The Cistercians

Bernard of Clairvaux stands out as the most prominent monk of the Cistercian order, which had its beginnings when Robert of Molesmes led a group of monks to a new monastery in 1098, aspiring to return to the purity of Benedict's Rule, which they felt had been lost with the growth of Cluniac monasticism. The Cistercian Order epitomized the spirit of reform through its emphasis on work, austerity, simplicity and withdrawal from the world. Cistercians revised the daily schedule to allow more time for labour and private prayer. They strove for greater simplicity in liturgy and architecture, and literature written from the Cistercian point of view reprehends Cluniac excesses in these and other areas.

The Cistercians exerted a strong influence on the church hierarchy, and some held positions of ecclesiastical power, working as agents and models for

14 SBO, vol. 7, Ep.103, 259; James, Letters, no. 104, 151. See works by J. Leclercq and M. Newman in the bibliography; B. M. Kienzle, Cistercians, Heresy and Crusade in Occitania, 1145-1229: Preaching in the Lord's Vineyard (Woodbridge: Boydell Press; York: York Medieval Press, 2001); B. M. Kienzle, ed., The Sermon (Typologie des sources du Moyen Age occidental, fasc. 81-3; Turnhout: Brepols, 2000), 271-317; Carolyn A. Muessig, ed., Medieval Monastic Preaching (Leiden: Brill, 1998).

reform. Their rapid expansion exemplified the upsurge in foundations of religious houses and the aspiration to the vita apostolica. They profited from that fervour; among the great numbers of conversions to the Order were numerous men who became lay brothers such as Pons of Leras. Pons renounced the material goods he had acquired as a brigand, placed his wife and children in monasteries, performed public penance and pilgrimage, and then founded the monastery of Sylvanes.15 Educated men also entered the monasteries, as the Cistercians benefited from the rise in literacy and the growth of the schools. From Bernard of Clairvaux onward, they aided in articulating the perceived need to extend the reform agenda to convert dissidents and non-Christians.

Many monasteries, including houses for women, followed Cistercian usages without being formally incorporated into the Order. In France and Spain, women's houses grew into two congregations: one around Tart, near Citeaux, founded in ii20 and chartered in ii32, the other under the ii87 royal foundation ofLas Huelgas near Burgos. Family connections often played a role in the foundation and governance of women's houses. The Benedictine community of Jully, founded in iii3, was governed first by Prioress Elizabeth, whose husband Guy had entered Citeaux with his famous brother Bernard, and then by St Bernard's sister Humbeline. Life in monasteries with noble members and dowries contrasted sharply with that of communities who endured hard physical labour to produce food for survival.16

The Cistercians' self image as an elite spiritual corps, superior to other monks, provoked antagonism even in the early years, as when the Benedictine Rupert of Deutz criticised various of their practices, such as the insistence on manual labour. The Order's expansion, acquisition of property, and involvement in wool production, notably in northern England, brought economic and social benefits to the areas where monasteries were established. It also resulted in wealth that contradicted the message of simplicity and austerity articulated in the Order's founding. The monks who had denounced the excesses of Cluniac abbeys found themselves the targets of satire against their own wealth and greed.17

15 B. M. Kienzle, 'Pons of Leras' [introduction and translation] in Thomas Head, ed., Medieval Hagiography (New York: Garland Press, 2000), 495-513.

16 See J. Nichols, 'Introduction', and Jean de la Croix Bouton, 'The Life of the Twelfth and Thirteenth-Century Nuns of Citeaux', in J. A. Nichols and L. T. Shank, eds., Hidden Springs: Cistercian Monastic Women, Medieval Religious Women, vol. 3.1 (Cistercian Studies 113A; Kalamazoo, Mich.: Cistercian Publications, 1995), 4-7, 14-25.

17 Kienzle, Cistercians, Heresy and Crusade 41.

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