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Founded in 1098 by St. Robert, Abbot of Molesme, in a deserted and uninhabited part of the Diocese of Châlons-sur Saône, today the Diocese of Dijon (Côte-d'Or, France ), from which city it is four leagues distant. A small stream of water which overflowed its banks formed there a marsh covered with rushes and coarse grass called in the language of the country cistels , whence the name Cistell or Cîteaux ( Latin Cistercium ). Here, in a place unknown to men and hitherto inhabited only by wild beasts, St. Robert and his companions, to the number of twenty-one, placed the foundations of the Order of Cîteaux, and commenced the literal observance of the Rule of St. Benedict. St. Robert built the first monastery of the Cistercian Order, which he named Novum Monasterium (new monastery ), to distinguish it from the monastery of Molesme from which he and his brethren had come. The domain in which Cîteaux was situated belonged to Raynald, Viscount of Beaune, who, with his wife Hodierna, gave it voluntarily to God and the Virgin Mary. The name of Cîteaux, which this place formerly bore, soon supplanted that of Novum Monasterium , by which it is called in the "Exordium Cisterciensis Ordinis". The Duke of Burgundy, Eudes I, touched by the holy life of the monks of Cîteaux, encouraged the work and took upon himself the obligation of defraying all the expenses. The new monastery was inaugurated on the feast of St. Benedict, 21 March, 1098. St Robert was elected Abbot of Cîteaux, but, recalled to Molesme a year afterwards, he was succeeded by St. Alberic, who gave the monks the white habit and placed the monastery immediately under the protection of the Holy See . Under St. Alberic's successor, St. Stephen Harding, the number of subjects was increased by the arrival of St. Bernard and his thirty companions, all young noblemen of Burgundy, and the order commenced to send out colonies. La Ferté ( Fermitas ), in the Diocese of Châlons (today of Autun ), Pontigny ( Pontiniacum ) in the Diocese of Auxere, Clairvaux ( Claravallis ), in the Diocese of Langres (today of Troyes ), and Morimond ( Morimundus ), in the same Diocese of Langres, were the first four daughters of Cîteaux, which, in their turn, gave birth to many monasteries. The abbots of these houses were called the first four Fathers of the order, and the "Charter of Charity", work of St. Stephen, conferred upon them the right of visiting the Abbey of Cîteaux.

Popes and kings bestowed many honours and privileges upon Cîteaux. This being the mother-abbey of the Cistercian Order , the abbot was recognized as head and superior general of the whole order. The office was elective, the incumbent to be chosen only from among the religious of the order, and only by the religious of the house of Cîteaux. Today the abbot is elected by the general chapter , the religious of Cîteaux not participating. The election was formerly cumulative, that is, to the abbot general belonged, de jure , full administration in spiritual and temporal matters, without waiting for the confirmation of the Holy See. Today this confirmation is required before the abbot general can exercise his powers. The abbot of Cîteaux was also ipso facto prime counsellor ( primus consiliarius natus ) in the Parliament of Burgundy. He had the right to be called to the assembly of States General of the kingdom and to that of the states of the Province of Burgundy. In the councils he sat immediately after the bishops and had the same honours and prerogatives. He was regarded as the first of the abbots, "the abbot of the abbots ". As head and superior general, he had the right, as he has today, to visit, either in person or by his delegate, all the monasteries of the order, and during the visit to exercise all jurisdictional powers.

Cîteaux has been a nursery of saints and illustrious personages. From St. Robert to Blessed Guy III, twenty-three abbots are venerated in the order as saints and blessed. Lambert (1155-61), Gilbert (1163-67), Alexander (1168-75), and Arnaud I (1201-12) are recognized for the eminent services rendered to the popes and to the kings. Six abbots of Cîteaux were honoured with the Roman purple. Henri (1304-16) and Jean IV de Martigny (1405-28) were illustrious for their knowledge in the ecumenical councils. Guy d'Autun (1460-62), Hymbert Martin de Losne (1462-76), Jean IV de Cirey (1476-1501) were the courageous defenders of the order against the practice of Commendam . Others signalized themselves by their zeal for the restoration of discipline and by their reformatory tendencies: Edme I de la Croix (1585-1604), Nicholas II Boucherat (1604-25), Claude Vaussin (1643-70), John XII Petit (1670-92), Nicholas Larcher (1692-1712). But its past glory and the regularity which still existed at the end of the eighteenth century could not save Cîteaux. It is remarkable, however, that with the exception of one lay brother, none of the religious of Cîteaux accepted the pension of the State. On 4 May, 1791, the abbey was sold for the first time as national property. The sixty-second and last abbot was Dom Francis Trouve (1748-90). Having lost all hope of saving his monastery, he begged Pius VI, 25 July, 1790, to transfer his powers to Dom Robert Schlecht, Abbot of Salmansweiler, a precaution which left life and hope to the other provinces. Dom Trouvé died 27 April, 1797.

The monks of Cîteaux created the vineyards of Clos-Vougeot and Romanée, the most celebrated of Burgundy. In 1791, the abbey, which possessed 9800 acres of land, was sold for 862,000 pounds, and this money was used in turn for various purposes. In December, 1841, it was sold to an Englishman, Arthur Young, a disciple of Fourier, for the purpose of establishing there a phalanstery, which, however, failed completely in 1846. The Abbé Joseph Rey, founder of the Brothers of St. Joseph, purchased it in 1846, established a colony for agricultural purposes there, and opened a school for the reception and education of young delinquents and abandoned children. The colony was suppressed in 1889, and on 2 October, 1898, the Order of Reformed Cistercians took possession again of Cîteaux, and Dom Sebastien Wyart became the sixty-third abbot, after an interruption of 107 years. He was succeeded (Oct., 1904) by Dom Augustin Marre, Abbot Igny, titular Bishop of Constance, and General of the Order of Reformed Cistercians, who, having his residence at Rome, appointed for the government of Cîteaux an auxiliary, Dom Robert Lescand, titular Abbot of Saint-Aubin and Prior of the house of Cîteaux.

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