Father Anselm, the sleuth in The Discourtesy of Death by William Brodrick, is a Gilbertine monk residing at the Larkwood Priory in England. He had been a barrister before becoming a monk.
Anselm is the priory beekeeper. While I wondered if his monastic work was inspired by Sherlock Holmes being a beekeeper it is common for monasteries to have bee hives. At St. Peter’s Abbey in Saskatchewan where I went to high school and first year university Father Demetrius has long been the Abbey beekeeper.
Brodrick was an English barrister for 10 years before becoming a full time writer. Prior to being a barrister he was a member of the Augustinian order leaving shortly before he was to be ordained.
Anselm is not the only Gilbertine monk to be featured in contemporary crime fiction. Louise Penny, in The Beautiful Mystery, has Armand Gamache and Jean-Guy Beauvoir investigating a murder at the Gilbertine monastery of Saint-Gilbert-Entre-les-Loups (Saint Gilbert Between the Wolves).
The fictional monastery was inspired by the real life Benedictine monastery of Abbey Saint-Benoit du Lac located on the shore of Lake Memprhenmagog. The Abbey is an inspiring building in a beautiful location.
I was harsh in my assessment of Penny’s fictional monastery being a secret monastery almost invisible to the world.
After reading The Discourtesy of Death I discovered online Penny’s motivation for making it a Gilbertine monastery in the website www.gamacheseries.com:
The religious affiliation and events of the book bear no resemblance to the Benedictine Monks of the real abbey, as explained by Louise: “it became clear in researching [The Beautiful Mystery] that I couldn’t set the book in a monastery, or even an order, that really existed, so I dug into history and found the Gilbertines, an order that actually once existed, but went extinct.”
It is ironic that both books were published in 2013.
I do not know why Brodrick chose to make Anselm a Gilbertine. I suspect it was for the purposes of artistic licence outlined by Penny.
Another reason may be that the Gilbertine Order of Canons Regular was the only completely English religious order founded in 1130 by Gilbert of Sempringham.
The Gilbertines were unusual in that the order had both women and men as members. According to Wikipedia they lived in the same building divided by a wall and only came together for Mass.
Another reason why Anselm might be a Gilbertine is outlined in Wikipedia in that the men “lived according to a variant of the Augustinian rule”.
There were 26 houses of Gilbertines in England in the early 16th Century when Henry VIII forced their dissolution ending the Order.
I had thought their history ended almost 400 years ago until I learned in Wikipedia that efforts have been made to revive the Order in the last 40 years. A group of lay people in England have established the Oblates of St. Gilbert. A Brazilian priest set up an experimental Gilbertine community in Brazil but it has been dissolved. Of most interest to me has been what happened in Calgary in the past decade.
Initially it was sought to establish the Canons Regular of St. Gilbert of Sempringham in Calgary in 2017. In 2019 those involved decided full restoration was not possible and the Companions of St. Gilbert of Sempringham proceeded. They state:
WE FEW COMPANIONS are based at St. John the Evangleist in Calgary, Canada. As Companions of St. Gilbert, we pray for the full restoration of the Gilbertine Order and live out our Christian discipleship in friendship with our fellow Gilbertines, according to a Personal Rule of Life as well as the Statutes of our Association.
Students wear uniforms. All students are taught Latin as part of the curriculum. Singing is important. The Prospectus states:
The Gilbertine Academy and Holy House hold as integral to their daily community one of the oldest academic traditions in Catholicism: the singing school - schola cantorum. The venerable tradition of the schola cantorum attributes its origins and patronage to St. Gregory the Great. The Gilbertine Academy and Holy House will strive to cultivate this ancient tradition along with the patrimony of the celebrated Anglican choral tradition.
In order for any schola cantorum to sing the Lord’s praises capably, the choristers must learn vocal technique and sight singing as well as music theory and history.
There are 3 choirs.
As set out above, the Gilbertines in Calgary are based at the parish of St. John the Evangelist. It was an Anglican parish until dissatisfaction with the Anglican church led them to join the Roman Catholic church when Pope Benedict made it possible for Anglican parishes to join the Church while preserving important aspects of their Anglican traditions. An example is that some of their priests are married.
The parish is not a part of the diocese of Calgary but rather is a parish within the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter which has 38 parishes in the United States and Canada with the Bishop in Houston, Texas.
The parish is in the heart of the Inglewood community in Calgary. It is located within minutes of the homes of my sons. A few years ago I attended a Christmas Mass at the Church.
It was a welcoming though unusual experience for me. The priest faced the altar and the servers were all male. The Mass was a blend of Anglican and Catholic prayers. Much of the language was from centuries past.
While the Gilbertine religious order has not been restored, Gilbertines remain active within the Catholic Church.