"Where everything about White Monks started" Cîteaux by Mikebond
Cîteaux Travel Guide: 12 reviews and 66 photos
... a group of monks was unhappy with the monasteries that followed the Cluny model: they were too rich and lied too close to the city for those who wished to adopt a more radical lifestyle, in better accordance with the Christian poverty idea.
That is why abbé Robert leaves his abbey in Molesme and goes to Cîteaux to found a new monastery with 21 other monks: it's 1098 and with the foundation of the Abbaye de Cîteaux, a turning point is marked in the European history: the order of Cistercians (also called White Monks from the colour of their habit) is born.
The first documents design this abbey as a "hermitage". So, this new site aims at recovering the aspiration to loneliness and to an upright lifestyle.
Even if everybody agrees that Robert de Molesme did found the abbey in 1098, three other monks are also considered as fathers of the monastery and of the Order of Cistercians. Shortly after founding Cîteaux, abbé Robert was forced to go back to Molesme, where he died in 1111. His successor was Alberic who built a new monastery in stone, consecrated on 16 November 1106. The new construction is likely to have marked the shift from a hermitic to a community life. Alberic and his successor, English monk Stephen Harding managed to give the monastery a new liturgy, closer to the Rule of Saint Benedict.
The monks devoted themselves to improving the ways to transcribe manuscripts and their library included over 10,000 books. Some of the codes that survived the devastating fury of the French revolution can be seen today at the City library of Dijon.
The Cîteaux monastery received so many requests that they were soon no longer able to accept new postulants, so new Cistercian abbeys had to been found. The most important of them was Clairvaux (Chiaravalle, near Milano), consecrated on 25 June 1115. The first abbot of this new monastery was the man who will become the fourth father of Cîteaux - and the most important representative of the Order ever: Bernardo di Chiaravalle or Bernard de Clairvaux. He was only 25 years old and he had become a monk at Cîteaux in 1112.
Saint Bernard will have been be one of the most important sponsor of the Cistercian reform. Thank to the Cistercians, there was a boom in the foundation of new monasteries: at the beginning of the 13th century, the Order had more than 500 of them.
The monastery was sacked several times during the Hundred Years' war. However, at the beginning of the 16th century it was still a flourishing community with 200 monks.
The decline of Cîteaux started after the Wars of Religion and last for the whole 17th century: in 1698, the number of monks had fallen to 72.
In 1791, after the French revolution, the abbey was confiscated and sold to speculators who sacked it and dismanteled it to sell the building stones! There was no UNESCO at the time!
Cîteaux was turned into a residence, a sugar factory and a penal settlement for kids.
Of the ancient buildings, only the 15th-century library, the 17th-century definitorium and the 18th-century abbey seat by architect Lenoir (which still houses the monks) were inhabitable.
The church that was built for the penal settlement was restored in the 20th century and is the present abbey church.
After this long, but necessary historic insight, it is time to visit the abbey and to get acquaintanced with the Cistercians. Follow me!
- Pros:isolated (thus peaceful and far from the frenetic life rhythm of the city)
- Cons:isolated (thus a bit difficult to reach for tourists)
- In a nutshell:An oasis of peace 20 kms far from Dijon
Some more pictures of trees and flowers to end your visit to Cîteaux in peace with Nature... more travel advice
These photos show some of the Cistercian monks who marked the history of this Order. In the first pic, you see Bernard... more travel advice
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