The system, of eastern origin, sprang up with monasticism and came into the West, to Gaul, probably through the influence of Cassian. The idea spread to Belgium, Germany, and Spain, and came into favour in England with the monastery of Saint Hilda at Whitby in the 7th century. Other prominent examples are Saint Etheldreda’s in Ely; Sheppey, Barking, and Kildare.
The dual community, subject to abuses and in scant favour with the Church, gradually declined about the 10th century, but revived with the reform of Fontevrault in 1099, and flourished with the Gilbertines in 1146, and the Bridgettines in 1346. The supreme rule was generally in the hands of an abbess, though a prior was superior of the Gilbertines, and one church was used in common for liturgical offices. For rule see Fontevrault, Bridgettines, and Gilbertines. Such communities have long ceased to exist in the Western Church.