Cloisters of Saint John Lateran, Rome. Source:

Monday, 1 June 2015

The Cistercians. Part Two.

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

The early French Cistercian Abbey of Pontigny.
Photo: 24 August 2004.
Source: Own work.
Author: Welleschik.
(Wikimedia Commons)

The Cistercians initially regarded themselves as Regular Benedictines, albeit the "perfect", "Reformed" ones, but they soon came to distinguish themselves from the Monks of "Unreformed" Benedictine Communities" by wearing White Tunics, instead of Black. The White Tunic had been previously reserved for Hermits, who followed the "Angelic" life. Cistercian Abbeys also refused to admit children, allowing adults to choose their Religious Vocation for themselves – a practice later emulated by many of the older Benedictine Houses.

Stephen Harding also acquired farms for the Abbey, to ensure its survival and ethic, the first of which was Clos Vougeot. In terms of receiving grants of land, the Order would accept only undeveloped land (or, in some cases, they accepted developed land and relocated the Serfs elsewhere). They developed this land by their own labour, or by that of illiterate peasant Lay Brothers, known as conversi.

Stephen Harding handed over the West Wing of Cîteaux to a large group of Lay Brethren to cultivate the farms. These Lay Brothers were bound by Vows of Chastity and Obedience to their Abbot, but were otherwise permitted to follow a less demanding form of Cistercian life. Their incorporation into The Order represents a compassionate outreach to the illiterate peasantry, as well as a source of labour on "un-manorialised" Cistercian lands.

The ruins of Melrose Abbey,
Mother House of The Cistercians in Scotland.
Photo: 9 June 2004.
Source: Own work.
Author: User:JeremyA.
© Jeremy Atherton, 2004.
(Wikimedia Commons)

The outlines of The Cistercian Reform were adumbrated by Alberic, but it received its final form in the Carta caritatis, which was the defining guide on how The Reform was to be lived. This document arranged the relations between the various Houses of The Cistercian Order, and exercised a great influence also upon the future course of Western Monasticism. From one point of view, it may be regarded as a compromise between the primitive Benedictine system, in which each Abbey was autonomous and isolated, and the complete centralisation of Cluny, where the Abbot of Cluny was the only true Superior in the entire Congregation.

On the one hand, Citeaux maintained the independent organic life of the Houses; each Abbey had its own Abbot elected by its own Monks, its own Community belonging to itself and not to The Order in general, and its own property and finances administered without interference from outside.

On the other hand, all the Abbeys were subjected to The General Chapter, the Constitutional body which exercised vigilance over The Order. The Abbots met annually at The General Chapter in mid-September at Cîteaux. The Cistercian Constitutions attached particular importance to attendance at this meeting, which was compulsory, and absence without leave was severely punished. The Abbot of Cîteaux was the President of The Chapter. He had a predominant influence and the power of enforcing everywhere exact conformity to Cîteaux in all details of the exterior life observance, Chant, and customs. The principle was that Cîteaux should always be the model to which all the other Houses had to conform. In case of any divergence of view at The Chapter, the side taken by the Abbot of Cîteaux was always to prevail.

Cistercian Abbey,
Bélapátfalva, Hungary.
Date: 8 June 2007.
Source: Own work.
Author: Horvabe.
(Wikimedia Commons)

By 1111, the ranks had grown sufficiently at Cîteaux, and Stephen Harding sent a group of twelve Monks to start a "Daughter House", a new Community dedicated to the same ideals of The Strict Observance of Saint Benedict. It was built in Chalon-sur-Saône, La Ferté, France, on 13 May 1113.

That same year, a charismatic young Burgundian nobleman, named Bernard, arrived at Cîteaux with thirty-five of his relatives and friends to join the Monastery. A supremely eloquent, strong-willed mystic, Bernard was to become the most admired Churchman of his age. In 1115, Count Hugh of Champagne gave a tract of wild, afforested land, known as a refuge for robbers, forty miles East of Troyes, France, to The Order. Bernard led twelve other Monks to Found the Abbey of Clairvaux, and began clearing the ground and building a Church and dwelling. The Abbey soon attracted a strong flow of zealous young men. At this point, Cîteaux had four Daughter Houses (Pontigny, Morimond, La Ferté and Clairvaux). Other French Daughter Houses of Cîteaux would include Preuilly, La Cour-Dieu, Bouras, Cadouin and Fontenay.

With Saint Bernard's membership, The Cistercian Order began a notable epoch of international expansion; and, as his fame grew, The Cistercian Movement grew with it. In November 1128, with the aid of William Giffard, Bishop of Winchester, Waverley Abbey was founded in Surrey, England. Five Houses were Founded from Waverley Abbey before 1152, and some of these had themselves produced offshoots.

The now-ruined Mellifont Abbey,
the centre of Mediaeval Irish Cistercianism
and the "Mellifont Rebellion".
Photo: 3 May 2007.
Source: Own work.
Author: Brholden.
(Wikimedia Commons)

In 1129, Margrave Leopold the Strong of Styria called upon The Cistercians to develop his recently-acquired March, which bordered Austria on the South. He called upon the Monks from Ebrach Abbey, Bavaria, land just North of what is today the Provincial Capital of Graz. Here they Founded Rein Abbey. At the time, it was the thirty-eighth Cistercian Monastery Founded, but, due to the Dissolution of the previous thirty-seven Abbeys throughout the Centuries, today it is the oldest surviving Cistercian Community in the World.

The Norman Invasion of Wales opened The Church in Wales to fresh, invigorating streams of Continental Reform, as well as the new Monastic Orders. The Benedictine Houses were established in the Norman fringes and in the shadow of Norman Castles, and, because they were seen as instruments of conquest, they failed to make any real impression on the local Welsh population.

The Cistercians, in contrast, sought out solitude in the mountains and moorlands, and were highly successful. Thirteen Cistercian Monasteries, all in remote sites, were founded in Wales between 1131 and 1226. The first of these was Tintern Abbey, which was sited in a remote river valley, and depended largely on its agricultural and pastoral activities for survival. Other Abbeys, such as at Neath,Strata Florida, Conwy, and Valle Crucis, became among the most hallowed names in the history of Religion in Mediaeval Wales. Their austere discipline seemed to echo the ideals of the Celtic Saints, and the emphasis on pastoral farming fitted well with the Welsh stock-rearing economy.


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