Founder of the Order of the Gilbertines
St. Gilbert was born at Sempringham, on the border of the Lincolnshire fens, between Bourn and Heckington. The exact date of his birth is unknown, but it lies between 1083 and 1089; he died at Sempringham in 1189. His father, Jocelin, was a wealthy Norman knight holding lands in Lincolnshire; his mother, name unknown, was an Englishwoman of humble rank.
His life henceforth became one of extraordinary austerity, its strictness not diminishing as he grew older, though the activity and fatigue caused by the government of the order were considerable. In 1147 he travelled to Cîteaux, in Burgundy, where he met Eugene III, St Bernard, and St. Malachy, Archbishop of Armagh. The pope expressed regret at not having known of him some years previously when choosing a successor to the deposed Archbishop of York. In 1165 he was summoned before Henry II's justices at Westminster and was charged with having sent help to the exiled St. Thomas a Becket. To clear himself he was invited to take an oath that he had not done so. He refused, for, though as a matter of fact he had not sent help, an oath to that effect might make him appear an enemy to the archbishop.
He was prepared for a sentence of exile, when letters came from the king in Normandy, ordering the judges to await his return. In 1170, when Gilbert was already a very old man, some of his lay-brothers revolted and spread serious calumnies against him. After some years of fierce controversy on the subject, in which Henry II took his part, Alexander III freed him from suspicion, and confirmed the privileges granted to the order. Advancing age induced Gilbert to give up the government of his order. He appointed as his successor Roger, prior of Malton. Very infirm and almost blind, he now made his religious profession, for though he had founded an order and ruled it for many years he had never become a religious in the strict sense. Twelve years after his death, at the earnest request of Hubert Walter, Archbishop of Canterbury, he was canonized by Innocent III, and his relics were solemnly translated to an honourable place in the church at Sempringham, his shrine becoming a centre of pilgrimage. Besides the compilation of his rule, he has left in little treatise entitled "De constructione monasteriorum". His feast is kept in the Roman calendar on 11 February.