Cloisters of Saint John Lateran, Rome. Source:

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

The Cistercians. Part Seven.

Text is taken from Wikipedia - the free encyclopaedia,
unless otherwise stated.

Orval Abbey (Trappist), Belgium.
Photo: 7 August 2006.
Source: Own work.
Author: User:Etychon.
(Wikimedia Commons)

The fortified Maulbronn Abbey in Germany is considered "the most complete and best-preserved Mediaeval Monastic complex North of The Alps". The Transitional Gothic Style of its Church had a major influence in the spread of Gothic architecture over much of Northern and Central Europe, and the Abbey's elaborate network of drains, irrigation canals and reservoirs has since been recognised as having "exceptional" cultural interest.

In Poland, the former Cistercian Monastery of Pelplin Cathedral is an important example of Brick Gothic. Wąchock Abbey is one of the most valuable examples of Polish Romanesque architecture. The largest Cistercian complex, the Abbatia Lubensis (Lubiąż, Poland), is a masterpiece of Baroque architecture and the second-largest Christian architectural complex in the world.

English: Maulbronn Monastery, Germany.
Deutsch: Kloster Maulbronn, Blick auf die Klosterkirche
mit Vorhalle („Paradies“).
Photo: 28 September 2009.
Source: Own work.
Author: Elke Wetzig (Elya).
(Wikimedia Commons)

Maulbronn Monastery (German: Kloster Maulbronn) is the best-preserved Mediaeval Cistercian Monastery complex in Europe. It is situated on the outskirts of Maulbronn, Baden-Württemberg, Germany, and is separated from the Town by fortifications. In 1993, the Monastery was made a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The Mother House of The Order, Cîteaux, in France, had developed the most advanced style of painting in France, at least in Illuminated Manuscripts, during the first decades of the 12th-Century, playing an important part in the development of the image of The Tree of Jesse. However, as Bernard of Clairvaux, who had a personal violent hostility to imagery, increased in influence in The Order, painting and decoration gradually diminished in Cistercian Manuscripts, and they were finally banned altogether in The Order, probably from the Revised Rules approved in 1154. Any Wall Paintings that may have existed were presumably destroyed. Crucifixes were allowed, and, later, some painting and decoration crept back in. Bernard's outburst in a Letter, against the fantastical decorative motifs in Romanesque art, is famous:
. . . But these are small things; I will pass on to matters greater in themselves, yet seeming smaller because they are more usual. I say naught of the vast height of your Churches, their immoderate length, their superfluous breadth, the costly polishings, the curious carvings and paintings which attract the worshipper's gaze and hinder his attention . . . But, in the Cloister, under the eyes of the Brethren who read there, what profit is there in those ridiculous monsters, in the marvellous and deformed comeliness, that comely deformity ? To what purpose are those unclean apes, those fierce lions, those monstrous centaurs, those half-men, those striped tigers, those fighting knights, those hunters winding their horns ? Many bodies are there seen under one head, or, again, many heads to a single body. Here, is a four-footed beast with a serpent's tail; there, a fish with a beast's head. Here, again, the forepart of a horse trails half a goat behind it, or a horned beast bears the hinder quarters of a horse. In short, so many and so marvellous are the varieties of divers shapes on every hand, that we are more tempted to read in the marble than in our books, and to spend the whole day in wondering at these things rather than in meditating The Law of God. For God's sake, if men are not ashamed of these follies, why at least do they not shrink from the expense ?

The ruins of Tintern Abbey, Co. Wexford, Ireland.
This Abbey contained Later-Mediaeval Wall Paintings.
Photo: 14 July 2006.
Source: From
(Wikimedia Commons)

Some Cistercian Abbeys did in fact contain Later-Mediaeval Wall Paintings, such as Tintern Abbey (known from archaeology) and Abbeyknockmoy (traces of which still survive in the Presbytery). The latter murals depict Saint Sebastian, The Crucifixion, The Trinity and The Three Living And Three Dead. The Abbey contains a fine example of a sculptured Royal Head, on a Capital in the Nave, with carefully defined eyes, an elaborate Crown and long curly hair. The East End of Corcomroe Abbey, in County Clare, Ireland, is similarly distinguished by high-quality carvings, several of which "demonstrate precociously naturalistic renderings of plants". By the Baroque Period, decoration could be very elaborate, as at Alcobaça in Portugal, which has carved and gilded Retables and Walls of Azulejo Tiles.

Furthermore, many Cistercian Abbey Churches housed the tombs of Royal or Noble Patrons, and these were often as elaborately carved and painted as in other Churches. Notable dynastic burial places were Alcobaça, for the Kings of Portugal, Cîteaux, for the Dukes of Burgundy, and Poblet, for the Kings of Aragon. Corcomroe, in Ireland, contains one of only two surviving examples of Gaelic Royal Effigies from 13th- and 14th-Century Ireland; the Sarcophagal tomb of Conchobar na Siudaine Ua Briain († 1268).

English: The Cloisters of the 12th-Century Cistercian Monastery of Veruela Abbey, Spain.
Español: Monestir de Santa Maria de Veruela.
Photo: 30 April 2011.
Source: Own work.
Author: Emvallmitjana.
(Wikimedia Commons)

Veruela Abbey (Spanish: Real Monasterio de Santa María de Veruela, or "The Royal Monastery of Santa María de Veruela") is a Cistercian Abbey dating from the 12th-Century. It is situated near Vera de Moncayo, in Zaragoza Province, Spain. It was Founded in 1146 by Pedro de Atarés.

According to one modern Cistercian, "enterprise and entrepreneurial spirit" have always been a part of The Order's identity, and The Cistercians "were catalysts for development of a market economy" in 12th-Century Europe. It was as agriculturists and horse and cattle breeders that The Cistercians exercised their chief influence on the progress of Civilisation in The Middle Ages. As the great farmers of those days, many of the improvements in the various farming operations were introduced and propagated by them, and this is where the importance of their extension in Northern Europe is to be estimated.

They developed an organised system for selling their farm produce, cattle and horses, and notably contributed to the commercial progress of the Countries of Western Europe. To the wool and cloth trade, which was especially fostered by The Cistercians, England was largely indebted for the beginnings of her commercial prosperity.

Farming operations on so extensive a scale could not be carried out by the Monks alone, whose Choir and Religious duties took up a considerable portion of their time. And so, from the beginning, the system of Lay Brothers was introduced on a large scale. The duties of the Lay Brothers, recruited from the peasantry, consisted in carrying out the various field works and plying all sorts of useful trades. They formed a body of men who lived alongside the Choir Monks, but separate from them, not taking part in The Canonical Office, but having their own fixed round of Prayer and Religious Exercises. They were never Ordained, and never held any Office of Superiority. It was by this system of Lay Brothers that The Cistercians were able to play their distinctive part in the progress of European Civilisation.

Until The Industrial Revolution, most of the technological advances in Europe were made in the Monasteries. According to the Mediaevalist, Jean Gimpel, their high level of industrial technology facilitated the diffusion of new techniques: "Every Monastery had a model factory, often as large as the Church and only several feet away, and water power drove the machinery of the various industries located on its floor."

English: The Nave
of the 12th-Century Cistercian Monastery of Veruela Abbey, Spain.
Español: Nave central de la iglesia abacial de Santa María de Veruela.
Photo: 19 May 2010.
Author: Miguel Ángel García.
(Wikimedia Commons)

Water power was used for crushing wheat, sieving flour, fulling cloth and tanning – a "level of technological achievement [that] could have been observed in practically all" of The Cistercian Monasteries. The English Science Historian James Burke examines the impact of Cistercian water power, derived from Roman water-mill technology such as that of Barbegal aqueduct and mill, near Arles, France, in the fourth of his ten-part series Connections (TV series), called "Faith in Numbers."

The Cistercian Order was innovative in developing techniques of hydraulic engineering for Monasteries established in remote valleys. In Spain, one of the earliest surviving Cistercian Houses, Real Monasterio de Nuestra Senora de Rueda, in Aragon, is a good example of such early hydraulic engineering, using a large Water-Wheel for power and an elaborate water circulation system for central heating.

The Cistercians are known to have been skilled metallurgists, and knowledge of their technological advances was transmitted by The Order. Iron ore deposits were often donated to the Monks, along with Forges to extract the iron, and, within time, surpluses were being offered for sale. The Cistercians became the leading iron producers in Champagne, France, from the Mid-13th-Century to the 17th-Century, also using the phosphate-rich slag from their Furnaces as an agricultural fertiliser. As the historian Alain Erlande-Brandenburg writes:
The quality of Cistercian architecture from the 1120s onwards is related directly to The Order's technological inventiveness. They placed importance on metal, both the extraction of the ore and its subsequent processing. At the Abbey of Fontenay, the Forge is not outside, as one might expect, but inside the Monastic enclosure. Metalworking was thus part of the activity of the Monks and not of the Lay Brothers. This spirit accounted for the progress that appeared in spheres other than building, and particularly in agriculture. It is probable that this experiment spread rapidly. Gothic architecture cannot be understood otherwise.


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