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The Cistercians in the Middle Ages

The Cistercians in the Middle Ages

Janet Burton
Julie Kerr
Series: Monastic Orders
Volume: 4
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 260
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  • Book Info
    The Cistercians in the Middle Ages
    Book Description:

    The Cistercians (White Monks) were the most successful monastic experiment to emerge from the tumultuous intellectual and religious fervour of the eleventh and twelfth centuries. By around 1150 they had established houses the length and breadth of Western Christendom and were internationally renowned. They sought to return to a simple form of monastic life, as set down in the Rule of St Benedict, and preferred rural locations `far from the haunts of men'. But, as recent research has shown, they were by no means isolated from society but influenced, and were influenced by, the world around them; they moved with the times. This book seeks to explore the phenomenon that was the Cistercian Order, drawing on recent research from various disciplines to consider what it was that made the Cistercians distinctive and how they responded to developments. The book addresses current debates regarding the origins and evolution of the Order; discusses the key primary sources for knowledge; and covers architecture, administration, daily life, spirituality, the economy and the monks' ties with the world. Professor Janet Burton teaches at the School of Archaeology, History and Anthropology, University of Wales Trinity Saint David; Dr Julie Kerr is Honorary Research Fellow in the School of History, University of St Andrews.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-966-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vi-vi)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vii-vii)
    Janet Burton and Julie Kerr
  5. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. viii-viii)
  6. Introduction Reform and Renewal
    (pp. 1-8)

    In 1098 a small band of monks established themselves in a spot which became known as Cîteaux, just a few kilometres from the ducal centre of dijon in Burgundy. Over the half century that followed the way of life that developed there spread to all parts of Christendom, and the Cistercian Order became a powerful congregation. This book seeks to explore the dynamics of the phenomenon that was the Cistercian Order. But Cîteaux was not unique; indeed, it did not appear from nowhere. Cîteaux was but one experiment – a highly successful one – in a series of attempts to find the...

  7. CHAPTER ONE The ‘desert-place called Cîteaux’
    (pp. 9-20)

    The monastery which became known as Cîteaux lay within the duchy of Burgundy, in the heart of the fragmented Middle Kingdom, or Lotharingia. Ruled by the semi-autonomous dukes, the region had seen the emergence of movements, such as the Peace of god and the Truce of god, designed to curb private warfare. It had also seen the foundation of monasteries, notably Cluny, and the alienation of property to them, which allowed them to prosper. Located on the fringes of the kingdom of the Capetian kings of France to the west, and the German lands to the east, Burgundy was on...

  8. CHAPTER TWO ‘In mountain valleys and plains’: the Spread of the Cistercian Order
    (pp. 21-55)

    In his opening sentence of the third and most ambitious of the Cistercian exordia, the Exordium Magnum, Conrad of eberbach makes two points.² The first is that within the Cistercian tradition the impetus for the secession from Molesme was now firmly seen as the desire to bring monastic life back to the rule of st Benedict. The second is that Cîteaux itself was the mother house of all Cistercian abbeys – in other words the head of an order. The close and tightly knit relationship among Cistercian houses has always been seen as one of the hallmarks of the Order. So,...

  9. CHAPTER THREE ‘Lonely wooded places’: The Cistercians, their Sites and their Buildings
    (pp. 56-81)

    The Cistercians had a strong affinity with their surroundings. The physical environment was ‘a window onto the Divine’ and the taming of the landscape was symbolic of the soul’s return to God.² The name of the monastery often evoked its setting. Cîteaux likely stems from the latin cisterna which can mean a marsh or bog,³ while Clairvaux translates as ‘Valley of Light’ and Roche alludes to its rocky environs. There is evidence for monks identifying their abbey with its surroundings. An example is ralph of Fountains who was sent from Yorkshire to Norway in 1146 to preside as founding abbot...

  10. CHAPTER FOUR Unity and Concord: The Administration of the Order
    (pp. 82-102)

    One of the distinguishing features of the Cistercian Order has always been held to be its tight organisation. The structure was set down in the constitution of the Order, the Carta Caritatis, which was discussed above in chapter two.² Individual Cistercian houses were joined together in familial bonds and arranged in a hierarchy. The abbot of Cîteaux stood at the head of the Order; below him were the abbots of the four eldest daughter houses of la Ferté, Pontigny, Clairvaux and Morimond. Thereafter all abbeys were organised according to their affiliation. Bouchard has recently argued that this structure was inspired...

  11. CHAPTER FIVE Ora et labora: Daily Life in the Cloister
    (pp. 103-124)

    Claustral life was highly organised and structured around the liturgical Office (opus Dei) celebrated in the church. The day began at daybreak with lauds and ended with Compline at sunset. In accordance with the Rule of St Benedict the monks spent a part of each day engaged in physical labour and meditative reading (lectio divina); there was a daily chapter meeting and time allocated to eating, sleeping and matters relating to health and hygiene. But how precisely they spent their time varied, depending on the occasion as well as on the status and responsibilities of each monk. For example, there...

  12. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  13. CHAPTER SIX ‘Angels of God’: Cistercian Spirituality
    (pp. 125-148)

    Monastic spirituality encompasses many aspects of claustral life. The opus Dei and lectio divina, which essentially structured the conventual day and gave it both rhythm and meaning, were discussed in the previous chapter. Here Cistercian spirituality is explored more closely through considering the attitude of the White Monks towards saints and relics – an area of current research interest – and the nature and significance of mysticism to the Order. Before doing so it is useful to outline briefly several key religious developments at this time, to set the Cistercians in their wider context.

    McGinn describes the twelfth century as ‘a new...

  14. CHAPTER SEVEN Conversi, granges and the Cistercian economy
    (pp. 149-188)

    The monastery’s survival depended on the development of a sound economy to support the community’s needs. The Cistercians are typically regarded as great accumulators of land and able agriculturalists who were efficient if at times aggressive in exploiting their holdings. Even those who were critical of the Order’s practices acknowledged its effectiveness. The satirical account of the Cistercians by Walter Map (d. c.1210) describes how they would secure a plot of valueless land from a rich donor ‘by much feigning of innocence and long importunity, putting in God at every other word’ and duly convert this into a productive unit:...

  15. CHAPTER EIGHT ‘Lanterns shining in a dark place’: The Cistercians and the World
    (pp. 189-202)

    The Cistercians may have preferred rural locations which were removed from the distractions of urban life, but as we have seen throughout this discussion their desert was more metaphoric than real. Cistercian sites were not isolated; nor were communities cut off from society. On the contrary the White Monks engaged with the world. They both influenced, and were influenced by, social, economic, political and spiritual developments. This might mean taking on regional practices and disseminating new styles and techniques of architecture and farming, or working with secular and ecclesiastical powers to champion reform or augment state building. Communities were at...

  16. Glossary
    (pp. 203-208)
  17. Bibliography
    (pp. 209-230)
  18. Index of Cistercian Houses mentioned in the text
    (pp. 231-235)
  19. General Index
    (pp. 236-244)
  20. Back Matter
    (pp. 245-245)