1902 Encyclopedia > Abbey > Cistercian Abbeys

Abbey
(Part 10)




(C) Cistercian Abbeys

Cistercian Abbeys


The next great monastic revival, the Cistercian, arising in the last years of the 11th century, had a wider diffusion, and a longer and more honourable existence. Owing its real origin, as a distinct foundation of reformed Benedictines, in the year 1098, to a countryman of our own, Stephen Harding (a native of Dorsetshire, educated in the monastery of Sherborne), and deriving its name from Citeaux (Cistercium), a desolate and almost inaccessible forest solitude, on the borders of Champagne and Burgundy, the rapid growth and wide celebrity of the order is undoubtedly to be attributed to the enthusiastic piety of St Berbard, abbot of the first of the monastic colonies, subsequently sent forth in such quick succession by the first Cistercian houses, the far-famed abbey of Clairvaux (de Clara Valle), A.D. 1116.

The rigid-self-abnegation, which was the ruling principle of this reformed congregation of the Benedictine order, extended itself to the churches and other buildings erected by them. The characteristic of the Cistercian abbeys was the extremest simplicity and a studied plainness. Only one tower-a central one-was permitted, and that was to be very low. Unnecessary pinnacles and turrets were prohibited. The triforium was omitted. The windows were to be plain and individed, and it was forbidden to decorate them with stained glass. All needless ornament was proscribed. The crosses must be of wood; the candlesticks of iron. The renunciation of the world was to be evidence in all that met the eye. The same spirit manifested itself in the choice of the sites of their monasteries. The more dismal, the more savage, the more hopeless a spot appeared, the more did it please their rigid mood. But they came not merely as ascetics, but as improvers. The Cistercian monasteries are, as a rule, found placed in deep well-watered valleys. They always stand on the border of a stream; not rarely, as at Fountains, the buildings extend over it. These valleys, now so rich and productive, wore a very different aspect when the brethren first chose them as the place of their retirement. Wide swamps, deep morasses, tangled thickets, wild impassable forests, were their prevailing features. The "Bright Valley," Clara Vallis of St Bernard, was known as the "Valley of Wormwood," infamous as a den of robbers. "It was a savage dreary solitude, so utterly barren that at first Bernard and his companions were reduced to live on beech leaves." -- (Milman's Lat. Christ. Vol. iii. P. 335).





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