Saint Gilbert of Sempringham, pray for us


Yesterday I reported on my growing appreciation of the Ordinariate liturgy stating that it is crammed full of the historical and literary treasures of English spirituality. Much of which was lost at the reformation. One example is found in the Ordinariate lectionary which dew our attention last week to St. Gilbert of Sempringham.

Born at Sempringham in Lincolnshire, Gilbert was the son of a wealthy Norman knight. He was sent to France to study and returned to England to receive his father’s benefices of Sempringham and Tirington. He then became a clerk in the household of the Bishop of Lincoln, Robert Bloet, before being ordained by Robert’s successor, Alexander.

Gildbert returned to Sempringham as Lord on the death of his father in 1131. In the same year he began acting as adviser for a group of seven young women living in enclosure with lay sisters and brothers. He soon decided the community should be incorporated into an established religious order. After several new foundations were established, Gilbert went to Citeaux in 1148 to ask the Cistersians to take over the running of the Communites. They declined and so…

Gilbert, with the approval of Pope Eugene III, continued the Community himself with the addition of Canons Regular for its spiritual directors and Gilbert himself as Master General. The Community became known as the Gilbertine Order, the only English religious order originating in the medieval period; it eventually had twenty-six monasteries all of which were flourishing when England was a Catholic nation.

The Gilbertines came to be much admired for their spiritual discipline and charitable work. But it wasn’t all plain sailing as Gilbert was imprisoned in 1165 on a false charge of aiding St. Thomas of Canterbury during the latter’s exile. He was however later exonerated of the charge. Gilbert resigned office late in life because of blindness and died at Sempringham. He was canonized in 1202 with his feast day being February 4.

At the reformation the suppression of the monasteries in England, under Henry VIII, brought a sudden and violent end to the Gilbertines. Each and every community was snuffed out and England’s only medieval order was no more. Meaning that the Gilbertine orders can still be found only looking like this…


I would love it if, one day, the Ordinariate could help resurrect the Gilbertine order… It would surely be a most worthwhile endeavour and another signpost pointing England to her fine history as a flourishing Catholic nation.

And I am not the only one with a devotion to St. Gilbert. For yesterday Paul Waddington left a comment yesterday (which I suppressed that thunder was not stolen) saying:

It is interesting that you mention St Gilbert of Semperingham. He was, of course, the founder of the Gilbertine Order of Priests and nuns. Here in Yorkshire, and also in Lincolnshire, there are many ruins of Gilbertine houses. Some were for nuns, others were for priests, and yet others were double monasteries. Because the Gilbertines did not exist outside England, they ceased to exist with the dissolution of the monasteries at the reformation. However, in pre-reformation days, they were a major force in English monasticism. It is regrettable that St Gilbert is not better little remembered now.

Perhaps he should be accorded the status of a national patron.

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14 thoughts on “Saint Gilbert of Sempringham, pray for us

  1. Thank you for this father.It would be good if the Ordinariate gave rise to a new Gilbertine Order in Uk and beyond

  2. You may be interested to know that there is also some interest in America in re-forming the Giklbertine order. As an order that included both priests and nuns, it was not unusual, but it was very rare in having double house. Also, it was possibly unique in that the men followed a version of the rule of St Augustine, and the women the rule of St Benedict.

      1. You might like to know that there are Oblates of St. Gilbert who hold regular meetings so there may be some interest in re-building the order, at least in part. Combined male and female monasteries can be found in the Greek Orthodox world – I don’t know about the other Orthodox Churches.

  3. The original church belonging to the mother house of the Gilbertines survives at Sempringham in Lincolnshire, although there are no monastic buildings around it. The church is in the middle of a field and it is possible to gain access by borrowing the key which is held at the rectory in the next village. Since it was a double house, the church is divided down the middle of the nave by a high wall in the Gilbertine style.

    Close to where I live in Yorkshire there is a church that is still used (occasionally) and which belonged to another Gilbertine house. This is at Ellerton and was a male house. Not far away at Watton is the remains of one of the biggest Gilbertine houses. The church has sadly gone but some buildings remain and are used as a house. There are several other places where the ruins of Gilbertine houses survive. Someday, maybe a pilgrimage could be arranged to visit some of them.

  4. The Anglican Parish Church at Old Malton, also in Yorkshire, is the truncated remains of the nave of a Gilbertine Priory for canons only. What remains is lovely and well-maintained by its obviously proud congregation. It makes one wonder how beautiful the entire building was.

  5. the family JOSALYNUS became HIDE then became JUKES
    on his brothers side of the family
    they were of royal birth , there father was the son a Flemish King and the grand daughter of Louis the 4th of France
    there mother was an English woman
    some of the women were held in this community until a knight or lord needed a new wife ,that’s why they were called
    lay and not nuns
    the last king of wales daughter spent most of her life at Sempringham

  6. I have a great devotion to Saint Gilbert of Sempringham. He is a saint for our days. His care and love for the Church show us that we need to be faithful to our baptism and be followers of Jesus Christ. Even his order do not exist anymore we need to remember him always in our prayers and to visit Sempringham. I went twice there. It is a very special place to me. I love Saint Gilbert of Sempringham.

    1. Fr. Carlos, you contacted me a while back about some writings I had published on Gilbert of Sempringham. I have one copy that I could mail you if you get in touch with me, and if you are still interested.

      1. Hello dear in Christ our Lord. May the peace of our living God be with you. Thanks so much, sure I want to receive your writings about Saint Gilbert. I love him so much, each Mass I say I remember him. May Saint Gilbert of Sempringham protect you always. In Chirst, Fr. Carlos

  7. You might be interested to know that Bishop Lopes, of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter is attempting to revive the Order and has taken first steps in doing so. Who knows what will come of it, but see here for more information: gilbertine.net. The group was formerly a Benedictine community within the Anglican Communion. A few felt morally certain that union with the Catholic Church was necessary and have become Catholics. They are currently a private association of the faithful in discernment. They were asked by the Bishop to prayerfully consider reviving the Order because, in some ways, they were already very much Gilbertine in flavour.

    1. Hello, hope you are doing very well. I am very happy to hear about the revival of the Order of Saint Gilbert. I have decotion to him since I was 19. I love him and my devotion to him lead me twice to Sempringham. I also went to Lincoln, Chicksands, Malton, Watton, York to see the sites of his religious houses´order. I am very happy to see Saint Gilbert of Sempringham in the church again. In Christ, Fr. Carlos

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