BY ALEX GRUBER
The Norbertine canonesses are certainly not the first community of women associated with the Norbertine Order. In fact, women have belonged to the order since its official founding by St. Norbert himself. In this “Norbertine Notable” article, we will cover the first female Norbertine, Ricvera of Clastres.
Not much is known about Ricvera (also known as Ricwer and Ricovera). Numerous sources agree that she was one of the original followers and the first female follower of Norbert. She was a widow (joining a convent after widowhood and widowhood in general, were very common in the Middle Ages) of a certain Raymond of Clastres, a petty nobleman. Clastres was small area in the Picardy region of northwestern France not far from where Norbert established his order in Prémontré.
Joined by other notable women such as Adele of Montmorency and Agnes, Countess of Braine, Ricvera was one of the approximately 80 male and female members of the first community at Prémontré. Ricvera assisted Norbert in founding the Order of Premonstratensian Sisters during the community’s early years.
Ricvera was notable for her tireless work in the hospice and hospital created at Prémontré for the poor, the sick and travelers. She became known as “the comforter of the poor, the impoverished and the despairing” during her ministry and she is said to have put out a fire with the sign of the cross. Ricvera of Clastres died in 1136, two years after St. Norbert.
With all the talk of Norbertine canonesses, nuns and sisters, you may be wondering what difference exists between these terms. Here’s a quick explanation.
Canons and canonesses are men and women religious who are attached to a certain church for their ministry. Norbertines in particular are canons and canonesses regular, that is, they follow a religious rule (in this case, the Rule of St. Augustine), live together and interact with the public through their daily prayer, specifically the Liturgy of the Hours.
Sisters are women who take simple vows of poverty, chastity and obedience and work within the world of the laity. Thus, the work of sisters is often called “active” or “apostolic,” since it consists of visible actions and interactions with people.
Nuns are women who take solemn religious vows and focus more on a contemplative life. They live in monasteries and lead cloistered or semi-cloistered lives within them, having little to no interaction with individuals outside their community. Norbertine women are often nuns, but, because they are also canonesses, part of their ministry involves interacting with the public during their daily prayer.
“Nun” and “sister” are often used interchangeably today, but knowing the technical difference between the two never hurts!
Check back next month for the last “Norbertine Notable” article of the school year!