Butler’s Lives of the Saints – Saint Gilbert, Abbot, Founder of the Gilbertins

Article

He was born at Sempringham in Lincolnshire, and, after a clerical education, was ordained priest by the bishop of Lincoln. For some time he taught a free-school, training up youth in regular exercises of piety and learning. The advowson of the parsonages of Sempringham and Tirington, being the right of his father, he was presented by him to those united livings, in 1123. He gave all the revenues of them to the poor, except a small sum for bare necessaries, which he reserved out of the first living. By his care his parishioners seemed to lead the lives of religious men, and were known to be of his flock, by their conversation, wherever they went. He gave a rule to seven holy virgins, who lived in strict enclosure in a house adjoining to the wall of his parish church of Saint Andrew at Sempringham, and another afterwards to a community of men, who desired to live under his direction. The latter was drawn from the rule of the canon regulars; but that given to his nuns, from Saint Bennet’s: but to both he added many particular constitutions. Such was the origin of the Order of the Gilbertins, the approbation of which he procured from Pope Eugenius III. At length, he entered the Order himself, but resigned the government of it some time before his death, when he lost his sight. His diet was chiefly roots and pulse, and so sparing, that others wondered how he could subsist. He had always at table a dish which he called, The plate of the Lord Jesus, in which he put all that was best of what was served up; and this was for the poor. He always wore a hair shirt, took his short rest sitting, and spent great part of the night in prayer. In this his favourite exercise, his soul found those wings on which she continually soared to God. During the exile of Saint Thomas of Canterbury, he and the other superiors of his Order were accused of having sent him succours abroad. The charge was false; yet the saint chose rather to suffer imprisonment and the danger of the suppression of his Order, than to deny it, lest he should seem to condemn what would have been good and just. He departed to our Lord on the 3rd of February, 1190, being one hundred and six years old. Miracles wrought at his tomb were examined and approved by Hubert, archbishop of Canterbury, and the commissioners of Pope Innocent III in 1201, and he was canonized by that pope the year following. The Statutes of the Gilbertins, and Exhortations to his Brethren, are ascribed to him.

MLA Citation

  • Father Alban Butler. “Saint Gilbert, Abbot, Founder of the Gilbertins”. Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Principal Saints, 1866. Saints.SQPN.com. 3 February 2013. Web. 22 September 2014. <>