History of the Norbertines and St. Norbert
The Norbertine Order (Premonstratensians) was founded by St. Norbert of Xanten (1080-1134) in the valley of Prémontré (modern day France.)
Norbert had been a worldly young canon in the church of St. Victor in Xanten (present day Germany), when he converted his life in the aftermath of being knocked from his horse by a lightning bolt in a thunderstorm. This was in the spring of 1115. Returning to St. Victor’s after his ordination to the priesthood in December of the same year, Norbert did not succeed in convincing his fellow priests of the urgent need to reform, and so he set out on his own.
Eventually, Norbert met Bishop Bartholomew of Laon, who was impressed with the young priest’s qualities and encouraged him to found a community in his diocese. Bartholomew took the time personally to accompany Norbert to possible sites for Norbert. Eventually the valley of Prémontré, an isolated wilderness, was chosen as the perfect site for Norbert, and he brought his followers here.
On Christmas 1121, the first group of Norbertines made their solemn vows at Prémontré, and lived a life marked by intense fervor and austerity. The liturgy was central to this common life, based on the original life of the Church at Jerusalem, where the Lord’s Apostles were gathered with Mary the Mother of God in prayer.
In 1126, Norbert was seized and elected Archbishop of Magdeburg. He was the Ordinary until he died on June 6, 1134, worn out by his austerities and travels on behalf of the Church.
Blessed Hugh of Fosses, (d. 1164) administered and codified Norbert’s teachings for the fledgling community at Prémontré and was elected first abbot of the order.
At its peak, in the early 1300’s the order numbered over 10,000 members. Today there are about 1200 Norbertines in communities throughout Europe, the Americas, Africa and Australia.
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