Monasteries of Great Britain and Ireland – Alexian Brothers

photograph of an unidentified Alexian Brother from the book Monasteries and Religious Houses of Great Britain and Ireland, 1903, photographer unknownArticle

Active. Under Simple Vows. Founded in the Fourteenth Century.

The Alexian Brothers were founded under the name of the Poor Brothers in the beginning of the fourteenth century. At this time the pestilence known as the Black Death was raging over the greater part of Europe, and to cope with it many pious communities were founded, whose mission was to nurse the sick and bury the dead. Such a community was the Poor Brothers, founded by one Tobias in the Mid-Rhine province.

In 1431 a Bull of Pope Eugene’s mentions these Brothers as the Cellites, by which name they then went. It is uncertain whether they were so called to distinguish them from the Cell-Brothers (Zellen Brüder), who lived in separate little houses or cells, or whether their name was derived from cella, a grave, and given to them because part of their work was burying the dead.

When they took Saint Alexius of Rome for their patron and dedicated their convent-chapel at Aix-la-Chapelle to him, they became known as the Alexians or the Alexian Brothers.

In the beginning they lived in community without taking vows, but under obedience to the Bishop of the diocese in which they resided, from whom they received their rule and constitutions.

In 1459 Pius II. gave them permission to take solemn vows, and in 1472 Sixtus IV prescribed the rule of Saint Augustine as their rule, which they still follow. He also gave them several privileges, which were confirmed by later Popes.

In 1709, when Clement XI occupied the Holy See, they had four provinces: (1) The Upper Rhine, (2) the Mid-Rhine, (3) Flanders, (4) Brabant. In the Upper Rhine they only had one house, at Worms, which lasted only a short time. In the Mid-Rhine they had houses in Cologne, Neuss, Aix-la-Chapelle, and Truves.

In the Mid-Rhine they were governed by a Provincial, but all the other houses were independent of each other, and in 1722 this union under one Provincial was dissolved, and these houses also became independent.

They suffered much during the French Revolution; in Aix-la-Chapelle the number of subjects was limited to twelve, and they were not allowed to take solemn vows.

In 1854 the Congregation revived, when four young members of it took solemn vows, which from then were compulsory to all who joined it. On the basis of the old traditions and constitutions new rules were made, which the Holy See confirmed in 1870. From this time the mother-house has been at Aix-la-Chapelle, which, with its filiations, is directly under the Holy See,

At the present time there are five houses in Germany, two in Belgium, three in England, and five in America,

The General-Superior in Aix-la-Chapelle, with a small council, governs the whole Congregation; each province has a Provincial and each house a Rector.

The original dress of the Alexian Brothers was a black habit with a black scapular and hood and a grey cloak; the cloak was afterwards changed to a black one. This they still wear.

The other Alexians in Germany, Holland, and Belgium still observe the original rule. The mother-house of the Belgian Congregation is in Antwerp.

The first establishment of the Alexian Brothers in England dates from June, 1875.

They came at the invitation of his Eminence Cardinal Vaughan, then Bishop of Salford, who was about to open a new Catholic cemetery at Moston, and, having heard about the work of the Alexian Brothers on the Continent, asked them to take charge of it, and to open in his diocese a home and hospital for the sick and infirm, and also for elderly men who wish to retire from the turmoil of this world in order to spend the remainder of their days in peace and piety, and so prepare themselves for the other world. For this purpose they founded Saint Mary’s Hall, Newton Heath, Manchester.

His Lordship, Dr. Lacy, Bishop of Middlesbrough, also invited the Brothers to his diocese for the same purpose. They have been established there since 1884, and God has visibly blessed their undertaking.

In 1885, with the permission of the Holy See, a new province of the Order was formed for England, and a Novitiate established at Saint Mary’s Hall, Newton Heath, Manchester.

In 1902 the Brothers purchased the large and beautiful house, Twyford Abbey, near Ealing, with its extensive grounds.

The Abbey House is being suitably arranged for the purposes of the Order and the residence of the Provincial; the Novitiate is now transferred there.

No asylum for the insane is attached to any of the Alexian Houses in England, however, as in their houses in Germany, Belgium, and America.

At present their English establishments are only intended for the aged and infirm. In these they practise, in their former spirit of humility and with unabated zeal, the corporal works of mercy and charity, gaining thereby, with God’s grace, many souls.

MLA Citation

  • Francesca M Steele. “The Alexian Brothers”. Monasteries of Great Britain and Ireland, 1903. CatholicSaints.Info. 29 November 2018. Web. 23 April 2021. <>