Preserve stability, love, and harmony by curbing your tongue … so that you may be of one heart and one soul in the house of God.
—sermon of St. Norbert
Norbert of Xanten
Archbishop and Founder of the Canons Regular of Prémontré
At a time when the 11th-century Church was teeming with reforms, Norbert of Xanten (AD 1080-1134) was not only a man of deep prayer and spirituality, but also one aggressively interested in the needs of the people.
Nearly 900 years later, the vision of St. Norbert continues to manifest worldwide through the ministries of his followers in a life that is “ever ancient, ever new.” Men and women who follow his example vow to seek Christ through…
- living in community.
- sharing all things in holy poverty, celibacy, and obedience.
- dedicating themselves to active ministry.
The symbolism and character of Norbert are treated in a broad and simple manner. Each window is filled with one basic thought or event that was important in the saint’s life.
1. The Conversion of Norbert
On the road to Freden, Norbert was thrown from his horse by a bolt of lightning and nearly killed during a storm. During his miraculous conversion, he was reminded of the frivolity of his past life by the Word from Scripture, “the hand of God is against you.” For the first time Norbert clearly recognized the course of his future. A changed man, he became determined to live as a principled priest, anxious to engage in active ministry.
2. Reception of the Religious Habit
According to ancient lore, Norbert received the Premonstratensian religious habit in a vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The figure of Norbert is shown in the white habit; the blue background of the window and the lily superimposed on the figure of Norbert signify the sublime role of the Virgin Mary.
3. Augustine’s Rule
Seeking a life of discipline for his community, Norbert chose the Rule of St. Augustine. It is said that in an apparition St. Augustine presented Norbert with his Rule of Life, which he requested that Norbert and his followers observe. The Tree of Life grows before the two figures, who embrace the book of the rule.
4. Apostle of the Blessed Sacrament
In the early 12th century, Norbert refuted the heresy of Tanchelm, who attacked the doctrine of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. The figure of Norbert is shown surmounted by the symbols of the Holy Eucharist: chalice, host, grapes, and wheat. At the base of the window the coiled serpent indicates the heretic Tanchelm.
5. Archbishop of Magdeburg
In AD 1124, Norbert was consecrated the Archbishop of Magdeburg in Germany against his will in the presence of King Lothair and the papal legates. This depiction of Norbert’s calling to the episcopacy features a series of crosiers (symbolic of the episcopal office) that are superimposed on the figure of Norbert.
6. Norbert and Bernard
There was a close unity between Norbert of Xanten and Bernard of Clairvaux, whose lives and aims bore a distinct similarity: one of Norbert’s interests was the reform of the clergy; Bernard’s the reform of monastic life. A series of flames surmounts the figures of the two saints to indicate their brotherhood and zeal for their common efforts.
7. Challenge to the Papacy
In AD 1130 when anti-pope Anacletus II challenged the right of Innocent II to the papacy, Norbert and Bernard confirmed Innocent’s claim to the papacy and helped re-establish unity in the Church. The two papal tiaras (one upright and the other upside-down) suggest the prevalence of Innocent and the downfall of Anacletus. The semblance of water recalls that Peter, the first Pope, was a fisherman and that Christ called the Apostles to become fishers of men.
8. Canonization of Norbert
Norbert passed away in AD 1134. His legacy left a model of ministry-minded priests living in community. In AD 1582, he was formally canonized a saint of the Church. The crowns superimposed on the figure of Norbert in this window suggest his heavenly reward.