium Ossoriense" (III, 148) we find that Henry O'Kelly, a canon regular, obtained from Pope Benedict XIII letters in virtue of which he not only called himself Abbot of St. Thomas, Dublin, but also claimed the parochial rights over a great part of the city, without any dependence upon the metropolitan. The last canon of the Irish Congregation died towards the beginning of the nineteenth century, but as the Irish Congregation has been united with the Lateran Congregation, all its rights and privileges still survive in the last-named.
Extinct congregations include those of St. Rufus, founded in 1039, and once flourishing in Dauphiné; of Aroasia (Diocese of Arras, in France), founded in 1097; Marbach (1100); of the Holy Redeemer of Bologna, also called the Renana (1136), now united to the Lateran Congregation; of the Holy Spirit in Sassia (1198); of St. George in Alga, at Venice (1404); of Our Saviour in Lorraine, reformed in 1628 by St. Peter Fourier.
On the other hand many communities of canonesses willingly took the name and the rule of life laid down for the congregations of regular canons. There still exist in Italy, France, Spain, Belgium, Holland, England, Germany, Africa, and America nuns and convents belonging to the Lateran or to some other congregation of canons regular. The contemplative life is represented by such convents as Newton Abbot in England, Sta. Pudenziana at Rome, Sta. Maria di Passione at Genoa, Hernani in Spain, St. Trudo at Bruges. The Hospitalarians were till lately well represented in France with convents of canonesses at Paris, Reims, Laon, Soissons, and elsewhere.
Occupied in the education of children, there are besides some of the ancient convents of canonesses of various congregations, the canonesses of the Congregation of Notre Dame (in full: Congrégation de Notre-Dame de chanoinesses de Saint Augustin), instituted in 1597 at Mattaincourt, in Lorraine, by St. Peter Fourier and the blessed Alix Le Clerc. This congregation, whose object is the gratuitous education of poor girls, spread rapidly in France and Italy. There are now convents of Notre Dame in France, Belgium, Holland, Austria, Germany, Italy, and Africa. In France alone, until the persecution of 1907, they had some thirty flourishing communities and as many schools for externs and boarders. Driven away from France, some have taken refuge in England, like those of the famous convent of Les Oiseaux, Paris, who are now at Westgate, and those of Versailles who have settled at Hull. With some modifications the work was soon introduced into the New World in a remarkable way. The canonesses of the convent at Troyes had for some time earnestly desired to carry on their institute in Canada. Circumstances, however, prevented their going, but at their request Marguerite Bourgeoys, the president, of the confraternity attached to their convent, gladly crossed the ocean. In 1657 she opened a school at Montreal, in which, in accordance with the rules laid down by Peter Fourier, the poor were taught gratuitously. The school was a great success. Margaret returned to France to ask for helpers, and found them among her sister, the Children of Mary of Troyes. Returning to Canada with four fellow-workers, and soon followed by others she opened a school for boarders as well as a day school. In 1676 these pious women were formed into the "Congregation of Notre Dame." Margaret died in 1700 and has since been declared venerable. The work she had transferred to Canada is still flourishing. At her death there were ten houses in the Dominion; there are now more than a hundred spread over the whole of North America under a superior general, who resides at the mother-house, Montreal.
In 1809 Bishop George Michael Wittman founded, in Bavaria, the Poor Sisters of the Schools of Notre Dame, and institute similar to that founded by St. Peter Fourier. This association is now widespread in Europe and in America, and has done excellent work in the field of education.
There are English canonesses at Bruges, and at Neuilly, near Paris. In England there is a convent of the Holy Sepulchre at New Hall, with a flourishing school, originally at Liège; also a filiation of that at Bruges, at Hayward's heath, with a large school; at Newton Abbot a numerous community, with a colony at Hoddesdon, devoted to the contemplative life and the Perpetual Adoration. This last convent is, as it were, a link with the pre-Reformation canonesses, through Sister Elizabeth Woodford, who was professed at Barnharm, Priory, Bucks, 8 December, 1519. When the convent was suppressed, in 1539, she was received for some time into the household of Saint Thomas More. Later on she went to the Low Countries and was received into the convent of canonesses regular at St. Ursula's, Louvain, of the Windersheim Congregation. So many English ladies, daughters and sisters of martyrs, like Ann Clitheroe, Margaret Clement, Eleanor and [[Margaret Garnet, followed her that, in 1609, they formed an English community, St. Monica's, Louvain. Towards the end of the eighteenth century, this community of English canonesses returned to England, first to Spettisbury, afterwards to their present home at Newton Abbot. The chronicles of this ancient convent are being published, and two very interesting volumes have already appeared.
History is in the details; Something as seemingly mundane as a squabble over a deed can bring the past to life at Ephrata Cloister
Dec 24, 2003; Many people today think of the inhabitants of Ephrata Cloister as a quiet and peaceful community that occupied the meadow along...