A HISTORY OF THE CISTERCIANS
In the late eleventh century a group of monks from the French Abbey of Molesme, founded a new Abbey at Citeaux. Their intention was to return to the strict observance of the Rule of St Benedict in response to perceived excesses in the church at the time. A newer stricter set of rules was developed and Citeaux became the Order’s mother- house. Important figures in those founding years were Robert of Molesme, Alberic, and Stephen Harding, the first three Abbots of Citeaux. Followed by Bernard, who founded the daughter- house of Clairvaux and became an influential spiritual leader to the Order.
Emphasis was placed on restoring the right balance between prayer and hard work, and on a detachment from the world’s affairs. Cistercians had no personal property and rejected ostentation of any kind. They worked with their own hands to support themselves and be self- sufficient communities, rather than relying on wealthy gifts and donations from outsiders. They did, however, rely on land grants from benefactors in order to establish grange farms large enough to meet their needs.
As the Cistercian order grew in popularity and new abbeys were founded, emphasis was placed on solitude and isolation: many abbeys were built in places far away from towns and villages in remote and secluded spots. The way the Cistercians worked the land in often inhospitable places meant they became a huge influence on medieval society through their innovative ideas in agricultural techniques and engineering. Their simple contemplative spirituality also inspired architecture of great beauty.
The Order spread rapidly though France and other parts of western Europe, and came to Britain with the founding of Waverley Abbey in the south in 1128, and Rievaulx in the north in 1132. The first Abbey in Wales, Tintern, was, founded in 1131. By 1224 there were 13 Cistercian houses established in Wales.