Recently, while on holiday in Scotland, I visited the ruins of the Augustinian Priory of Inchmahome on the Lake of Mentieth, near to Aberfoyle and Loch Lomond. The priory was founded in 1238 by the Earl of Menteith for a small community of Augustinian monks, including the Black Canons. The first Prior (Adam) arrived in 1296. Source: Inchmahome Priory.

The Augustinian monks communicated by using sign language. During meals, however, they were able to hear the word of God spoken. St. Augustine apparently said: “Let not your mouths alone be exercised in receiving food; let your ears be also occupied in receiving the word of God”.

After rising at 02:30 for Nocturns, they would attend Matins at 06:00 where there would be readings and Prime. Terce prayers and spoken Mass took place at 08:00 after which they would work. At 12 noon there would be Sext prayers and sung Mass, followed by None prayers at 13:30. Dinner at 14:00 then they went back to work till 16:15. After that came Vespers prayers and Compline prayers. They went to bed at 18:30.

Hard to imagine rising at 02:30 (especially in the winter) and then going to bed at 18:30, especially during a Scottish summer when the sun does not set till after 10 in the evening. However, I digress.

As busy as the monks were all day, what was the purpose/function of the Black Canons? Who were they and what did they do? Were the Black Canons founded by St. Columba in Scotland or did they originate with St. Augustine? See: Canon regular (Wikipedia).

Any information on the Black Canons, their origins and function, would be appreciated. Also, if anyone could source the quote attested to St. Augustine that would be useful. Just curious!

2 Answers 2


"Black Canons" is another name for Augustinian canons regular. They are "black" because of their habit, according to the OED:

black canon n. [from the colour of the habit worn; compare post-classical Latin canon niger (c 1220)] now chiefly hist. a canon regular of St Augustine (see note at canon n.2 1).

Canons regular are

Priests who are bound by religious vows and who live in community under a distinctive rule. Originating in the eleventh century, in connection with the reform movement of Pope Gregory VII, they have mainly adopted the Rule of St. Augustine.

A "canon" (Greek: κανών = "rule") is a priest who lives communally with other priests (although the exact meaning has changed throughout history), and "regular" means they follow a rule (Latin: regula) or conduct of life. The Church approves 4 main religious rules properly so-called:

  1. St. Benedict's,
  2. St. Basil's,
  3. St. Augustine's (which the Dominicans also use), and
  4. St. Francis of Assisi's.

Other religious orders use sign language, too, to foster an atmosphere of silence (cf. St. Benedict's Rule ch. 38: "should anything be wanted, let it be asked for rather by a sign than by a word.")

Rising in the middle of the night is normal for all orders' monks; the midnight prayers are called matins, which means "morning" (cf. St. Benedict's Rule ch. 8 or Ps. 118:62: "I rose at midnight to give praise to thee.").

What you quote of St. Augustine comes from ch. 3, ¶2 of his Rule. St. Benedict's Rule ch. 38 is similar; he prescribes a weekly reader, who reads aloud for the other monks while they eat: "[Spiritual] Reading must not be wanting at the table of the brethren when they are eating."

habit of a Canon Regular of St. Augustine

  • That's very helpful, thank you, especially the source of the quote about reading at meal times. Do you think these Black Canons were introduced by St. Columba who came to Scotland? I'm curious about the history of Christianity in my native country.
    – Lesley
    Jun 15, 2019 at 16:46
  • 1
    @Lesley "I'm curious about the history of Christianity in my native country." You should read St. Bede's classic The Ecclesiastical History of the English People, then. Its book 3, ch. 4 discusses St. Columba, who, according to Fr. Butler's biography on him, founded hundreds of monasteries in Ireland and Scotland.
    – Geremia
    Jun 15, 2019 at 17:58
  • 1
    @Geremia The last picture shows Augustine Friars (OSA, till 1963 OSEA, "Augustine Hermits"). As I understand the term "black canons" and according to the German Wikipedia in Inchmahome were Augustine Canons regular. The OSA were fouded 1244/1256, but Inchmahome 1238. These two "Augustines" often get confused.
    – K-HB
    Jun 15, 2019 at 19:02
  • 1
    @Geremia No. Augustine Hermits (Friars, Ordo Sancti Augstini) and Augustine Canons Regular (Canonici regulares Sancti Augustini ) are totally different orders, only sharing name and spirit of St. Augustine. see Wikipedia for details en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Augustinians
    – K-HB
    Jun 15, 2019 at 19:58
  • OSA is a mendicant order and consists of friars and priests; "Augustine Friars" is just a common name (according to Wikipedia, I'm no native English speaker). CRSA are a congreagtion of monasteries of Canon Regulars (other kind of order). They are priests.
    – K-HB
    Jun 15, 2019 at 20:38

Who were the Black Canons on the Augustinian Priory of Inchmahome in Scotland?

The Priory of Inchmahome was founded in 1238 by the Earl of Menteith, Walter Comyn, for a small community of the Augustinian order also called the Black Canons because of the color of their habits.

What are Canon Regulars?

Priests who are bound by religious vows and who live in community under a distinctive rule. Originating in the eleventh century, in connection with the reform movement of Pope Gregory VII, they have mainly adopted the Rule of St. Augustine. - Canon Regular (Catholic Culture)

Thus the Augustinians are Canons Regulars. Benedictine monks are considered to be a monastic order and are not considered Canons since they permit lay brothers to take vows who are not required to say the entire Divine Office. They also permit laymen to dwell within their monasteries. Dominicans and Franciscans are considered to be mendicant orders and not Canons. They too permit lay brothers to take vows.

The name Austin (or Augustinian) Canons is commonly used instead of Canons Regular, and there are some who think that Austin Canons are so styled because they were instituted by St. Augustine. This is a wrong notion. St. Augustine did not found the order of canons regular, not even those who are called Austin Canons. There were canons regular before St. Augustine. The various authorities quoted in this article prove it. All St. Austin did was to induce his clergy to live secundum regulam sub sanctis Apostolis constitutam, which he had seen practiced at Milan, adding to the Apostolic Rule hitherto observed by clerics living in common, some regulations, afterwards called the "Rule of St. Augustine." Or, in the words of Pope Paschal II in a Bull quoted by Pennott, "Vitæ regularis propositum in primitiva ecclesia cognoscitur ab Apostolis institutum quam B. Augustinus tam gratanter amplexus est ut eam regulis informaret" (A regular mode of life is recognized in the Early Church as instituted by the Apostles, and adopted earnestly by Blessed Augustine, who provided it with new regulations) — Hist. Tripart., Lib. II, c. iv, 4. These regulations which St. Austin had given to the clerics who lived with him soon spread and were adopted by other religious communities of canons regular in Italy, in France, and elsewhere. When, in and after the eleventh century, the various congregations of canons regular were formed, and adopted the Rule of St. Augustine, they were usually called Canonici Regulares Ordinis S. Augustini Congregationis, and in England Austin Canons, or Black Canons. but there have always been canons regular who never adopted the Rule of St. Augustine. Giraldus Cambrenisis mentions some in his day in England. In a word, canons regular may be considered as the genus, and Austin Canons as the species; or we may say that all Austin Canons are canons regular, but not all canons regular are Austin canons. - Canons and Canonesses Regular

  • I Lived in a Benedictine Monastery for many years and not once were we called Canons.
    – Ken Graham
    Jun 16, 2019 at 21:19
  • Thank you for this insight - I was simply going by the information presented to me when I visited the island. All it said was that they were allowed to go to the mainland and give pastoral support to the local people.
    – Lesley
    Jun 18, 2019 at 14:47

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