Skip to content
Little girl looking Hi readers, it seems you use Catholic Online a lot; that's great! It's a little awkward to ask, but we need your help. If you have already donated, we sincerely thank you. We're not salespeople, but we depend on donations averaging $14.76 and fewer than 1% of readers give. If you donate just $5.00, the price of your coffee, Catholic Online School could keep thriving. Thank you. Help Now >


Free World Class Education
FREE Catholic Classes


Religious of the Order of Cîteaux, a Benedictine reform, established at Cîteaux in 1098 by St. Robert, Abbot of Molesme in the Diocese of Langres, for the purpose of restoring as far as possible the literal observance of the Rule of St. Benedict. The history of this order may be divided into four periods:

I. The Formation (1098-1134);
II. The Golden Age (1134-1342);
III. The Decline (1342-1790);
IV. The Restoration (after 1790).

I. THE FORMATION (1098-1134)

St. Robert, son of the noble Thierry and Ermengarde of Champagne, was Abbot of Molesme, a monastery dependent on Cluny. Appalled by the laxity into which the Order of Cluny had fallen, he endeavoured to effect reforms in the monasteries of Saint-Pierre-de-la-Celle, Saint-Michel of Tonnerre, and finally in that of Molesme. His attempts at reform in these monasteries meeting with very little success, he, with six of his religious, among whom were Alberic and Stephen, had recourse to Hugh, Legate of the Holy See, and Archbishop of Lyons. Authorized by Archbishop Hugh to institute a reform, Robert and his companions returned to Molesme and there chose from among the religious those whom they considered most fitted to participate in their undertaking. To the number of twenty-one the company retired to the solitude of Cîteaux (in the Diocese of Châlons ), which Raynald, Viscount of Beaune, had ceded to them. (See Cîteaux, Abbey of.) On the feast of St. Benedict (21 March), 1098, which fell that year on Palm Sunday, they commenced to build the "New Monastery", as it is called in the "Exordium sacri Ordinis Cisterciensis". This, therefore, was the birthday of the Order of Cîteaux. By order of the Apostolic legate, Robert received the pastoral staff from the bishop of the diocese, Gauthier, and was charged with the government of his brethren, who immediately made their vow of stability. Thus was the "New Monastery" canonically erected into an abbey.

At this news, the monks who had remained at Molesme sent a deputation to Pope Urban II, asking that Robert might be sent back to his first monastery. The pope yielded to their petition, and Robert returned to Molesme, after having governed Cîteaux for one year. There the prior, Alberic, was elected to replace him, and, in his turn, sent the two monks, John and Ilbode, as delegates to Pascal II (who had just succeeded Urban II ) to beg him to take the church of Cîteaux under the protection of the Apostolic See. By Apostolic Letters, dated at Troja in Campania, 18 April, 1100, Pascal II declared that he took under his immediate protection the abbey and the religious, of Cîteaux, saving their allegiance to the Church of Châlons. Dating from this day, Alberic and his religious established at Cîteaux the exact observance of the Rule of St. Benedict, substituted the white habit for the black which the Benedictines wore, and, the better to observe the rule in regard to the Divine Office day and night, associated with themselves lay brothers, to be chiefly occupied with the manual labours and material affairs of the order. These lay brothers, or conversi, though they were not monks, were to be treated during life and after death just like the monks themselves. St. Alberic died in 1109.

His successor was Stephen Harding, an Englishman by birth, well versed in sacred and profane science, who had been one of the first promoters of the project to leave Molesme. St. Robert, his two immediate successors, and their companions had but one object in view: a reaction against the laxity of Cluny and of other monasteries -- to resume manual labour, to adopt a more severe regimen, and to restore in monastic churches and church ceremonies the gravity and simplicity proper to the monastic profession. They never thought of founding a new order, and yet from Cîteaux were to go forth, in course of time, colonies of monks who should found other monasteries destined to become other Cîteaux, and thus create an order distinct from that of Cluny.

St. Bernard's entrance into the Order of Cîteaux (1112) was the signal of this extraordinary development. Thirty young noblemen of Burgundy followed him, among them four of his brothers. Others came after them, and in such numbers that in the following year (1113) Cîteaux was able to send forth its first colony and found its first filiation, La Ferté, in the Diocese of Châlons. In 1114 another colony was established at Pontigny, in the Diocese of Auxerre. In 1115 the young Bernard founded Clairvaux in the Diocese of Langres. In the same year Morimond was founded in the same Diocese of Langres. These were the first four offshoots of Cîteaux ; but of these monasteries Clairvaux attained the highest development, becoming mother of sixty-eight monasteries even in the lifetime of St. Bernard. (See Clairvaux ).

After this St. Stephen Harding was to complete the legislation for the new institute. Cluny had introduced into the monastic order the confederation of the members among themselves. St. Stephen added thereto the institution of general chapters and regular visits. Thus mutual supervision, rendering account of the administration, rigid examination of discipline, immediate correction of abuses, were so many sure means of maintaining the observance in all its purity. The collection of statutes which St. Stephen drafted, and in which are contained wise provisions for the government of the order, was called the Charter of Charity ( La Charte de Charité ). It and the "US", the book of usages and customs, together with some of the definitions of the first general chapters, received the approbation of Pope Callistus II. At the death of St. Stephen (1134), the order, after thirty-six years of existence, counted 70 monasteries, of which 55 were in France.

II. THE GOLDEN AGE (1134-1342)

The diffusion of the new order was chiefly effected by means of foundations. Nevertheless several congregations and monasteries, which had existed before the Order of Cîteaux, became affiliated to it, among them the Congregations of Savigny and Obazine, which were incorporated in the order in 1147. St. Bernard and other Cistercians took a very active part, too, in the establishment of the great military orders, and supplied them with their constitutions and their laws. Among these various orders of chivalry may be mentioned the Templars, the Knights of Calatrava, of St. Lazarus, of Alcantara, of Avis, of St. Maurice, of the Wing of St. Michael, of Montessa, etc. In 1152 the Order of Cîteaux already counted 350 abbeys, not including the granges and priories dependent upon the principal abbeys. Among the causes which contributed to this prosperity of the new order, the influence of St. Bernard evidently holds the first place; in the next place comes the perfect unity which existed between the monasteries and the members of every house, a unity wonderfully maintained by the punctual assembling of general chapters , and the faithful performance of the regular visits. The general chapter was an assembly of all the abbots of the order, even those who resided farthest from Cîteaux. This assembly, during the Golden Age, took place annually, according to the prescriptions of the Charter of Charity. "This Cistercian Areopagus", says the author of the "Origines Cistercienses", "with equal severity and justice kept watch over the observance of the Rule of St. Benedict, the Charter of Charity and definitions of the preceding Chapters." The collection of statutes published by Dom Martene informs us that there was no distinction of persons made. After a fault became known, the same justice was meted out to lay brothers, monks, and abbots, and the first fathers of the order. Thus, as all were firmly persuaded that their rights would be protected with equal justice, the collection of statutes passed by the general chapter were consulted and respected in all the monasteries without exception. All the affairs of the order, such as differences between abbots, purchase and sale of property, incorporation of abbeys, questions relating to the laws rites, feasts, tributes, erection of colleges, etc. were submitted to the general chapter in which resided the supreme authority of the order. Other orders took these general chapters as models of their own, either spontaneously, like the Premonstratensians, or by decree of the Fourth Lateran Council, that the religious orders should adopt the practice of holding general chapters and follow the form used by the Order of Cîteaux.

The general chapters were held every year up to 1411, when they became intermittent. Their decisions were codified. The first codification was that of 1133, under the title "Instituta Capituli Generalis". The second, which bears the title "Institutiones Capituli Generalis", was commenced in the year 1203 by the Abbot Arnoud I, and was promulgated in 1240. The third, "Libelli Antiquarum Definitionum Capituli Generalis Ordinis Cisterciencis", was issued in 1289 and in 1316. Finally, the general chapter of 1350 promulgated the "Novellae Definitiones" in conformity with the Constitution of Benedict XII, "Fulgens ut stella" of 12 July, 1355. The regular visits also contributed much to the maintenance of unity and fervour. Every abbey was visited once a year by the abbot of the house on which it immediately depended. Cîteaux was visited by the four first fathers, that is to say, by the Abbots of La Ferté, of Pontigny, of Clairvaux, and Morimond.

"The Visitor", say the ancient statutes, "will urge the Religious to greater respect for their Abbot, and to remain more and more united among themselves by the bonds of mutual love for Jesus Christ's sake . . . The Visitor ought not to be a man who will easily believe every one indiscriminately, but he should investigate with care those matters of which he has no knowledge, and, having ascertained the truth, he should correct abuses with prudence, uniting his zeal for the Order with his feelings of sincere paternal affection. On the other hand, the Superior visited ought to show himself submissive to, and full of confidence in, the Visitor, and do all in his power to reform his house, since one day he will have to render an account to the Lord. . . [The Abbot ] will avoid both before the Visitor and after his departure everything that will have the appearance of revenge, reproach or indignation against any of them" [sc. his subjects]. If the visitor should act against prescriptions, he was to be corrected and punished according to the gravity of his fault by the abbot who was his superior, or by another abbot, or even by the general chapter. Likewise, the abbot visited should know that he would become grievously culpable before God by neglecting the regular form of visit, and that he would deserve to be called to account by his "Father Immediate" or by the general chapter.

Thus everything was foreseen and provided for the maintenance of good order and charity and for the preservation of the unity of observance and spirit. "No one then ought be astonished", says the author of "Origines Cistercienses", "to find in the Cistercian abbeys, during their Golden Age, so many sanctuaries of the most fervent prayer, of the severest discipline, as well as of untiring and constant labour. This explains also why, not only persons of humble and low extraction, but also eminent men, monks and abbots of other orders, doctors in every science and clerics honoured with the highest dignities, humbly begged the favour of being admitted into the Order of Cîteaux." Thus it was during this period that the order produced the greatest number of saints, blessed, and holy persons. Many abbeys -- such as Clairvaux, Villiers, Himmerod, Heisterbach, etc. -- were so many nurseries of saints. More than forty have been canonized by the Holy See. The Order of Cîteaux constantly enjoyed the favour of the Holy See, which in numerous Bulls bestowed upon the Cistercians the highest praise, and rewarded with great privileges their services to the Church. They enjoyed the favour of sovereigns, who, having entire confidence in them, entrusted to them, like Frederick II , important delegations ; or, like Alphonsus I of Portugal, placed their persons and kingdoms under the care and protection of Our Lady of Clairvaux ; or again, like Frederick II, feeling themselves near the point of death, wished to die clothed in the Cistercian habit.

The Cistercians benefited society by their agricultural labours. According to Dr. Janauscheck, "none but the ignorant or men of bad faith are capable of denying the merited praises which the sons of St. Benedict have received for their agricultural labours throughout Europe, or that this part of the world owes to them a greater debt of gratitude than to any other colony no matter how important it may be." They also conferred great benefits on society by the exercise of Christian charity. By means of their labours, their economy, their privations, and sometimes owing to generous donations which it would be ungrateful to despise, they became more or less rich in the things of this world, and expended their wealth upon the instruction of the ignorant, the promotion of letters and arts, and the relief of their country's necessities. Caesarius of Heisterbach speaks of a monastery in Westphalia where one day all the cattle were killed, the chalices and books pledged as security, in order to relieve the poor. The Cistercian abbeys had a house for the reception of the poor, and an infirmary for the sick, and in them all received a generous hospitality and remedies for the ills of soul and body.

Intellectual labour had also its place in the life of the Cistercians. Charles de Visch, in his "Bibliotheca Scriptorum Sacri Ordinis Cisterciensis", published in 1649, devotes 773 historical and critical notices to authors who belonged to the Cistercian Order. Even in the very first period, St. Stephen Harding left a work on the Bible which is superior to anything of its kind produced by any contemporary monastery, not excepting Cluny. The Library of Dijon preserves the venerable manuscript of St. Stephen, which was to serve as a type for all Cistercian Bibles. The Cistercian libraries were rich in books and manuscripts. Nor did the sons of St. Bernard neglect the fine arts ; they exercised their genius in building, contributed powerfully to the development and propagation of the Romanesque and the Gothic architecture throughout Europe, and cultivated the arts of painting and engraving.

III. THE DECLINE (1342-1790)

The decadence of the order was due to several causes, the first of which was the large number of monasteries, often-times situated in the most widely distant countries, which prevented the "Fathers Immediate" from making the regular visits to all the houses of their filiations, while some of the abbots could not assist every year at the general chapter. Some were also found who, seeing themselves thus sheltered from the remonstrances and the punishments either of the general chapter or of the visitor, permitted abuses to creep into their houses. But the principal cause of the decline of the order (which is based on unity and charity) was the spirit of dissension which animated certain superiors. Some abbots, even not far from Cîteaux, explained in a particular sense, and that adapted to their own point of view, certain points of the Charter of Charity. The solicitude of the Roman pontiffs themselves who tried to reestablish harmony among the superiors, was not always successful.

And yet at that time there were found some courageous and determined monks who became reformers, and even founded new congregations which were detached from the old trunk of Cîteaux. Those congregations which then severed their union with Cîteaux, but which no longer exist at the present time, are:

  • The Congregation of the Observance of St. Bernard of Spain, founded by Dom Martin de Vargas, in 1425, at Monte Sion near Toledo;
  • The Congregation of St. Bernard of Tuscany and of Lombardy, approved by Alexander VI (1497);
  • the Congregation of Portugal, or of Alcobaca, founded in 1507;
  • the Congregation of the Feuillants, founded by John de la Barriere in 1563, which spread into France and Italy, the monasteries of Italy, however, eventually detaching themselves from those of France to form the Congregation of the Riformati di San Bernardo;
  • the Congregation of Aragon, approved by a Bull of Paul V (1616);
  • the Congregation of Rome, or of Central Italy, created by a Decree of Gregory XV in 1623;
  • the Congregation of Calabria and Lucania, established by Urban VIII in 1633, and to which was united the old Congregation of Flore, which had for its founder Blessed Joachim surnamed "the Prophet ".

Together with the congregations which separated from Cîteaux there were five or six others which, while remaining subject to the jurisdiction of the parent house, were legislated for by provincial or national chapters. Chief among these congregations were those of Northern Germany, the Strict Observance, and La Trappe . The Congregation of Northern Germany was erected in 1595 by Nicholas II (Boucherat), Abbot of Cîteaux, at the desire of Pope Clement VIII, in the monastery of Furstenfeld. It comprised four provinces ruled by the abbots, vicars of the general. It counted twenty-two abbeys, only three of which survived the revolutionary tempest, and now form part of the Common Observance of Cîteaux, as the Cistercian province of Austria-Hungary. The Congregation of Strict Observance, resulting from the efforts for reform of the Abbots of Charmoye and Châtillon, was established at Clairvaux by Denis Largentier, abbot of this monastery (1615). The Abbot of Cîteaux, Nicholas Boucherat, approved the reform and permitted it to hold special assemblies and to choose a vicar-general with four assistant generals. The general chapter of Cîteaux in 1623 praised it highly, Cardinal Richelieu became its protector, and the popes gave it encouragement. In 1663 it received an important member in the person of Abbot de Rancé, who introduced the Strict Observance into the Abbey of La Trappe in the Diocese of Séez, adding to it other very severe practices.

The abbeys which did not respond to the appeal of Martin de Vargas, of Denis Largentier, or of Abbot de Rancé, formed an observance which Pope Alexander VII , in his Bull of 19 April, 1666, named Common , to distinguish it from the Strict Observance, from which in reality it differed only in the use of meat and similar articles of food three times a week, a use certainly contrary to the rule of perpetual abstinence which obtained in the early days, but which the religious wars and other evils of the times in a measure rendered necessary. Mention should be made of two other reforms: that of Orval in Luxemburg, by Bernard de Montgaillard (1605), and that of Septfons, in the Diocese of Moulins, by Eustache de Beaufort, in 1663. The former numbered six monasteries, the latter did not extend beyond Septfons.

The Strict Observance developed rapidly. In a very short time it counted fifty-eight monasteries. At the death of Denis Largentier (1626), Etienne Maugier, who succeeded him, inspired it afresh. From that time it aimed at a certain superiority to which it believed it had some claims, and was resolved, in case of meeting with any opposition, to withdraw from the jurisdiction of the General of Cîteaux. Hence arose quarrels and litigations which lasted forty years or more. In 1632, at the request of the king (Louis XIII), Urban VIII continued the powers which Gregory XV had given ten years before to Cardinal De La Rochefoucauld for the reform of the monasteries of the kingdom. The cardinal heard only the Fathers of the Strict Observance, who persuaded him that no reform was possible without a return to the abstinence from meat. He therefore passed a sentence in 1634 which derogated in many points from the ancient constitutions and the Charter of Charity, particularly in what concerned the jurisdiction of the Abbot of Cîteaux and of the four first fathers. The College of St. Bernard at Paris passed into the hands of the Strict Observance. The Abbot of Cîteaux, Peter de Nivelle, appealed to the sovereign pontiff. The latter annulled the sentence of the cardinal in every point in which it was contrary to legitimate authority. In the meanwhile Peter de Nivelle having resigned, the non-reformed, in the hope of escaping from the authority of Cardinal de la Rochefoucauld, elected Cardinal de Richelieu Abbot of Cîteaux. The cardinal applied the reform in his monastery. Sustained by him, the reformed took possession of Cîteaux after having dispersed into other monasteries the professed religious of this monastery. At the death of Richelieu the expelled monks assembled at Dijon, 2 January, 1643, and elected to his place Dom Claude Vaussin, but the king vetoed the election; they voted again, 10 May, 1645, and gave all their voted to Claude Vaussin, while the reformed, to the number of only fifteen, voted for Dom Jean Jouaud, Abbot of Prieres in Britanny. On the 27th of November following, Innocent X sent his Bulls to Dom Claude Vaussin, and imposed silence on the reformed. February 1st, 1647, a Brief of the same pope re-established all matters in the condition in which they had been before the sentence of Cardinal de la Rochefoucauld.

The Strict Observance then tried to form an independent order under the authority of the Abbot of Prieres, and with this object in view raised new difficulties in relation to the question of abstinence. A Brief of Alexander VII, dated November, 1657, confirming the decision of Sixtus IV, in 1475, that abstinence from flesh meat was not essential to the rule, did not quiet their scruples. Finally, 26 January, 1662, the same pope interfered in a decisive manner by inviting the two parties to appear at the Court of Rome. The Common Observance sent Claude Vaussin; the Strict Observance, Dom George, Abbot of Val-Richer; La Trappe, Abbot de Rancé. On the 19th of April, 1666, appeared the Bull "In Suprema", which put an end to the divisions. It recommended that the visits be regularly and strictly made, that monks should live in the monasteries, and that the general chapters should be held every three years. It restored the night silence, poverty in apparel, and monastic tonsure. It maintained the use of meat where that already obtained, and recommended the religious who had made the vow of abstinence to be faithful to it. The Strict Observance remained under the jurisdiction of the Abbot of Cîteaux. This constitution was accepted by the general chapter of 1667, which was held at Cîteaux, in spite of protests from the opponents, and in particular of Abbot de Rance, and the new reform was put into force in all the monasteries of France, where the number of monks was sufficient.

During the eighteenth century, however, there was introduced into the Order of Cîteaux, as into almost all the great religious families, a pernicious licence of thought and morality. New conflicts between the Abbot of Cîteaux and the abbots of the four first houses of filiation arose concerning the government of the order and their own jurisdiction. In virtue of the liberties of the Gallican Church, the king and his council appointed a commission to restore order. A new collection of statutes was drawn up, but these were not definitively adopted until 1786. The general chapter of that year finally agreed among themselves and adopted the new statutes on the eve of the French Revolution. The political and religious disturbances which then and at the commencement of the nineteenth century troubled France and Europe almost ruined this venerable order. When the National Convention, by the decree of 13 February, 1790, secularized all the religious houses of France, the Order of Cîteaux had in France 228 monasteries, with 1875 religious; 61 of these houses, with 532 religious, were in the filiation of Cîteaux ; 3, with 33 religious, in that of La Ferté; 33, with 171 religious, in that of Pontigny ; 92, with 864 religious, in that of Clairvaux ; and 37, with 251 religious, in that of Morimond. The sixty-second and last Abbot of Cîteaux, Dom François Trouvé, having lost all hope of saving his monastery, begged Pius VI to transfer all his powers to Robert Schlecht, Abbot of Salsmansweiler, of the Congregation of Northern Germany, so that the remnants of the ancient corporation of Cîteaux might still have a ruler.

From France the hatred of religion passed with the arms of the usurpers into Belgium, Switzerland, Italy, and other countries, and there continued the work of destruction. By an imperial veto of the 25th of February, 1803, and a decree of the Prussian Government of the 28th of April, 1810, all the monasteries of Germany were ruined. The abbeys of Portugal were abolished by a law of the 26th of May, 1834, those of Spain by the laws of the 25th of July and 11th of October, 1835, those of Poland disappeared before the decrees of the Russian and Prussian rulers.


The reform inaugurated at La Trappe by Abbot de Rance, reviving the austerity and fervour of primitive Cîteaux, was maintained, almost intact, against difficulties of every kind, until the French Revolution. There were then at La Trappe seventy religious and a numerous and fervent novitiate. When, on the 4th of December, a decree of the National Assembly suppressed the Trappists in France, Dom Augustin de Lestrange, then master of novices at La Trappe, authorized by his local superior and the Abbot of Clairvaux, set out with twenty-four of his brethren for Switzerland. The Senate of Fribourg permitted them to settle in Val-Sainte, 1 June, 1791. Pope Pius VI, by a Brief of 31 July, 1794, authorized the erection of Val-Sainte into an abbey. Dom Augustin was elected abbot on the 27th of the following November, and on the 8th of December of the same year, a solemn decree of the nuncio of the Holy See at Lucerne, executing the Brief of Pius VI , constituted Val-Sainte an abbey and the mother-house of the whole Congregation of Trappists. There the Rule of St. Benedict was observed in all its rigour, and at times its severity was even surpassed. Novices flocked thither. From Val-Sainte Dom Augustin sent colonies into Spain, Belgium, and Piedmont.

But the French troops invaded Switzerland in 1796. Obliged to leave Val-Sainte, Dom Augustin, with his religious of both sexes, commenced two years of wanderings through Europe, during which period they gave to the world the spectacle of the most heroic virtues. In 1800 Dom Augustin returned to France, and two years later resumed possession of Val-Sainte. In 1803 he sent a colony of his religious to America under the direction of Dom Urbain Guillet. In 1811, fleeing from the anger of Napoleon, who first favoured the Trappists and then suppressed all their monasteries in France and the whole empire, Dom Augustin himself left for America. In 1815, on the downfall of Napoleon, he returned immediately to La Trappe, while Dom Urbain Guillet established himself at Bellefontaine in the Diocese of Angers.

During this imperial persecution, a schism took place in the Congregation of La Trappe. The colony which Dom Augustin had sent from Val-Sainte into Belgium under the direction of Dom Eugene de Laprade, and which had settled first at Westmalle, and then at Darpheld in Westphalia, had abandoned the Rules of Val-Sainte to embrace those of de Rance. It returned to France and occupied Port-du-Salut in the Diocese of Laval; Westmalle, restored in 1821, withdrew from the jurisdiction of Dom Augustin to form, five years later, the Congregation of Belgium.

Dom Augustin died 16 July, 1827, at Lyons. A Decree dated 1 October, 1834, confirmed two days later by Gregory XVI, united the different houses of Trappists in France in one congregation known as the Congregation of Cistercian Monks of Our Lady of La Trappe. The General President of the Order of Cîteaux is its head and confirms its abbots. The four first fathers are the Abbots of Melleray, Port-du-Salut, Bellefontaine, and Gard. The Rule of St. Benedict and the Constitutions of Cîteaux or those of de Rancé, according to the custom of each monastery, are observed. But with this diversity of observance, the union did not last long. A pontifical Decree dated the 25 February, 1847, and granted at the request of the religious of each observance, divides the Trappist monasteries of France into two congregations: the Ancient Reform of Our Lady of La Trappe , which follows the Rules of de Rance, and the New Reform, which follows the Primitive Observance and is governed by the Charter of Charity. Already Westmalle in 1836 formed a distinct congregation known as the Congregation of Belgium. There were then three distinct congregations of the Trappists.

It was reserved for a later generation to see the most complete reform effected by the fusion of all the congregations into one order in unity of government and observance. On the first of October, 1892, at the desire of Leo XIII , a plenary general chapter was held in Rome, under the presidency of Cardinal Mazzella , delegated by the Cardinal ProtectorMonaco della Valetta. The assembly lasted twelve days; the fusion was adopted; Dom Sebastian Wyart, Abbot of Septfons, who had taken the most active part in all the negotiations to effect this union, was chosen "General of the Order of the Reformed Cistercians of Our Lady of La Trappe". Such was the name given to the order. A decree of the Sacred Congregation of Bishops and Regulars of 8 December, 1892, then a pontifical Brief of 23 March, 1893, confirmed and ratified the Acts of the chapter. On the 13th of August, 1894, the sovereign pontiff approved the new constitutions and the Congregation of Bishops and Regulars promulgated them on the 25th of the same month. In 1898, the 800th anniversary of the foundation of the order, the sons of St. Bernard again took possession of the ancient Abbey of Cîteaux. Dom Sebastian Wyart was elected abbot, and thus was restored the chain of abbots of Cîteaux which had been broken for 107 years. It was then decided to suppress in the title of the order the words "Our Lady of La Trappe ", the Abbey of La Trappe yielding the first rank to Cîteaux. Finally, on the 30th of July, 1902, an Apostolic Constitution of Leo XIII solemnly confirmed the restoration of the order and gave to it the definite name of "Order of Reformed Cistercians, or the Strict Observance". Dom Sebastian Wyart died 18 August, 1904. The general chapter, postponed that year until October, chose for his successor the Most Rev. Dom Augustin Marre, Abbot of Igny, and titular Bishop of Constance.


Several modern congregations must be mentioned which have been grafted on the old trunk of Cîteaux, and which, with some ancient monasteries that escaped the persecution of the close of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth, form the Common Observance. Their mode of life corresponds to that of the Cistercians of the seventeenth century, whose mitigation was approved by Alexander VII in 1666. They are the Congregations of Italy, Belgium, Austria, and Switzerland, and the Congregation of Sénanque.

1. The Congregation of St. Bernard of Italy was formed in 1820 with the monasteries which remained of the Congregations of the Roman Province and of Lombardy, after Pius VII had been deprived of his States. The congregation adopted the constitutions of the ancient Congregation of Tuscany and Lombardy.

2. The Congregation of Belgium, formed in 1836, at Bornheim in the Diocese of Mechlin, by the religious who were expelled in 1797 from Lieu-Saint-Bernard-sur-l'Escaut, observe constitutions based upon the Brief of Alexander VII and the Cistercian Ritual. They were approved by the Holy See in 1846

3. The Cistercian Congregation of Austria and Hungary was formed in 1859 by the monasteries of Austria which had escaped from the Revolution and submitted to the President General of the Order of Cîteaux.

4. The Congregation of Switzerland was formed in 1806 by the three monasteries of Hauterive, Saint-Urbain, and Wettingen, remnants of the Congregation of North Germany. These monasteries having succumbed in 1841 and 1846, the Abbot of Wettingen, an exile in Switzerland, purchased, in 1854, the Benedictine monastery of Mehrerau on the Lake of Bregenz, to which the Holy See transferred all the privileges of Wettingen. To this monastery was joined that of Marienstatt in the Diocese of Cologne in Nassau.

5. The Congregation of Sénanque, or the Mean Observance, owes its origin to the parish priest, Luke Barnouin, who, with some associates, in 1849, attempted the religious life in the solitude of Our Lady of Calvary in the Diocese of Avignon , leaving that retreat in 1854, to take up his abode in the monastery of Sénanque, which he had purchased. The new congregation, which, without returning to the primitive constitutions, did not adopt all the mitigations of later centuries, received the name of "Congregation of Cistercians of the Immaculate Conception ". It was incorporated in the Order of Cîteaux in 1857, and in 1872 transferred its seat to the ancient monastery of Lérins. The constitutions of this congregation were approved by Leo XIII , 12 March, 1892.

When the pope, in 1892, undertook to unite in one order the three Congregations of La Trappe, His Holiness caused the Congregation of Bishops and Regulars to address a letter to the Cistercians of the Common Observance inviting them to join their brethren of the Reformed Observance of La Trappe. But as the pope left them free, they preferred to retain their respective autonomies. Since that time the Order of Cîteaux is divided into two branches absolutely distinct; the Strict and the Common Observances. To these may be added the small Congregation of Trappists of Casamari in Italy, which has only three monasteries with about 45 members.

The Order of Reformed Cistercians has (1908) 71 monasteries of men with more than 4000 subjects. In this number of houses are included the annexes which were founded in certain places to serve as refuges for the communities which had been expelled from France. These monasteries are distributed as follows: in France, 20; in Belgium, 9; in Italy, 5; in Holland, 5; in Germany, 3; in England, 3; in Ireland, 2; in Asia, 4; in Africa, 2; in America, 10; (4 in United States, 5 in Canada, and 1 in Brazil ). The Reformed Cistercians make profession of the Primitive Observance of Cîteaux, with the exception of a few modifications imposed by the Holy See at the time of the fusion. Their life is strictly cenobitical, that is to say, life in common in its most absolute form. They observe perpetual silence, except in cases of necessity provided for by the rule, or when express permission is granted by the superior. Their day is divided between the Divine Office , agricultural and kindred labours, and free intervals for reading and study. The supreme authority of the order resides in the general chapter, which assembles every year at Cîteaux, from the 12th to the 17th of September, and is presided over by the abbot general. When the general chapter is not in session, current and urgent matters are regulated by the abbot general aided by his "Council of Definitors".

The abbot general, who is by right Abbot Cîteaux, resides in Rome (Via San Giovanni in Laterano, 95), with the procurator general and the five definitors of the order, of whom there are two for French-speaking countries, one for English-speaking, one for German, and one for Flemish. At the house of the abbot general are also the students whom the different houses of the order send to Rome to follow the course of studies at the Gregorian University. The Order of Reformed Cistercians has for its protector at Rome Cardinal Rampolla Del Tindaro.

The four first houses, which replace the ancient Abbeys of La Ferté, Pontigny, Clairvaux, and Morimond, are La Grande Trappe in the Diocese of Séez , Melleray in the Diocese of Nantes, Westmalle in the Diocese of Mechlin, and Port-du-Salut in the Diocese of Laval. The abbots of these four houses every year visit the mother-house at Cîteaux. The other houses are visited regularly every year by the abbots of the houses on which they immediatel

Join the Movement
When you sign up below, you don't just join an email list - you're joining an entire movement for Free world class Catholic education.

Saint of the Day logo
Prayer of the Day logo

Catholic Online Logo

Copyright 2024 Catholic Online. All materials contained on this site, whether written, audible or visual are the exclusive property of Catholic Online and are protected under U.S. and International copyright laws, © Copyright 2024 Catholic Online. Any unauthorized use, without prior written consent of Catholic Online is strictly forbidden and prohibited.

Catholic Online is a Project of Your Catholic Voice Foundation, a Not-for-Profit Corporation. Your Catholic Voice Foundation has been granted a recognition of tax exemption under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Federal Tax Identification Number: 81-0596847. Your gift is tax-deductible as allowed by law.