Concerning the foundation there is only a tradition connecting it with St. James the Apostle and representing St. Helena as invested with the habit by St. Macanus, Bishop of Jerusalem. The earliest date on record is 1276, the year in which the Saragossa convent was established. The foundation of a house at Charleville in 1622, by Claudia Mouy, widow of the Marquis de Chaligny, was the signal for a great revival in the west, and constitutions, drawn up by a Jesuit Father and approved by Urban VIII , in 1631, bound the canonesses to the recitation of the Divine office, rigorous fasts, the use of the discipline, and a strict interpretation of the rule of poverty; twelve was the number of professed religious assigned as necessary for the canonical election of a prioress. Susan Hawley, foundress of the English canonesses (born at New Brentford, Middlesex, 1622; died at Liège, 1706), having been professed at Tongres, in 1642, went with four others to Liège to establish a community there, and in 1652, there being a sufficient number of professed, was elected prioress, in which capacity she ruled with rare prudence until her resignation in 1697. The school, opened under Mary Christina Dennett, who was prioress from 1770 to 1781, proved so successful that on the outbreak of the Revolution the canonesses had great difficulty in securing permission to leave the city. After three months at Maastricht, they went to England (August, 1794), where they were sheltered by Lord Stourton in Holme Hall (Yorks), moved thence to Dean House (Wilts), and finally took possession of New Hall, near Chelmsford (Essex), rich in historic interest, the property of several sovereigns, and a royal residence under Henry VIII. Here they opened a free school for the poor children of the neighbourhood, and they still conduct a boarding school for young ladies. Communities of canonesses still exist in Bavaria, Belgium, France, and Spain. The habit is black, and the choir sisters wear a white linen surplice, without sleeves, on the left side of which is embroidered a double red cross. A black veil is worn by the professed, and a white one by novices and lay sisters.
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