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Saint Norbert of Xanten

Saint Norbert of Xanten was a Bishop and founder of the Premonstratensian order of canons regular.

Saint Norbert was the son of Heribert, Count of Gennep, a member of the high nobility of the Holy Roman Empire and related to the house of Lorraine and Saint Norbert's mother was Hedwig of Guise. Because of his family's wealthy and noble status, Saint Norbert was given a very well off education growing up in Xanten. After his early education, he obtained a a subsidy from the parish church in his town and accepted an ordination to the subdeaconate there. Soon afterwards he secured an appointment as chaplain to Emperor Henry V in Cologne.

For quite a while Saint Norbert enjoyed his life and appointment and actively tried to avoid an ordination to the Priesthood. His reluctance was so great that he even turned down a prestigious invitation to become the bishop of Cambrai in 1113. An event in 1115 would forever change Saint Norbert's life and vastly open the doors of his faith. In Spring of that year, as he rode his horse to Vreden, a massive thunderstorm enveloped him. A lightning bolt shot down from the sky and hit the ground near his horse's feet; the horse bucked and threw him off in fear. After laying unconscious for an hour, he examined his life. The well o faith was opened greatly to him and he soon renounced his court appointment so that he could live out a life of penance at Xanten. He placed himself under the spiritual direction of the Abbot of Saint Sigeberg, Cono.

In gratitude to Cono, Saint Norbert sold his possessions and land holding so that the Abbey of Furstenberg could be opened. At thirty five he accepted an ordination to the priesthood. Pope Gelasius II granted permission for him to become an itinerant preacher and he soon travelled throughout western Germany, the Netherlands and northern France. In Paris he met with the Canons of Saint Victor and at Clairvaux he met monks who were implementing the Cistercian reforms. At the Council of Reims in 1119, Pope Calixtus II asked Saint Norbert to form a new religious order in the Diocese of Laon (France). On Christmas Day, 1120, Saint Norbert established the Canons Regular of Premontre.

Saint Norbert's community was formed with the idea that they would be active priests living in an ascetic and contemplative haven. He chose the a valley in the forest of Coucy and began the community with thirteen original disciples. Within only a year it had grown to 40. The community experienced rapid and explosive growth over the next few years, spreading to Germany, Belgium and Hungary. In his combating of an Eucharistic heresy in Antwerp Saint Norbert gained the title of Apostle of Antwerp.

In 1126, Saint Norbert was appointed the Archbishop of Magdeburg by Pope Honorius II. Several attempts were made by assassins on his life when he began to reform the lax and scandalous discipline in his archdiocese. When the schism began in 1130 with the election of Pope Innocent II, Saint Norbert supported Saint Innocent, resisted the Antipope and advised Lothair II to send an army to Rome to restore Pope Innocent.

Saint Norbert died on June 6th, 1134 at Magdeburg. His body was interred at the Norbertine Abbey. In 1524 the city became a protestant city under Martin Luther and so Catholic clergy were able to retrieve Saint Norbert's remains. After sometime the abbot of Strahov was able to claim the remains. On May 2nd, 1627, the body was placed into a glass-fronted tomb and brought to Prague.

Saint Norbert's (Middle) Statue in Prague

Pope Gregory XIII canonized Saint Norbert in 1582 and his feast day was set for June 6th. His statue appears above the Piazza colonnade of Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome.

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