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Saint Norbert of Xanten
Saint Norbert of Xanten
Bishop and Confessor
Born c. 1080, Gennep or Xanten, Electorate of Cologne, Holy Roman Empire
Died June 6, 1134, Magdeburg, Archbishopric of Magdeburg (now Saxony-Anhalt, Germany)
Venerated in Roman Catholic Church
Canonized 1582, Rome by Pope Gregory XIII
Feast June 6
Attributes monstrance; cross with two beams[1]
Patronage invoked during childbirth for safe delivery; Magdeburg[1]

Saint Norbert of Xanten (c. 1080–6 June 1134) is a Christian saint and founder of the Norbertine or Premonstratensian order of canons regular.

Contents

Life and work

Saint Norbert was born in Xanten on the left bank of the Rhine, near Wesel, in the Electorate of Cologne. He grew up there and was also educated there. His father, Heribert, Count of Gennep, was related to the imperial house of Germany and the House of Lorraine. His mother was Hedwig of Guise. Ordained as a subdeacon, Norbert was appointed to a canonry at Xanten where he lived a life of pleasure. Soon after, he was summoned to the court of Frederick of Cologne and later to that of Henry V, Holy Roman Emperor, where he became the emperor's almoner (a church officer in charge of distributing charity). He avoided ordination to the priesthood and even declined an appointment as bishop of Cambrai in 1113. Following a near-fatal horse-riding accident, his faith deepened and he renounced his appointment at Court. He returned to Xanten to lead a life of penance, placing himself under the direction of Cono, Abbot of St Sigeberg, near Cologne. In 1115, Norbert founded the Abbey of Fürstenberg, endowed it with a portion of his property, and made it over to Cono of Siegburg and his Benedictine successors. He was ordained to the priesthood soon afterward.

St Norbert attempted to reform the other canons of Xanten, but his asceticism did not sit well with them and they denounced him at the Council of Fritzlar in 1118. He then resigned his benefice, sold all his property and gave the proceeds to the poor. He visited Pope Gelasius II, who gave him permission to become an itinerant preacher and he preached throughout northern France, being credited with a number of miracles.

At the Council of Reims in October, 1119, Pope Calixtus II requested Norbert to found a religious order in the Diocese of Laon. In 1120, Norbert chose a valley in the Forest of Coucy (a grant from the Bishop of Laon), about 10 miles from Laon, named Prémontré. Blessed Hugh of Fosses, Saint Evermode, Antony of Nivelles, seven students of the celebrated school of Anselm, and Ralph of Laon were among his first thirteen disciples. By the next year the community had grown to 40. They all took their vows and the Order of Canons Regular of Prémontré was founded. The young community at first lived in huts of wood and clay, arranged like a camp around the chapel of Saint John the Baptist, but they soon built a larger church and a monastery for the religious who joined them in increasing numbers. Going to Cologne to obtain relics for their church, Norbert is said to have discovered, through a dream, the spot where those of Saint Ursula and her companions, of Saint Gereon, and of other martyrs lay hidden.[2] In 1125, the constitution for the order was approved by Pope Honorius II.

Norbert (on the right) receives the Augustinian Rule from Saint Augustine. From the "Vita Sancti Norberti," 12th century manuscript.

St Norbert gained adherents in Germany, France, Belgium and Transylvania, and houses of his order were founded in Floreffe, Viviers, St-Josse, Ardenne, Cuissy, Laon, Liège, Antwerp, Varlar, Kappenberg, Grosswardein (Oradea/Nagyvarad) and elsewhere. Count Theobald II of Champagne wanted to enter the new order, but Norbert counseled him to remain a layman and marry. Norbert prepared for him a set of religious practices to follow in his secular life. This was the first instance of a lay third order (tertiary) known in the Church. He continued to preach throughout France, Belgium and Germany and was successful in combatting a eucharistic heresy in Antwerp proposed by one Tanchelm.

Norbert was appointed to the Archbishopric of Magdeburg by Pope Honorius II in 1126. Several assassination attempts were made as he began to reform the lax discipline of his see. He was especially vigilant in protecting the Church's rights against the secular power.

In the schism following the election of Pope Innocent II in 1130, Norbert supported Innocent and resisted Antipope Anacletus II. In Norbert's last years, he was chancellor and adviser to Lothair II, the Holy Roman Emperor, persuading him to lead an army in 1133 to Rome to restore Innocent to the papacy.

Veneration

Statue of Saint Norbert (middle) on the Charles Bridge, Prague. On the left is Saint Wenceslas, while on the right is Saint Sigismund.

When Norbert died in Magdeburg on June 6, 1134, both the canons at the cathedral and the canons at St. Mary's Abbey claimed the body. The two parties resorted to Lothair II who decreed the body should be buried in the Norbertine Abbey. In 1524, Martin Luther preached in the city and, as a result, Magdeburg became a Protestant city. Numerous attempts were made over the centuries by the Abbey of Strahov in Prague to retrieve the saint's body. Only after several military defeats at the hand of Emperor Ferdinand II was the abbot of Strahov able to claim the body. On May 2, 1627, the body was finally brought to Prague and interred in the abbey where they remain to this day.

Saint Norbert was canonized by Pope Gregory XIII in the year 1582.

References

  1. ^ a b Norbert von Xanten - Ökumenisches Heiligenlexikon
  2. ^ Daniello Bartoli (1855). History of the Life and Institute of St. Ignatius de Loyola: Founder of the Society of Jesus (Original from the New York Public Library, 2006 ed.). E. Dunigan. pp. 324. ""God has sometimes announced beforehand the rise, works, and merits, whether of certain Orders whom He has sent to the assistance of His Church or of their founders. We find examples of this in the dream He made known... ... in the seven rays of light which appeared to St. Norbert, surrounding the head of the crucified Redeemer, and the pilgrims who came to him from the uttermost extremities of the earth;..."" 

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