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February 4

St Gilbert of Sempringham, sculpture at Essen (Belgium), by Bocachate - Wikipedia Commons

Saint Gilbert of Sempringham

Priest

Founder of Gilbertine Order

(1083 – Around 1189 or 1190)

“​They must not be afraid, because the boy you see [the Son of the Blessed Virgin] will lead them well and bring them back.

Saint Gilbert of Sempringham

Saint’s Life Story

His Early Life 

Gilbert was born in Sempringham, Lincolnshire, England on 1083. He was the eldest son of a wealthy Norman knight and land-owner, Jocelin, and an unnamed Anglo-Saxon mother. His mother had a vision that he would be special before his birth.  He had a brother, Roger, and a sister, Agnes. 

Sent off to Study in Paris

Unable to become a knight due to a physical deformity, Gilbert was sent to the University of Paris to study theology. When he returned home, Gilbert served as a clerk in the household of Bishop Robert Bloet of Lincoln. There, in Sempringham, he started a school for the children of the poor, paying special attention to training in religion. His father provided him a living from the rents on part of his lands in Sempringham and Tirington, but Gilbert redistributed most of this to the poor.

Ordained

Gilbert was ordained as a priest at the age of 40.  When he was offered the archdeaconship of the largest diocese in Europe at the time, he declined, humbly choosing to serve the poor in Sempringham. 

Spent His Inheritance Founding Monsateries

When his father died in 1131, Gilbert returned to the manor and became lord of the manor and lands. He began to spend his inheritance by founding Benedictine and Augustinian monasteries, and by providing for the poor. 

Founder of Gilbertine Order known as Gilbertines

That same year, he drew up rules for an order of nuns later known as the Gilbertines, the only order founded on a rule designed by an Englishman, which eventually grew to 26 houses before being destroyed in the persecutions of King Henry VIII. That same year of 1131, he organized a group of seven young women of the parish into a community under the Benedictine rule. They lived in strict enclosure in a house adjoining Sempringham’s parish church of Saint Andrew. As the foundation grew, Gilbert added lay sisters and, on the advice of the Cistercian Abbot William of Rievaulx, lay brothers to work the land. A second house was soon founded. They also ran leper hospitals and orphanages. Gilbert imposed a strict rule on his order. An illustration of the enforced simplicity of life was the fact that the choir office was celebrated without fanfare.

The Gilbertine communities became known for their discipline, fasting and self-denial, and service to the poor. A custom developed in the houses of the order called “the plate of the Lord Jesus”, whereby the best portions of the dinner were put on a special plate and shared with the poor. As master general of the order, Saint Gilbert set an admirable example of self-disciplined and devoted living and concern for the poor. He ate small portions (mainly roots) and slept little—taking only brief naps in a chair – spending most of his nights in prayer.

Falsely Charged

In 1165, Gilbert was falsely charged with having assisted Saint Thomas Becket when Saint Thomas had fled from King Henry II after the council of Northampton. He spent some time in prison for the crime, but Gilbert was eventually found innocent. Then, when Gilbert was 90, some of his lay brothers revolted, but he received the backing of Pope Alexander III.

His Natural Death

Gilbert resigned his office late in life because of blindness and died at Sempringham, Lincolnshire, England in about February 4, 1189 or 1190, around the age of 105 or 106. During his life, Gilbert had built 13 monasteries (of which nine were double) and four dedicated solely to canons encompassing about 1,500 religious. Contemporary chroniclers highly praised both Gilbert and his nuns. 

Born:                   1083 in Sempringham, Lincolnshire, England

Died:                    February 4, 1189 or 1190 in Sempringham, Lincolnshire, England

Beatified:            Not Available

Canonized:         1202 by Pope Innocent III

Feast Day:           February 4

Patron Saint:      None

Source:

Reflection

Saint Gilbert of Sempringham, after your father’s death, you could very easily have lived a life of luxury. Instead, you built 13 monasteries (of which nine were double) and four dedicated solely to canons encompassing about 1,500 religious. You drew up rules for an order of nuns later known as the Gilbertines. In addition to these “big things”, you also established custom in the houses of the order called “the plate of the Lord Jesus”, whereby the best portions of the dinner were put on a special plate and shared with the poor.

What can you offer today and everyday to put on “the plate of the Lord Jesus” to be shared with the poor?  While we may not be able to found new monasteries, each one of us has the ability to feed, clothe, and help shelter the needy around us using the physical and material resources God has blessed us with. When you fast, use the savings from a lighter meal or no meal as your “the plate of the Lord Jesus” to be shared with the poor.

Prayers

Saint Gilbert of Sempringham, you truly lived out Jesus’ words in the Gospel – “I was hungry, and you fed Me” through your filling “the plate of the Lord Jesus” in the monasteries. May we fed, both physically and spiritually, those in need around us. 

Saint Gilbert of Sempringham, pray for us. Amen.

Saint Links 

All Saints & Martyrs – Saint Gilbert of Sempringham – Priest and Religious Founder

America Needs Fatima – Saint Gilbert of Sempringham

Anastpaul – Saint of the Day – 4 February – St Gilbert of Sempringham (c 1083-1189)

Bartleby.com – Rev. Alban Butler Volume I: January. The Lives of the Saints. 1866. February 4 St. Gilbert, Abbot, Founder of the Gilbertins

Catholic Fire – St. Gilbert of Sempringham: Man of Charity, Humility, and Piety

Catholic Online -St. Gilbert of Sempringham

CatholicSaints.Info – Saint Gilbert of Sempringham

CatholicSaints.Info – Saints of the Day – Gilbert of Sempringham, Founder by Katherine I Rabenstein

CatholicSaints.Info – Life of Saint Gilbert, Prior of Sempringham, by Father John Dobree Dalgairns

Franciscan Media – Saint Gilbert of Sempringham

The Gilbertines – The Companions of St. Gilbert of Sempringham

New Advent – Butler, R.U. (1909). St. Gilbert of Sempringham. In The Catholic Encyclopedia

Wikipedia – Gilbert of Sempringham

Video Link

– YouTube Video (CatholicSaints.Info)