St.Benedict's

 

MONASTERY

 

Citeaux Abbey

12th century illuminated manuscript | France

With the arrival of the charismatic and energetic Bernard de Fontaine

at Citeaux…

the Cistercian order rapidly expanded beyond its origins in France and into an international network of monasteries throughout medieval Europe,

comprising more than 300 houses at the time of

his death in 1153.

A HISTORY OF THE ORDER

THE CISTERCIANS OF THE STRICT OBSERVANCE is a Catholic monastic community of men and women ordered to a life of prayer, work and contemplation, living according to the Rule of St. Benedict, and founded at Citeaux near Dijon, France in 1098 by a group of monks under the leadership of Robert of Molesme. He and his companions were motivated by a desire to achieve a balance of

prayer and work in faithful obedience to the Rule and the monastic tradition of

the Desert Fathers, with emphasis on a simple lifestyle of poverty and detachment, dedicated personal and communal prayer, solitude and manual labor

inspired by the community life of the first Christians as described in the Acts of

the Apostles [2:42-47].

 

Under the leadership of Robert and his immediate successors, Citeaux gradually

evolved into a group of monasteries united by the Charter of Charity, which

provided a legal structure harmonizing central and local monastic authority.

Each Cistercian house remained independent under its elected abbot yet

strongly united to the others by bonds of fraternal charity and a common daily

rule of life.

 

With the arrival of the charismatic and energetic Bernard de Fontaine at Citeaux

fifteen years after its foundation, and his subsequent election as the influential

abbot of its daughter house at Clairvaux, the Cistercian order rapidly expanded

beyond its origins in France and into an international network of monasteries

throughout medieval Europe, comprising more than 300 houses at the time of

his death in 1153. By the end of the 15th century, the expansion reached its

apex, with 750 houses in the Cistercian Order.

 

BUT DURING the following century, the Protestant Reformation reversed the

pattern of growth in England and Ireland with Henry VIII’s dissolution of the

monasteries and state confiscation of Church property. Threats from without

coincided with stress from within, as the fervor and desire which had inspired

the founders to more faithfully live the Rule of Benedict declined. In reaction to

the relaxation of Cistercian monastic practice, Armand Jean de Rance, the abbot

of La Grande Trappe Abbey in France, in 1663 led an aggressive effort to reform

and restore the Order by renewal of ascetic practice, austerity of diet, and

emphasis on communal discipline. Following these reforms, Cistercians became

known as “Trappists” [men] and “Trappistines” [women].

 

Although de Rance’s efforts were blessed with success, during the 18th century

continued existence of the Cistercians was threatened by the hostile

ecclesiastical policies in effect both in France and Austria during the French

Revolution, leading to the dissolution of monasteries and appropriation of

Church assets. As a result, the monks from these countries fled and sought

refuge, first in Switzerland and Russia, and then following Napoleon’s defeat

and exile returned to France to recover and reconstitute their heritage.

 

WHILE LIVING IN EXILE at the abandoned Carthusian monastery of La Val Saint in Switzerland, and anxious to insure the future of the Order, Abbot Augustine de Lestrange in 1803 sent twenty monks to found a community in North America. Although this first effort ultimately failed and they returned to France in 1815, a

single member of the group, Fr. Vincent de Paul Merle, remained behind in Nova Scotia engaged in pastoral work, and by 1819 had found a suitable site for a revived monastic community. With the support of Fr. Lestrange, then residing at the French monastery of Bellefontaine, five monks arrived to begin the New World foundation of Petit Clairvaux. Despite long years of hardship and struggle, by 1876 the monastery became self-governing, and elected its first abbot.

 

From these humble beginnings, the Cistercian Order in the United States has

since grown to include 15 monasteries and abbeys of 276 monks and 98 nuns.

 

St. Benedict's Monastery | 1012 Monastery Road | Snowmass, Colorado 81654

     970/279-4400 | EMAIL librarystben@gmail.com