Monasteries of Great Britain and Ireland – Canons Regular of the Lateran, Austin or Black Canons

photograph of an unidentified Canon Regular of the Lateran from the book Monasteries and Religious Houses of Great Britain and Ireland, 1903, photographer unknownArticle

Mixed. Under Solemn Vows. Date of Foundation as an Order disputed. Motto: Cor unum et anima una.

“Canon” formerly meant a cleric following a rule and living in community. This class of clergy has, according to Suarez and other eminent writers, always existed in the Church. Early in the fifth century Saint Austin introduced this manner of life into his cathedral; hence the appellation “Austin Canons.” In the eighth century Chrodegang, Bishop of Metz, re-established community life in his chapter. But in spite of his conduct being supported by the Councils of Aachen in 789 and Mainz in 813, Canons came to live on their private means and in separate houses, and were styled “Secular Canons.” Those that preserved the old traditions were called “Canons Regular.”

These, like the Secular Canons, possess each his canonry, giving him right to a stall in choir and to a voice in chapter. Unlike Secular Canons, they take solemn vows and dwell in community.

There exist today five branches or Congregations of Canons Regular: The Lateran (Black Canons), the Norbertine (White Canons), that of Saint Maurice, the Croisiers, and the great Saint Bernard. All follow the rule of Saint Augustine, but are otherwise disconnected.

The Black or Austin Canons had fifty-nine houses, containing 773 Canons, in England at the Dissolution. The best-known country houses were Walsingham, Bolton, Newstead, Carlisle Cathedral, Cirencester, and Waltham. In London they had the churches of Saint Bartholomew the Great and Saint Mary Overy. They frequently figure in English history in connection with Saint Thomas of Canterbury, Oxford University, and the Pilgrimage of Grace. Adrian IV., the only English Pope, was a Black Canon.

In Scotland they possessed twenty-seven houses, Saint Andrew’s Priory, Holyrood Abbey, Scone, and Inchaffray, among others.

In Ireland the Abbots of Saint Thomas’s, Dublin, and Raphoe, and the Priors of Christ Church and All Hallows (Dublin), Kells, Connell, Louth, Athassef, Killagh, and Newton had seats in the Irish Parliament. In 1646 the Black Canons of Ireland were formed into a separate Congregation, that of Saint Patrick, which’, in 1699, was united to, and is today represented by, the Congregation of the Lateran.

Regular Canons lived in the Lateran Basilica until 1331, when Boniface VIII replaced them by Secular Canons. In 1446 Eugenius IV reinstated them, but eventually they were displaced for good, retaining the title of “Canons Regular of the Lateran.”

The Lateran Congregation rapidly spread over Italy, but today has monasteries only in Gubbio, Genoa, Lucca, Bologna, Orvieto, Ravenna, Naples, and Rome. Their best-known churches in the Eternal City are S. Pietro in Vincoli and S. Agnese fuori le mura.

In France they had till recently three houses. In Belgium they are to be found at Louvain, Lifege, and Namur. In Austria and Poland they hold large abbeys, one of which, Saint Florian’s, supplies priests for thirty-six parishes. In Spain and South America they have flourishing houses. At the outburst of the French persecution of 1880 some Canons Regular of the Lateran came over to England, where they have founded houses at Bodmin (novitiate), Truro, Spettisbury (house of studies), Saint Ives and Stroud Green, London.

The habit is a black biretta, with cassock and linen rochet, which they wear continually. In choir from All Saints’ Day to Easter they wear over this a cappa, consisting of a black cloak and mozetta. It is this adjunct to their costume which has caused them to be called Black Canons.

They are bound to daily chapter Mass and to the choral recitation of the Divine Office. In England, besides their liturgical duties, the Canons undertake parochial work, the care of schools, and preaching missions and retreats.

MLA Citation

  • Dom Gilbert Higgins, C.R.L. “Canons Regular of the Lateran, Austin or Black Canons”. Monasteries of Great Britain and Ireland, 1903. CatholicSaints.Info. 29 November 2018. Web. 21 April 2021. <>