Gilbert was born at Sempringham, England, son of Jocelin, a wealthy Norman knight. He was sent to France to study and returned to England to receive the benefices of Sempringham and Tirington from his father. He became a clerk in the household of Bishop Robert Bloet of Lincoln and was ordained by Robert's successor, Alexander. He returned to Sempringham as Lord on the death of his father in 1131. In the same year he began acting as adviser for a group of seven young women living in enclosure with lay sisters and brothers and decided the community should be incorporated into an established religious order. After several new foundations were established, Gilbert went to Citeaux in 1148 to ask the Cistercians to take over the Community. When the Cistercians declined to take on the governing of a group of women, Gilbert, with the approval of Pope Eugene III, continued the Community with the addition of Canons Regular for its spiritual directors and Gilbert as Master General. The Community became known as the Gilbertine Order, the only English religious order originating in the medieval period; it eventually had twenty-six monasteries which continued in existence until King Henry VIII suppressed monasteries in England. Gilbert imposed a strict rule on his Order and became noted for his own austerities and concern for the poor. He was imprisoned in 1165 on a false charge of aiding Thomas of Canterbury during the latter's exile but was exonerated of the charge. He was faced with a revolt of some of his lay brothers when he was ninety, but was sustained by Pope Alexander III. Gilbert resigned his office late in life because of blindness and died at Sempringham. He was canonized in 1202. His feast day is February 4.
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By Justin Soutar
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