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The members of certain religious communities of penitent women who desired to reform their lives. As time went on, however, others of blameless reputation were also admitted, until many communities were composed entirely of the latter, who still retained the name of Magdalens, or White ladies from the colour of their garb. It is not known at what period the first house was established, the date of foundation of the Metz convent, usually given as 1005, being still in dispute. Rudolph of Worms is the traditional founder of the Magdalens in Germany (Mon. Germ. Script., XVII, 234), where they were in existence early in the thirteenth century, as attested by Bulls of Gregory IX and Innocent IV (1243-54), granting them important privileges. Hélyot quotes letters addressed by Otto, Cardinal of the Title of St. Nicholas in Carcere Tulliano, Apostolic Legate in Germany, granting indulgences to those contributing to the support of the German Magdalens. Among the earliest foundations in Germany were those at Naumburg-on-the Queis (1217), and Speyer (1226). Gregory IX, in a letter to Rudolph, prescribed for the penitents the Rule of St. Augustine , which was adopted by most of the Magdalens, though many of the German houses later affiliated themselves to the Franciscan or Dominican Orders. Institutions of Magdalens still exist, e.g. at Lauban (founded 1320) and Studenz, for the care of the sick and old. Few of the German convents survived the Reformation.

Houses of the Magdalens were soon founded in France, Belgium, Italy, Spain, and Portugal. The first foundation in France was made at Marseilles about 1272 by Bertrand, a saintly man who associated with himself in his work of rescuing fallen women other zealous men, later constituted a religious congregation by decree of Nicholas III, under the Rule of St. Augustine. In 1492 the eloquence of the Franciscan Père Jean Tisserand influenced a number of women to turn from evil ways and embrace a life of penitence. Five years later Jean-Simon, Bishop of Paris, prescribed for them the Rule of St. Augustine and drew up special statutes for their direction. From the beginning of the seventeenth century these Magdalens of Rue St-Denis were all women of stainless lives. Among other prominent communities of Magdalens were those at Naples (1324), Paris (1592), Rome, where Leo X established one in 1520, Seville (1550), Rouen, and Bordeaux.

The Madelonnettes , members of another Order of St. Mary Magdalen, were founded in 1618 by the Capuchin Père Athanase Molé, who, assisted by zealous laymen, gathered a number of women who desired to reform their lives. Two years later some of these were admitted to religious vows by St. Francis de Sales, and were placed successively under Religious of the Visitation, Ursulines, and Sisters Hospitallers of the Mercy of Jesus, and from 1720 under Religious of Our Lady of Charity. The constitutions, drawn up in 1637, were approved by the Archbishop of Paris in 1640, and the house was erected by Urban VIII into a monastery. Two branch foundations were made at Rouen and Bordeaux. The order comprised three congregations, (1) the Magdalens proper, who had been deemed worthy of being admitted to solemn vows, (2) the Sisters of Saint Martha , who, for some reason, could not undertake the obligation of solemn vows, and were bound by simple vows only, and (3) the Sisters of St. Lazarus, public sinners confined against their will. Each congregation had a separate building and observed a different rule of life. Sisters of St. Martha were admitted to the ranks of the Magdalens after two years novitiate. This order is no longer in existence.


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