Canonesses (Canonissae)

Canonesses (Canonissae), a class of female orders in the Roman Church, organized after the model of the regular canons (q.v.), observing the rule of St. Augustine, and living in common. They are first found in the seventh century. They took no solemn vows, but were to remain unmarried, were generally governed by an abbess, and were under the spiritual direction of the canons. These female societies, like the canons (q.v.), fell into irregularities; gave up the common life, and their property fell mostly into the hands of the nobility, who provided for some of their daughters by canonical livings. Reformed congregations were frequently instituted, sometimes following the reformed congregations of the canons, sometimes being independent of them. Reformatory movements were particularly extensive at the close of the twelfth century, when the Beghards (q.v.) and Beguines (q.v.) made their appearance in many towns of the Netherlands. Those who did not bind themselves by a monastic rule were called secular canonesses (Canonicses seculares, or also Domicellce), and they were almost exclusively found in the institutions of noble ladies. Many of them married and then resigned their benefices. The Reformation in Germany did not abolish the houses of the canonesses, but changed most of them into asylums for the unmarried daughters of the Protestant nobility. Celebrated houses ("stifter") of this class were at Gandersheim, Herford, Quedlinburg, Gernrode, etc., and after their model even new Protestant houses were founded at Halle, Altenburg, Frankfort, and in other places, especially in Mecklenburg and Westphalia. See Helyot, Ordres Religieux (Paris, 1847), 1:789.

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