Norbert, in lineage from the lords of Gennep, was a canon of the Collegiate
Church of St. Victor in Xanten. He was ordained to the order of subdeacon without
seriously being concerned about his life as a cleric. Around 1108-1109 we find
him as court chaplain to Archbishop Frederick of Cologne and before 1110 to
the Emperor Henry V whom he accompanied to Rome. There, much fury was raging
over the investiture crisis. On May 28, 1115 he was – according to the
report in Vita A – thrown from his horse by a bolt of lightning in a storm
while riding to Vreden. This brought about a radical conversion. Filled with
a great love for Christ, he dedicated himself completely to the Gregorian Church
Reform which had as its goal a renewal of the vita apostolica. Therefore, in
December 1115 on one and the same day he was ordained to the diaconate and priesthood
and in the following period was on his way as an itinerant preacher. In the
monastery of St. Gilles in 1118 Pope Gelasius II granted him permission for
this. At the desire of Pope Callistus II, and with the support of Bishop Bartholomew
of Laon, Norbert, together with several companions, laid the foundation for
the Order of Prémontré through their profession on Christmas Day
1121. The Order spread rapidly throughout all of Europe. They promised to live
according to the direction and manner of the Apostles as well as the Rule of
Augustine. For the habit Norbert chose unbleached wool and not black material
– he wanted his men to be witnesses of the resurrection like the angels
at the tomb of Jesus Christ. The celebration of Mass stood at the center of
their day, furthermore the founding generation exhibited a deep reverence of
Mary the mother of God whom they chose as the patroness of the first church.
In addition to the canons, there also lived at Prémontré many
lay brothers and sisters who cared for the accommodation of the poor and pilgrims
in the Hospice. After Norbert had handed over the direction of the community
to Prior Hugh of Fosses, he set out anew in order to preach and to gather companions
for his reform movement. There arose foundations in Antwerp, Cappenberg, Cuissy,
Floreffe, Laon and other places. The new Order begun by Norbert was confirmed
on February 16, 1126 by Pope Honorius II.
The year 1126 signified a decisive point in the life of the itinerant preacher, for he was appointed archbishop of Magdeburg at the Imperial Diet held in Speyer. On July 18, 1126 Norbert entered his Episcopal city barefoot and in penitential garb. Much work awaited him there. Of importance was to clear up abuses and to revoke the alienation of church property. Norbert began his work without delay, among which the reform of the clergy was his first goal. He brought confreres from Prémontré to Magdeburg and entrusted to them the church of “Unserer Lieben Frauen”; in addition he founded Premonstratensian monasteries at Gottesgnaden and Pöhlde. As shepherd of his diocese he adjusted the Order life of his confreres more to the task of ministry rather than retreat from the world after the style of Prémontré. In only eight years as bishop he was not able to realize all his plans. And so after his death, his confreres in the Order strove to further his mission work with the Wends. The last years of his life were marked by political activity in service of the Church and the emperor. He intervened to restore peace between Emperor Lothair III and Pope Innocent II. He showed himself to be a staunch defender of Pope Innocent against the antipope Anacletus. In 1132, as acting archchancellor for Italy, he accompanied King Lothair to Rome for his imperial coronation. He fell ill on this journey, probably from malaria. Norbert was still able to bless the Holy Oils on Holy Thursday, yet he celebrated his last Mass on Easter Day while seated. On June 6, 1134 the founder of the Premonstratensian Order died in Magdeburg, his episcopal city. His bones were brought from Magdeburg to the Abbey of Strahov (Prague) in 1626/1627.
Approbation of cult: July 28, 1582 by Gregory XIII.
Representation: as a Premonstratensian (sometimes with cowl) and archbishop, with a monstrance, chalice (with spider), gospel book and olive branch, with Tanchelm or a devil in chains at his feet.