Herman of Tournai
Translated and with Introduction 
by Rev. Theordore J. Antry, O.Praem.,[1] 
Daylesford Abbey, Pennsylvania, U.S.A.

Table of Contents:


Book III, Chapter 6

Book III, Chapter 1

Book III, Chapter 7

Book III, Chapter 2

Book III, Chapter 8

Book III, Chapter 3

Book III, Chapter 9

Book III, Chapter 4

Book III, Chapter 10

Book III, Chapter 5



In addition to the two 12th-century lives of St. Norbert (Vita A and Vita B), there are two other sources, which contribute important information about his life.  The first is a work entitled "The Restoration of the Monastery of Saint Martin of Tournai." [2]  In this work the author, a monk by the name of Herman, includes only two paragraphs about St. Norbert and the foundation of the Order of Premontre.[3]  However, in this brief reference Herman attributes Norbert's conversion -- as opposed to the story of the thunderstorm on the way to Freden in Vita A and Vita B -- to the fact that he had witnessed Henry V's mistreatment of Pope Paschal II.[4]

The second source is entitled "The Miracles of Saint Mary of Laon",[5] a work of three books, whose author is also named Herman.  The author of "The Restoration of the Monastery of Saint Martin or Tournai" was usually designated Herman of Tournai and the author of the "Miracles of Saint Mary of Laon" as Herman of Laon.  As early as the 17th century there were supporters of the theory that the two were one and the same.  Nevertheless, there were those who argued that there were two authors involved here.  The doubt focused on the question of the relationship between Herman, an abbot of Tournai, to the Diocese of Laon.  Gerlinde Niemeyer[6] ended this dispute in 1971 by clearly showing that the author of "The Restoration of the Monastery of Saint Martin of Tournai" and the author of "The Miracles of St. Mary of Laon" are one and the same person.

The Author:

Herman, the author of these two works, who refers to himself as a monk, was born into a Flemish family of the lower nobility about 1090.  His devout parents entered religious life and so Herman was raised by an uncle until such time as he could be given as an oblate to the Abbey of St. Martin of Tournai.  In 1127 Herman was elected abbot.  He resigned as abbot in 1136, according to his own account, due to illness, which he describes as a paralysis; according to another account it was because of a lack of good leadership.  For the first few years after his resignation the sources are silent as to Herman's activity.  Around 1142 Herman was asked by the canons of Tournai to go to Rome in order to ask for the reestablishment of the diocese of Tournai.  At the time, the diocese of Tournai was joined to the diocese of Noyon, although Tournai still had its own cathedral chapter.  Tournai was Flemish and Noyon French.  Herman was successful in this endeavor and obtained permission for Tournai to elect its own bishop, but because of the political situation this was never carried out.  While in Rome Herman was befriended by Abbot Anselm of St. Vincent Abbey in Laon, who offered him a place to stay.  The following year, after Herman returned to Tournai, Abbot Anselm received from Herman as a token of thanks a book titled "Passio Quorundam Martyrum".  Sometime later Herman was once again asked by the canons of Tournai to bring their case to Rome.  During this second visit to Rome, while waiting for a decision to be made, sometime between April 11 and May 30, 1143, he began to write the history about the restoration of the abbey.  The case of the Diocese of Tournai dragged on until finally Pope Eugene III named Abbot Anselm of St. Vincent in Laon as Bishop of Tournai.  He consecrated him bishop on March 10, 1146. 

As to the gap in years between his resignation as abbot in 1136 and his journey to Rome in 1142, it is possible that Herman traveled to Spain.  In the letter that he sent to Abbot Anselm, which accompanied the above-mentioned gift of the "Passio quorundam martyrum," Herman speaks of a journey which he made to Spain in order to obtain the relics of St. Vincent.  Why would Herman travel to Spain to obtain relics which had no connection to his abbey?  Herman mentions in the dedicatory letter to "The Miracles of St. Mary of Laon" that Bishop Bartholomew once was in Spain to visit his cousin, King Alphonse of Aragon.  The king promised that when Bartholomew visited him next he would give him a relic of Hildefonsus of Toledo and the body of St. Vincent, deacon and martyr.  King Alphonse died before Bishop Bartholomew returned to Spain.  It is clearly documented that Bartholomew was a benefactor of the Abbey of St. Martin of Tournai during Herman's abbacy.  It is quite possible that since Herman was no longer occupied as abbot, Bartholomew asked him to make the journey to Spain to obtain the promised relics.  Apparently Herman had by this time recovered from his paralysis, if this was in fact the real reason for his resignation as abbot.

Herman is last heard of around 1147 when he decided to join the second crusade and go to the Holy Land.  There is no further mention of him in documents.

The Work:

"The Miracles of St. Mary of Laon" is written in three books.  In 1112, the cathedral of Laon burned down.  In order to raise money to restore and rebuild the cathedral, representatives of Laon took the relics of the church around France and England.  The first book describes the first tour with the relics through France (June 6, 1112 - c. September 21, 1112) and the miracles that took place on that tour.  The second book describes the miracles that took place on the second begging journey.  This time they took the relics through France and England (March 4, 1113 - September 6, 1113)[7]

The third book, the one that concerns us here, describes the dedication of the reconstructed cathedral on September 6, 1114.  It tells of the credit which is due Bishop Bartholomew concerning the reconstruction of the cathedral and the renewal of religious life in his diocese and the collaboration of Bartholomew in the foundation of Prémontré.  

In the third book, the author goes beyond his original goal of describing the miracles that took place during the efforts to raise money.  This book is basically in praise of Bishop Bartholomew.  There are twenty-eight chapters in the third book.  The first nine chapters are about Norbert and the foundation of the Order of Prémontré in the Diocese of Laon and end with Norbert's death as Archbishop.  The tenth chapter has to do with Hugh of Fosses and the changes he made at Prémontré.  These first ten chapters are translated below.

After a thorough investigation of the text of "The Miracles of St. Mary of Laon" and a comparison of this text with other sources, G. Niemeyer has concluded the following.  The first draft of this work was written sometime between 1136, the date of Herman's resignation as abbot and 1142 when he made his first trip to Rome.  After his second trip to Rome in 1143 Herman made some additions to his composition.  Further additions were made to "The Miracles of St. Mary of Laon" after the consecration of Abbot Anselm as Bishop of Tournai in 1146 and before Herman began his pilgrimage to Jerusalem during the second crusade in 1147.[8]

The third book of "The Miracles" was actually written in three stages:  between 1140 and autumn 1142; from autumn 1143 to 1144; between summer 1146 and spring 1147[9]  The order of the book is not strictly chronological but rather according to topic.  Herman's sources included biographies and documents, when available, but especially oral reports and his own personal experience.  He did not, however, use written historical sources.

Herman's account of Norbert's activity in the Diocese of Laon and the foundation of Prémontré come from the earliest draft.  The information he gives about the Premonstratensian Order in Book III, chapters 6-10 belong to the final draft.[10]  There is about a seven-year interval between the first and final draft.  This may appear to be a short period of time, but it is precisely during this time that the individual foundations of Norbert were consolidated into the organization of the Order of Prémontré.  Chapters 2-5 on the beginnings of Prémontré reflect the view of the Bishop of Laon and his background.  Chapters 6-10, on the contrary, represent the opinions of Hugh of Fosses from the years 1146 to 1147.[11]

---  Theodore J. Antry, O. Praem.

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"The Miracles of Saint Mary of Laon"

Book III, Chapter 1:  The Throng of People at the Dedication of the Church at Laon

With the help of Divine mercy, from the offerings of the faithful collected throughout France and England, the work on our church was so successful that in the following year it was dedicated after the completion of the restoration.

In the year of the Lord's Incarnation 1112, on Thursday of Easter Week,[12] the aforementioned church burned down.  That same day, Gualdric, Bishop of Laon, was cruelly slain in his residence along with some of his men.  Hugh succeeded him as bishop.  Hugh scarcely survived eight months and after his death Bartholomew[13] was elected to the bishopric, as mentioned above.

After being consecrated bishop Bartholomew made every effort to speed up work on the church of Our Lady so that in two half-years[14] after the fire the solemn dedication could once again take place, viz. in the year of the Lord's Incarnation 1114.  The bishop and the canons decided that it be dedicated on the same day on which its solemn dedication took place each year, i.e., on the eight day before the Ides of September,[15] viz. on the third day before the Nativity of Blessed Mary.  For the dedication Lord Bartholomew gathered together the Bishop of Châlons-sur-Marne, Lisiard of Soisson, Godfrey of Amiens and Hubert of Senlis. 

Such a great throng of people gathered for the dedication that two hundred thousand people of diverse sex and age were said to have been present.  Great was the joy in the hearts of all because after such desolation of the church - indeed of the whole city of Laon - in so short a space of time, i.e. within two half-years, from such a profound abyss of darkness and calamity, they saw brightness shining through the mercy of God's mother.  It seemed that the words of the Prophet Haggai could rightly be applied to our church also.  After the Babylonian captivity Haggai had prophesied the restoration of the Temple in Jerusalem: "The glory of the second house will be great, even greater than that of the first".[16]  If the careful reader wishes to look more attentively, indeed he will very easily see that after the grief of desolation, an even greater glory and exaltation followed in the church of Laon than existed before.  Who will be able to give a worthy report about how much the splendor of religion and this new brightness glowed afterwards in the diocese of Laon and from there throughout almost the whole world?

After a few years that new discoverer and beginner of new light and new conversion, not only of interior but also of exterior brightness, Norbert, came to France[17] from Lorraine and, with the help of divine grace, planted that first vine in the diocese of Laon.  This vine, taking root and founded in charity,[18] now filled the world, extending its branches to the sea and its shoots to the river.[19]  With the wine of its strength which gives joy to the heart of man[20] it now abundantly inebriates many princes and judges of the earth, young men and virgins, old men and youth[21] so that the strongly inebriated seek nothing else but to praise the name of the Lord and to sing Him a new canticle.[22]  By putting off the old man with his acts and putting on the new man created according to God,[23] they completely cast aside carnal allurements and as if changed from water into wine by the Lord at the wedding[24] they forgot what was behind them and stretched forth to those things, which were ahead of them.[25]  Thus although they were living physically on earth, nevertheless they tasted what was above, not what was on earth.[26] They said with the Apostle: "Our conversation is in heaven where Christ sits at the right hand of God."[27]  Joined in their minds with the heavenly seraphim they continually burn with the love of Christ alone to whom they exhibit their bodies as a living, holy sacrifice pleasing to God,[28] a resplendence of virtues by which they shine interiorly even preferring this in their exterior garb.  From the following it will easily be recognized that the aforementioned Bishop Bartholomew was a partner and participant of this so sublime and glorious institute.

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Book III, Chapter 2:  How Bishop Bartholomew Found Norbert

Pope Paschal died in Rome.[29]  Then Cardinal John, who succeeded him as Gelasius, and who wished to come to France, passed away at Cluny.[30]  The cardinals who had come with him realized that they could not return to Rome for an election and so, forced by necessity, they immediately elected Guy, the Archbishop of nearby Vienne, to the Apostolic See.[31]  He was a noble and industrious man, an uncle of the queen of France,[32] the wife of King Louis.[33]  He was consecrated pope right there in the same province and was named Callistus.  

Before he went to Rome, he wanted to hold a general council in France.  He ordered all the bishops and archbishops of almost the entire west along with the abbots and other ecclesiastical persons to gather at Rheims.[34]  The above-mentioned King Louis of France was also present at this council.

Bishop Bartholomew, along with his clerics and entourage, traveling to Rheims in order to attend this council, had just passed the monastery of St. Theoderic.[35] He saw Norbert with two clerics sitting not far from the road.  Now Norbert just shortly before this had heard two voices,[36] as he was afterward accustomed to mention.  The first voice had cried out from one side:  "This is Norbert and his companions."  The other added from the other side: "This is Norbert and his companion."  What this meant will be explained later.  After hearing these two voices from the heavens, Norbert was stunned and left the road.

Sitting on the ground with his two companions and in a state of shock, he looked around.  Shortly thereafter the bishop approached, not like the priest and Levite who passed by the man they had seen wounded by robbers, but turning from the road he greeted them and asked who they were.  Norbert answered that he was from Lorraine and, after leaving his parents and the emptiness of the world, proposed to pursue religious life.  He said that the ideal of this religious life must be according to the plan and authority of the Apostolic See.  He continued to explain that he had stayed at Rheims for three days but because of the multitude of the rich who were continually gathering, no admission to the pop was available to him.  He had left the city sad and despairing and did not know where to turn.[37]

Then, moved by extreme compassion, the bishop urged them to return with him to Rheims and promised that he would introduce them to the pope.  However, because they were traveling on foot, he ordered his men to dismount and told Norbert and his companions to mount and ride with him.  On the way he questioned them diligently.  He heard that Norbert was of noble origin, and that he had possessed great wealth in the church at Cologne, but by choosing poverty had left everything completely.

When the bishop reached Rheims he went in to the pope.  Modestly he suggested to him that it was not good that, being the father of the universal church, he should speak only with the rich and turn the poor away from conversation with him.  Immediately, with the assent of the pope, Norbert and his companions were brought in by the bishop and refreshed by the apostolic discourse.

But because the pope was so occupied he could not entirely fulfill their desire for discussion.  He promised the bishop that, when the council was ended, he would go straightaway to Laon and for several days rest there and speak with them further.  He asked that the bishop send them ahead and suggested that they wait for him at Laon.  Afterwards as long as they were in Rheims the bishop always kept them in his company.  When he returned to Laon he never permitted them to be separated from his company.  Later Bartholomew received the pope in a most dutiful manner, as was worthy, when he came as he had promised.  Finally he most amply pleased Norbert and his companions with his conversation.

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Book III, Chapter 3:  The Little Church of St. Martin of Laon, How Bishop Bartholomew Took Norbert To Many Places

There was at that time, outside the walls of the city of Laon, a little church built in honor of St. Martin in which this same bishop many times had placed religious clerics to serve God there.  But since none were successful there, the church reverted to the bishop.

Therefore, seeing that Norbert wished to follow a poor religious life,[38] the bishop began to persuade him to stay in this little church of St. Martin.  He also asked the pope to advise him of this.[39]  But Norbert, understanding his efforts, said: "I did not leave great wealth at Cologne in order to seek lesser wealth at Laon.  I do not wish to stay in cities but rather in deserted and uncultivated places."  The bishop answered: "I will show you many deserted and uncultivated places in this diocese which are suited to religious life and once I've shown them to you I'll give them to you."[40]

He said this and, after the departure of the pope, took him and showed him not "all the kingdoms of the world and their glory"[41] but that very great forest of his diocese called Thierache.  He took him to a place called Foigny[42] pointing out the availability of water, pasturage, forest and lands which were suitable for religious life.  Then Norbert, after praying, said: "Indeed this place is suitable for religious life but it is not destined for me by God."  Then the bishop took him to another part of this forest called Thenaille.[43]  After it was shown to him and he prayed as before, Norbert said it was suitable for religious life but neither was this place destined for him by God.

Then, returning to Laon, the bishop took him to the forest of the Vosges and showed him a place there called "pratum monstratum"or "Praemonstratus."  Whoever reads this should see the devotion of this bishop who, leaving his episcopal business, went to a lot of trouble to take an unknown man around so many forest and wayless places which even today seem fearful, although they are inhabited by many people.  In those days they were rougher and more fearful inasmuch as they were remote from all human habitation and surrounded only by wolves and wild boars.

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Book III, Chapter 4:  How the Church at Prémontré was Begun

Coming to the aforementioned place of Prémontré[44] they enter a little church built there in honor of St. John the Baptist, in order to pray.  This rightly belonged to the Monastery of St. Vincent[45] at Laon.  A monk from the monastery was sometimes sent there to conduct the divine office.  But because after Mass was finished there was no bread to be found there, unless it was brought from somewhere else, the place along with the little church now remained almost deserted.

After the bishop finished praying he went outside.  He advised the man of God to rise from his prayer because night was coming on and there was no place to stay.  The servant of God, coming outside, asked Bartholomew to depart with his men and to permit him to keep vigil there throughout the night.  The bishop then quickly mounted his horse, as night was falling.  He swiftly rode to Anizy[46] but did not forget about Norbert.  By means of a messenger he sent him bread and other necessities.  

In the morning the bishop returned to him and asked what he wanted to do.  Norbert was overjoyed.  "I will remain here, Father, because I know that God has destined this place for me.  This will be a place of rest for me and here many will be saved by the grace of God.  Nor will this little church be the principal site.  On another part of this mountain they will build their place of rest.  This night in a vision I saw a very great multitude of white robed men carrying silver crosses and candelabra and thuribles and they encircled this place singing as they went.  

The bishop was greatly overjoyed.  Not wishing to cause any loss to the monastery of St. Vincent to which the place belonged,  he summoned the Abbot of St. Vincent and gave him then a more useful exchange.  Thus he grated this place with the church to Norbert free by his privileged authority.  The servant of God Norbert remained there.  The bishop returned to Laon but did not cease to have a care for Norbert and his companions.

A few days later, the man of God came to Laon[47] and entered the school of Master Ralph who had succeeded his dead brother Master Anselm.  He gave an exhortatory talk to his students and immediately converted seven of the richest of them who had recently arrived from Lorraine.  He brought them with their great wealth to his church.  

But the ancient enemy, who is always accustomed to envy the advances of the servants of God, strove to bother even him at the very beginning.  As he seduced Eve in Paradise, and caused Judas to be depraved among the Apostles, so also he corrupted one of the two companions who had come with him.[48]  In the middle of the night he stole the money which the students brought and which had been handed over to them by the schoolmaster.  Fleeing from the church he secretly departed and left the students in great poverty and need.  Then for the first time the man of God recalled the voices which, as we[49] mentioned above, he heard near Rheims.  He understood and revealed to the bishop, who consoled him in this regard, that the second voice which had shouted: "This is Norbert and his companion!" meant this, that of the two companions who had come with him only one would remain.  The other would leave with Judas.  And he understood it that way.

Leonius, the abbot of St. Bertinus, however, a very religious man and very knowledgeable in secular and divine literature, recently reading this book immediately interpreted the voice in another way and ordered me to insert his opinion here.  He said that, given the time and the person approaching, it could clearly be interpreted that the voice was testifying that Bishop Bartholomew was the companion of Norbert.  He said: "When, after staying three days in Rheims, unable to speak with the pope, Norbert left the city sad and despairing and didn't know what to do or where to turn and he seemed to have no consolation besides God other than his two companions whom he trusted would cling to him inseparably wherever he went, he heard the voice from above: "This is Norbert and his companion" as if it said to him more clearly:  "Don't despair or trust only in your two companions, because a bishop is near whom God has given you for a companion.  He will take you back with him and let you speak to the pope.  He will be a great consolation in your tribulations and will give you a place with a church for you to rest and bear fruit."  Leonius, the abbot of St. Bertinus ordered me to write these things.  I obey him willingly, believing that he understood faithfully and well.

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Book III, Chapter 5:  How Walter was made Abbot of the Little Church of St. Martin of Laon

Later, when the bishop saw that a large number of men had come together and were living religious life at Prémontré, he asked Norbert to assign some of them to the little church of St. Martin in which he, when asked, was unwilling to remain so that they might build it up and expand it to the honor of God.  Acquiescing to the bishop's request he assigned a few of his confreres there and placed Walter, a religious man, in charge of them as abbot.

Through the prayer of Blessed Martin, we believe, God conferred on him such immediate grace that what the angel said about the girl Sarah to her father Raguel seems to be able to be said about him also: "For this reason no one was able to have her because your daughter was destined for this God-fearing man as wife."[50]  Likewise, although many had at the request of the bishop taken on the task of governing the little church of St. Martin, no one else was successful there.  By the grace of God such good fortune clung to this Abbot Walter as his companion that within twelve years a convent of five hundred confreres was found there serving God.  Hence with justification let me say it was reserved for him by God.

First of all the church sustained such poverty there that besides the one donkey called Burdinus they had almost nothing else.  In the morning they would take it to the nearby forest of Vosges, load it with cut wood, bring it back to Laon and buy bread for themselves from the sale of the wood.  Frequently they remained fasting for a long time until the breat that was bought was brought to them after the hour of None.  Nevertheless, through the consolation of Abbot Walter they did not faint in such need and gradually advancing by working with their hands they grew, by the gift of God, to such abundance that from their vines and in their possession of land and mills, as well as cattle, they surpass almost all the monasteries in the diocese of Laon. 

Likewise, such abundance of charity and hospitality is found there that, because of the continuous reception of guests and because of the daily relief of the poor, God seems in a wonderful way to multiply and expand everything there to such a degree that it is numbered among the special and superior monasteries of France.

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Book III, Chapter 6:  How Hugh was Placed in Charge of the Abbey of Prémontré

Afterwards, Norbert was unwilling to be abbot even in the church at Prémontré.  However, he appointed Hugh,[51] the one companion who remained with him, as abbot of that place.  

Norbert tried to convert not only groups of men but also of women.  As a result, today in various places of that same diocese we see more than a thousand religious sisters serving God in such strictness and silence that in the strictest houses of monks one can hardly find a like religious group.

Nor was he content to confine the throngs of his confreres within the boundaries of the diocese of Laon.  Just as bees leave the cells in which they produced honey fly elsewhere to make, so he began to seek various deserted places to build new monasteries to which he sent confreres.  He determined, however, that all abbots from every monastery, which followed the norm or intention of his institute and rule, whether during his lifetime or after his death, should gather at the church of Prémontré each year on the feast of St. Denis.[52]  This was their first mother from which they had gone forth.  They were to gather here in order to drink as from a fountain.  Once gathered together they should hold a general chapter and correct anything which perhaps needed to be corrected communally or individually.

Although not yet thirty years have passed since the bishop brought Norbert to Prémontré, nevertheless by the grace of God they have already produced so many monasteries that almost a hundred abbots gather there on the set feast not only from France or Burgundy but also from Germany, Saxony or Gascony.  Apart from the others, the church of St. Martin alone, which is still presided over by the first abbot, Walter,[53] has produced twelve other monasteries.  Not only does such a great light illumine the neighboring provinces but also a ray of this new sun has crossed the sea and has illumined the city of Jerusalem.[54]

I do not know what others think but I believe in my heart and faithfully proclaim with my mouth that Bishop Bartholomew is a partner, participant, and cooperator of all the good things which are happening or will happen in so many monasteries.  For Truth says in the Gospel: "Whoever receives a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet's reward".[55]  It is perfectly clear that this bishop, who not only received the aforementioned servant of God but also, as written above, interrupting his episcopal duties, took the effort to accompany him through so many pathless and dreadful forest places and finally to establish him firmly in the wilderness of Prémontré, and once established continued to tend to him, that bishop certainly will not lack the sweet reward of that fruit.

The Blessed Gregory[56] in a homily[57] on the Gospel "Anno quinto decimo"[58] explains the above quoted passage more simply.  "It should be noted" he says, "that the Lord does not say 'he will receive his reward from a prophet' but 'the reward of a prophet' because he knows that the one who helps the prophet by receiving him, will receive the same reward that the prophet receives because of his good work."[59]  To demonstrate more clearly the certitude of this, Gregory adds the testimony of the Prophet Isaiah[60] who among the cedar, olive, fir and other more precious trees mentions the elm which, although of itself does not bear fruit, nevertheless because it supports a vine with grapes, is also counted among the fruit-bearing trees by the Lord.

If anyone wishes to check this view of Blessed Gregory more carefully, I do not think that he will ridicule me for having written this, but will agree with me.  Bishop Bartholomew, although he appeared to be busy with ecclesiastical duties and involved in secular affairs nevertheless, because he always took such great pains to help the servants of God who were fleeing worldly life, by the grace of God shared their pious life by desire and hence in the future he will not lack his reward.  Since this is the case, I think that the above-mentioned Leonius, the Abbot of St. Bertinus, rightly ought to be praised for that opinion in which he expressed that the heavenly voice declared the bishop to be a companion of Norbert.

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Book III, Chapter 7:  Multiple Commendations of Norbert

To conclude briefly about Norbert, Many testify that, after the Apostles, no one's life has born such fruit in the Holy Church in so short a time.  For although some say that Bernard, the Abbot of Clairveaux, bore no less fruit in the same time, nevertheless if anyone notes carefully I think he will not deny that Norbert outstrips him.

Bernard was not the founder of his Order, for that Order was already flourishing at the monastery of Citeaux in which Bernard, when he was a cleric, took the monastic habit under Abbot Stephen, after he had heard of the reputation of that Order.  From that monastery Clairvaux was founded of which Bernard, because of his sanctity, was appointed the first abbot.  Therefore, although he converted many by his preaching and, by the grace of God, begot many monasteries from Clairvaux, nevertheless he was a great fosterer and propagator of this Order, but was not the first founder.  

Norbert, however, was the first founder and by God's gift the first initiator because, although his followers say they hold to the Rule of Blessed Augustine, nevertheless may we say, with the Blessed Augustine's permission, that we view the institute of Norbert to be much more strict and much more severe than that of Augustine.

Moreover, in the monastery of Citeaux only men are received.  It was Norbert's decision that women be received for conversion in addition to men.  As a result we see that the life of women in his monasteries is more confined and stricter than that of men.

The men, after their conversion, leave the monastery for necessary works and for other business.  Frequently they are involved in ecclesiastical or even secular legal proceedings or delegations.  And many times those whom in their former life we knew to have been farmers or poor we now see proudly riding in a religious habit.

For the women, however, as soon as they have changed their lives the rules henceforth remain permanent.  They remain enclosed within the confines of the house.  They never go out again.  They may speak to no man, not even a brother or relative, except at the window in the church and then only with two lay brothers with the man on the outside and two women who reside with her on the inside.  They hear everything that is said.

As soon as they are received, at the very beginning of their conversion, in order to cut back all pride and carnal lust even their hair is cut to ear level.  And thus to please Christ their heavenly spouse they are completely disfigured in their fragile and seductive flesh out of love for him.  Henceforth none are permitted to have a precious garment, only one made of wool or sheepskin.  None are permitted to wear over their heads a silk veil like certain nuns, but only a very cheap black cloth.

Although they are known to be enclosed with such strictness and lowness, including silence, nevertheless the power of Christ is working in an extraordinary way.  Daily we see women, not only rustic and poor, but even the noble and rich, both young widows and even little girls, who through the grace of conversion spurn the pleasures of the world and hasten to the monasteries of that institution.  They hasten there as if to mortify their tender flesh.  We believe today there are more than ten thousand women dwelling in these monasteries.

If therefore Norbert had done nothing else, apart from the conversion of the men, but attract so many women to God's service by his exhortation, would he not have been worthy of the greatest praise?  But now, since so many thousands of men and women are in the service of Christ because of his teaching, since so many monasteries of his institute shine brightly throughout the world, I don't know what others think, but what many claim seems true to me.  There has been no one since the time of the Apostles who in such a brief space of time has acquired for Christ so many imitators of the perfect life through his institute.  And indeed if he had remained longer in the monastery of Prémontré perhaps he would have accomplished many other things.  However, it pleased divine providence that he pursue, in the religious habit, the honor, which he declined by flight in his secular life.  He, who did not want to become a bishop before his conversion, after his conversion became an archbishop.

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Book III, Chapter 8Norbert Refused the Diocese of Cambrai

Recently, Hugh, the Abbot of Prémontré, told me that at the beginning of Norbert's conversion when he had left the church of Cologne and his parents, he came to Valenciennes barefoot and found there Burchard, the bishop of Cambrai.[61]  Therefore, in the morning when he had heard that the bishop was going to say Mass he came to the church and asked Hugh, who at that time was the bishop's chaplain, to allow him to speak with the bishop.  Hugh, not knowing who he was, went inside and told the bishop that a foreign cleric was outside and wished to speak with him.

Once he was admitted the bishop recognized him inasmuch as he had been with him frequently at the court of the emperor and knew him to be a very wealthy man.  Overwhelmed with admiration the bishop's eyes brimmed with tears: "Oh Norbert!", he said, "Lord Norbert, who could have believed that you left such wealth and came on your own to such poverty?  Lord God, what is it that I see about Lord Norbert whom I used to see so proudly dressed and accustomed to go about with showy arrogance?"[62]

When Hugh, the chaplain of the bishop, saw him so strangely weeping and scarcely able to speak because of excessive tears, he asked him who this Norbert was for whom he wept so much.  The bishop answered: "If you knew who he was, you would wonder that he is now like this.  When the emperor gave me the diocese of Cambrai he offered it first to this Norbert but he was unwilling to accept or hold it.  Among the canons of Cologne he was honorable and very rich.  But now, as you see, he left everything for God and attempts to seek God barefoot!"[63]

When the bishop explained this, his chaplain, Hugh, immediately burned with love of Norbert because he himself had already thought about renouncing the world.  In his heart he began to thank God who had destined such a companion for him.[64]  Therefore, as once Andrew, hearing the Lord praised by his master John the Baptist, left John and followed the Lord,[65] so too Hugh, hearing Norbert so greatly praised by his lord, Bishop Burchard, whose chaplain he had been for a long time, left the bishop and clung to Norbert.

After disposing of his property, on Norbert's advice, Hugh became his inseparable companion in travel and preaching.  He traveled barefoot everywhere with Norbert until coming to the Council of Pope Callistus at Rheims where he met Bishop Bartholomew of Laon, as we reported above.

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Book III, Chapter 9:  How Norbert Became Archbishop of Magdeburg

Because it was related how Norbert could have been bishop of Cambrai but was unwilling, it should now be explained how he became archbishop.  Many men and women, leaving the emptiness of the world, had now turned to the service of God, and Norbert's renown had extended everywhere because he had built many monasteries far and wide.  Then Theobald,[66] the noteworthy Count of Champagne, the son of the sister of the English King, Henry,[67] sent Norbert to a certain very excellent prince of Lorraine[68] whose daughter this count took for his wife.  

Meanwhile, after the death of the Archbishop of Magdeburg, clerics of that city gathered to elect another.  That same year Norbert was speaking privately with his friend Geoffrey, the bishop of Chartres.  He told him that he knew through a vision that he would be a bishop that year.  But he did not know of which city or province.[69]  When, therefore, the clerics of Magdeburg had chosen several but could unanimously agree on the election of none, they were told that two legates of the Apostolic See, religious men, had come to Mainz from Rome.  One of these was called Peter,[70] the other Gerard.[71]  This latter, afterwards was elected pope, succeeding Celestine and preceding Eugene.

The aforementioned clerics took counsel and approached the legates of the Apostolic See fearing that discord in the election might be detrimental and sedition might arise among them.  They put the election in the hands of the legates and promised that they would accept whomever they chose.  When the legates saw their great devotion they decided to accept no bribes, which were offered to them by some through internuncios, lest per chance the Apostolic See and especially they themselves be defamed.

While they were seeking the Lord's mercy to bring this great matter to an end decently and laudably without any shame of simony and while they were in the church carefully dealing with wise men, behold, unhoped for and unexpected, Norbert entered the same church to pray.  He was coming from France and altogether ignorant of this undertaking.[72]  When they saw him the legates were astounded and amazed.  Rejoicing that their prayers had been answered, they called together the clerics of Magdeburg and asked them if they still agreed to accept one chosen by them.  When they unanimously answered that they would accept whomever they named without any contradiction, the legates immediately concluded with "In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit we choose and elect for you Lord Norbert, a man of proven religious worth who has, we believe, been given both to us and to you by the Lord God for the conclusion of this business at hand."

Shocked by this so incredible and swift action, Norbert was struck senseless.  Not knowing whether he was awake or asleep, where he was or whence he came, he marveled to himself while he hesitated.  Immediately he was seized by the clerics and dragged to the altar, not led but violently carried.  The church resounded as the "Te Deum laudamus" was sung and then, forced by the bonds of obedience, Norbert was consecrated bishop.  Thus although he fled the Diocese of Cambrai, by the will of God he received the Archdiocese of Magdeburg where, living religiously for several years and dying peacefully, he finally rested from his labors.

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Book III, Chapter 10:  Change of the Church at Prémontré and Improvement 

Hugh, the previously mentioned companion of Norbert, whom Norbert chose as abbot and who was confirmed by Bishop Bartholomew, zealously strove, by his exhortation and work, to water the vineyard which Norbert had planted together with him.  Throughout, God had mercifully granted it increase.  However, he saw that the little church was no longer sufficient for the great number of brothers who had gathered and who were daily growing by the grace of God.  He knew also that Norbert, as mentioned above, had foreseen in the spirit that a larger church would have to be built on the other side of the mountain.  Taking counsel with his brothers, he asked Bishop Bartholomew to come, seeing that he was the founder and father of the place, in order to place the first stone in the foundation of the church, inasmuch as all the buildings had been arranged in position.

When the bishop arrived the entire army of God joyfully met him with a great procession praising God exultantly.  Immediately the bishop recalled the vision which Norbert had told him about on that first night of his arrival, how he had seen a multitude of white robed men carrying silver crosses with candelabra and thuribles and how they encircled the place and sang as they went.  The bishop rejoiced and gave thanks to God because what Norbert had seen in a vision, he now saw as reality.

The church, dormitory, refectory and other buildings of this sort which are there, and a kind of wall around the monastery that has been built by the aforementioned Hugh, will clearly say to everyone who comes to look that in the richest and most ancient monasteries of France there can hardly be found a like work.  Truly, everyone coming and looking at it will immediately say that this was not done by or through the work of man.  It is wonderful in our eyes.[73]  Good Jesus!  With what joy Bishop Bartholomew is filled each time he comes there for a visit to see so splendid a monastery constructed in his day and by his advice and plan.  It seems to me that he too could say with the Apostle Paul: I have done much more than the bishops of Laon who were my predecessors, "not I, however, but the grace of God was with me".[74]

Notes:  <<Return to the Table of Contents>>

[1]  <<Back to Text>>

Communicator Associate Editor Fr. Ted Antry's basic assignment is Archivist at Daylesford Abbey (near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.A.).  Ted entered the Order in 1957 and was ordained in 1966.  He holds a graduate degree in Latin from Marquette University as well as a doctorate in Medieval Studies from Notre Dame University, taught in three Norbertine Secondary Schools, and is Secretary of the Order's Commission on Canonical Life and Spirituality. (Editor's note).

[2]  <<Back to Text>>

Herman of Tournai.  The Restoration of the Monastery of Saint Martin of Tournai (translated with an introduction and notes by Lynn H. Nelson).  The Catholic University of America Press, 1996.  Hermanni Liber de restauratione Monasterii sancti Martini Tornacensis, PL 180, cols. 37-130

[3]  <<Back to Text>>

Section #86, pp.120-121 of the Lynn Nelson translation.

[4]  <<Back to Text>>

This event would have taken place during Henry V's trip to Rome in 1110-1111.  Henry took Pope Paschal II prisoner in order to secure his rights of investiture of bishops.  Norbert was present in the entourage of his archbishop, Frederick of Cologne.

[5]  <<Back to Text>>

Hermannus monachus.  De miraculis Sanctae Mariae Laudunensis.  PL 156, cols. 961-1018; MGH 88 12 (ed. R. Wilmans, only Book II, chapters 1-9)

[6]  <<Back to Text>>

Gerlinde Niemeyer.  "Die Miracula S. Mariae Laudunensis des Abtes Hermann von Tournai.  Verfasser und Entstehungszeit".  Deutsches Archiv für Erforschung des Mittelalters 27 (1971), pp. 135-174.  Most of the material describing the author and the work are taken from this article.  

[7]  <<Back to Text>>

Ibid. p. 136

[8]  <<Back to Text>>

Ibid. p. 167f.

[9]  <<Back to Text>>

Ibid. p. 171

[10]  <<Back to Text>>

Ibid. p. 172

[11]  <<Back to Text>>

Ibid. p. 174

[12]  <<Back to Text>>

April 25, 1112

[13]  <<Back to Text>>

Bartholomew de Joux (Bishop of Laon 1113-1150; died June 26, 1158)

[14]  <<Back to Text>>

Cf. W.M. Grauwen's article in Anal. Praem. 71 (1995) pp. 37-51 (English translation:  "The First Church and Monastery Building at Prémontré, 1122) esp. note 36 where Grauwen suggests that by "two half years" Herman means the summers of 1113 and 1114.

[15]  <<Back to Text>>

September 6, 1114

[16]  <<Back to Text>>

Haggai 2: 10

[17]  <<Back to Text>>


[18]  <<Back to Text>>

Ephesians 3: 17

[19]  <<Back to Text>>

Ps. 79: 12

[20]  <<Back to Text>>

Ps. 103: 15

[21]  <<Back to Text>>

Ps. 148: 12

[22]  <<Back to Text>>

Ps. 32: 3

[23]  <<Back to Text>>

Ephesians 4: 24

[24]  <<Back to Text>>

John 2: 1-11

[25]  <<Back to Text>>

Philippians 3: 13

[26]  <<Back to Text>>

Colossians 3: 1

[27]  <<Back to Text>>

Philippians 3: 20

[28]  <<Back to Text>>

Romans 12: 1

[29]  <<Back to Text>>

Paschal II, died January 21, 1118

[30]  <<Back to Text>>

Gelasius II, died January 29, 1119

[31]  <<Back to Text>>

Callistus II, elected February 2, 1119

[32]  <<Back to Text>>


[33]  <<Back to Text>>

Louis VI (1108-1137)

[34]  <<Back to Text>>

The Council of Rheims was held October 20-30, 1119

[35]  <<Back to Text>>

About two leagues from Rheims

[36]  <<Back to Text>>

Cf. Vita A, chapter 12; Vita B, chapter 26, paragraph 55

[37]  <<Back to Text>>

Cf. Vita A, chapter 9; Vita B, chapter 18, paragraph 38

[38]  <<Back to Text>>

Cf. above chapter 2

[39]  <<Back to Text>>

Cf. Vita A, chapter 9; Vita B, chapter 19, paragraphs 38-39

[40]  <<Back to Text>>

Cf. Vita A, chapter 9; Vita B, chapter 19, paragraph 39.  Cf. also W.M. Grauwen's article in Anal. Praem. 70 (1994) pp. 199-211 (English translation:  "Bartholomew of Laon and Norbert in search of a Place to Settle, Beginning of 1120)."

[41]  <<Back to Text>>

Matthew 4: 8

[42]  <<Back to Text>>

A Cistercian abbey was later built here at Foigny.  Cf. chapter 11 of this work.  PL 156, col 1000

[43]  <<Back to Text>>

A Premonstratensian abbey was later built here at Thenaille.  Cf. chapter 14 of this work.  PL 156, col. 1000.

[44]  <<Back to Text>>

Vita A, chapter 9; Vita B, chapter 19, paragraph 39.  Prémontré is 18 km. west of Laon.

[45]  <<Back to Text>>

A Benedictine abbey.  

[46]  <<Back to Text>>

It is now Anizy-le-Château

[47]  <<Back to Text>>

Both Vita A and Vita B mention only that when winter had passed Norbert went to Cambrai and there gained Evermode as a disciple.  Cf. Vita A, chapter 9; Vita B, chapter 20, paragraph 40.

[48]  <<Back to Text>>

Cf. Vita A, chapter 12; Vita B, chapter 26, paragraphs 55-56.

[49]  <<Back to Text>>

Here Herman uses the plural form "diximus".

[50]  <<Back to Text>>

Tobit 7: 12

[51]  <<Back to Text>>

Hugh of Fosses, Abbot of Prémontré 1128-1161/64/

[52]  <<Back to Text>>

October 9

[53]  <<Back to Text>>

In 1151 he succeeded Bartholomew as bishop of Laon

[54]  <<Back to Text>>

St. Samuel was founded in 1141.

[55]  <<Back to Text>>

Matthew 10: 41

[56]  <<Back to Text>>

Pope St. Gregory I (the Great), 590-604

[57]  <<Back to Text>>

PL 76, cols. 1159-1170

[58]  <<Back to Text>>

Luke 3: 1

[59]  <<Back to Text>>

PL 76, col. 1165.

[60]  <<Back to Text>>

Isaiah 41: 19

[61]  <<Back to Text>>

Cf. Vita A, chapter 6; Vita B, chapter 12, paragraph 25.

[62]  <<Back to Text>>


[63]  <<Back to Text>>


[64]  <<Back to Text>>

Cf. Vita A, chapter 6; Vita B, chapter 12, paragraph 25; ñ chapter 13, paragraph 27.

[65]  <<Back to Text>>

John 1: 40-42

[66]  <<Back to Text>>

Theobald the Great, II of Champagne (1125-1152) IV of Blois.  He was the son of Adele, the sister of Henry I of England and daughter of William I (the Conqueror).  His father was Stephen, Count of Blois.

[67]  <<Back to Text>>

Henry I (1100-1135)

[68]  <<Back to Text>>

Roger Wilmans, who edited this text in MGH.SS 12, p. 660, says that this is an error and refers to his note in chapter 15 of Vita A (MGH.SS 12, p. 689, n. 33) where he explains that Norbert was sent to bring the daughter of Engelbert, the margrave of Fréjus, the brother of the bishop of Regensburg.  Cf. Vita A, chapter 15; Vita B, chapters 33-34.

[69]  <<Back to Text>>

Cf. Vita A, chapter 15; Vita B, chapter 34, paragraph 76.

[70]  <<Back to Text>>

Only Herman mentions him as being present.  Roger Wilmans (cf. not 65 above) thought this was Pierleone, the later Antipope, Anacletus II, however, W.M. Grauwen explains that this cannot be.  Cf. W.M. Grauwen, Norbert, Erzbischof von Magdeburg (1126-1134), Duisburg, 1986, p. 97.

[71]  <<Back to Text>>

Lucius II (1144-1145).

[72]  <<Back to Text>>

Cf. Vita A, chapter 18; Vita B, chapter 42, paragraph 88.  Cf. also W.M. Grauwen, Norbert, Erzbishof..., pp. 95-106.  

[73]  <<Back to Text>>

Matthew 21: 42, Mark 12: 11

[74]  <<Back to Text>>

I Corinthians 15: 10

This article has been reprinted with the kind permission of the Editor of the Communicator, Rev. Thomas Meulemans.