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Abbey of Prémontré

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Located about twelve miles west of Laon, Department of Aisne, France ; founded by St. Norbert. The land had belonged to the Abbey of St. Vincent, to whom it had been given by a former Bishop of Laon. Religious of St. Vincent's had tried in vain to cultivate it. As shown in the charter of donation the place was called Præmonstratus , or pratum monstratum, Pré-montré , probably from a clearing made in the forest, but the name has easily lent itself to the adapted meaning of locus pr monstratus , a place foreshown, as for example in the life of St. Godfrey, one of St. Norbert's first disciples (1127): "Venit ad locum vere juxta nomen suum, a Domino pr monstratum, electum et prædestinatum" (Acta SS., II January). A venerable tradition says that the Bishop of Laon and St. Norbert visited Prémontré about the middle of January and that the bishop gave the white habit to St. Norbert on 25 January, the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. At the conclusion of the Council of Liège (1131), Innocent II and St. Norbert came to Laon and remained with Bishop Bartholomew. They also visited the Abbey of Prémontré and were rejoiced to see some five hundred religious -- priests, clerics, and lay-brothers -- all united in the observance of their duties under Abbot Hugh of Fosse. In the general chapter of 1141 it was decided to remove the convents of nuns to at least one league's distance from the abbeys of men. Hugh died on 10 Feb., 1161, and was succeeded by Philip, then Abbot of Belval in Argonne. John II founded in 1252 a college or house of studies for Norbertine clerics at the University of Paris.

At the death of Virgilius, forty-third Abbot General of Prémontré, Cardinal Francis of Pisa had intrigued so much at the Court of Rome that he succeeded in being named commendatory Abbot of Prémontré, and in 1535 took possession of the abbey and all its revenues. Cardinal Francis was succeeded by Cardinal d'Este, the pope's legate in France, who held the abbey in commendam until he died in 1572. Taiée ("Etude sur Prémontré", Laon, 1874, 210) calls these two cardinals les fléauz de Prémontré . After the death of Cardinal d'Este a free election was held and Jean Des Pruets, Doctor of the Sorbonne, an earnest and zealous priest, was elected, and his election confirmed by Gregory XIII, 14 Dec., 1572. With admirable zeal and prudence Des Pruets undertook the difficult task of repairing the financial losses and of promoting conventual discipline at Prémontré and other houses of the order. He died 15 May, 1596, nd was succeeded by two zealous abbots, Longpré and Gosset; but the latter was succeeded by Cardinal Richelieu , as commendatory abbot . The last abbot general, L'Ecuy, was elected in 1781. At the French Revolution the confiscated Abbey of Prémontré was bought by a certain Cagnon, who demolished several buildings and sold the material. Having passed through several hands, the property was bought by Mgr de Garsignies, Bishop of Laon and Soissons, whose successor sold it to the Department of Aisne, by whom the buildings were converted into an asylum. Of the old abbey as it was from the twelfth to the sixteenth century hardly anything remains, but three large buildings of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries are still standing. A part of one of these buildings is used as a church, dedicated to St. Norbert.

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