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Coat of arms of the Cistercian order with the writing Cistercium mater nostra ("Citeaux / Zisterz, our mother")

Cistercians and Cistercian who call themselves monks and nuns that of the tradition of the founder monastery Cîteaux to lead a life of prayer, reading and work. The Cistercian order emerged through reforms from the tradition of the Benedictine order . The various branches of the Cistercians, who are committed to the spiritual heritage of the mother monastery of Cîteaux, make up the Familia Cisterciensis . In addition to the Cistercian Order (Latin Ordo Cisterciensis , order abbreviation : OCist , formerly SOCist ), a monastic order Orders in the Roman Catholic Church , also the Cistercian Order of Stricter Observance ( Trappist , order abbreviation OCSO) and the male and female communities of the Cistercian wafer , which are subordinate to one of the mentioned orders.


The mother monastery and namesake of the Cistercians is the Cîteaux monastery (Latin Cistercium , German Cisterze) founded in 1098 by the Benedictine Robert von Molesme († 1111) and twenty other monks of the Molesme Abbey . Notwithstanding, however, Cistercians are also named after St. Bernard of Clairvaux Bernard and Bernardine called.

Establishment of the order

St. Bernard of Clairvaux in the antiphonary of the Abbess of Sainte Marie de Beaupré , 1290

A major reason for founding the order was to be found in the Cluny Abbey, about 100 kilometers away . This large and respected Benedictine abbey in Burgundy had acquired a large fortune and large estates in the 11th century through donations, foundations and inheritances. A particularly clear sign of prosperity was the construction of what was then the largest church in Christendom, which began in 1088, and which even exceeded the size of the Basilica of Old Saint Peter in Rome . The interior with frescoes was lavish. In this influential abbey (several popes emerged from the ranks of its monks) the liturgy played a prominent role. The original simplicity of the monastic way of life and the ideal of living off the work of one's own hands had been lost through display of splendor and wealth .

Against this background, efforts were made in various places in the 11th century to reassert the original ideals of the Rule of Benedict . The foundation of the abbey in Molesme in 1075 by Robert von Molesme stands in this context. However, after a short time the life of his monastery community was not strict enough for him, so that in 1098 he moved out of Molesme with other reform-minded monks and founded a new monastery in a remote area in Cîteaux. The goal of the new community was to live entirely according to the rule of the order of Benedict of Nursia ( Regula Benedicti ). On this basis, she wanted to live exclusively from the work of her own hands. She refused income from lease and interest, as well as the collection of tithes . Isolation from the world and simplicity of the way of life were the basic ideals of the reform group.

In terms of their basic intention, Robert and his monks wanted to be nothing more than Benedictines and live faithfully according to Benedict's Rule. However, the way of life of the monks of Cîteaux differed significantly from that of other Benedictine monasteries, especially that of Cluny. So a new order with its own liturgy , the Cistercian rite , emerged from the re-establishment , which was intended as a reform within Benedictineism . The Cistercians were also the first centrally organized monastic order.

Robert von Molesme was called back to Molesme by Pope Urban II as early as 1099 at the instigation of his former confreres . In his place as Abbot of Cîteaux came Alberich von Cîteaux , who led the monastery for ten years. In 1109 Stephan Harding replaced him , who gave the new community a constitution with his Carta Caritatis ; on December 23, 1119 this was confirmed by Pope Calixt II in the bull Ad hoc in apostolicae sedis . Stephan Harding is the actual founder of the Cistercian order.

At that time the community was numerically insignificant. Cîteaux's real heyday only began with the entry of Bernhard, son of the knight Tescelin le Roux from Fontaine-lès-Dijon. Bernhard, later known as Bernhard von Clairvaux, joined the convent in 1112 with 30 companions . From this point on the community grew rapidly, so that four daughter monasteries, the so-called primary abbeys , could soon be founded: 1113 La Ferté , 1114 Pontigny and 1115 Clairvaux , of which Bernhard became abbot, and finally Morimond in the same year . The first Cistercian monastery was founded in 1120 with the Tart Abbey .


Fundamental questions about the organization of the monasteries and the order as a whole were settled in the Nomasticon Cisterciense between the 12th and 15th centuries .

Organization of the general order

Each abbey of the Cistercian order is basically independent, but obliged to the uniform statutes of the order and responsible to its mother monastery. From the very beginning, the Cistercians attached importance to uniform buildings, customs and daily routines in all monasteries of the order. The sentence quoted from the Carta Caritatis became the motto of the monks: Una caritate, una regula similibusque vivamus moribus (“We want to live in one love, under one rule and according to uniform customs”). The abbot of the mother monastery visits the subsidiary foundations as Father Immediat (direct church superior) ( filiation principle ). Until it was abolished in the course of the French Revolution , the abbey of Cîteaux was the first abbey and therefore mother monastery of the order to be visited by the abbots of the first four daughter foundations (the primary abbeys). The General Chapter met in Cîteaux, chaired by the Abbot of Cîteaux. Since the reorganization of the order after the French Revolution, an elected Abbot General residing in Rome has been at the head of the order. The affairs of the order are settled at the general chapter, in which all abbots and abbesses of the order take part. The principle of filiation was replaced by regionally determined congregations no later than the 16th century.

Internal organization of the individual convents

The Cistercian ideal of wanting to live not from the taxes of dependent peasants but only from one's own work led to a specific internal organization of the individual convents: the institution of conversers or lay brothers arose; a Cistercian monastery housed two different, organizationally clearly separated fraternities: the group of choir monks, which also included priests , and the group of lay brothers.

The main task of the choir monks was the service , especially the Liturgy of the Hours . The choir monks, who were ordained priests, also donated the sacraments and sacramentals . The cultural activities of the order go back to the choir monks (e.g. writing activities or copying books). The choir monks mostly came from the nobility. In the early days of the order, great importance was attached to the fact that the choir monks also did manual labor, but since they had only limited time and energy at their disposal due to their actual tasks, this was not sufficient for maintaining the monastery economy.

The lay brothers were therefore responsible for the main part of the manual work, who, in order to make this possible, had significantly reduced prayer obligations. They lived in their own wing of the monastery and had their own seats in the church, apart from the choir monks. They had no influence on the leadership of the order; they were only listeners during the deliberations of the monks in the chapter . For the early days of the order there is multiple evidence that aristocratic men, enthusiastic about the ideal of a humble life for God, entered a Cistercian monastery as lay brothers and lived there as farm workers. Even so, most of the lay brothers are believed to have come from lower social classes. Their work was indispensable for the Cistercians: They cultivated the land donated to the order and in the early days often reclaimed large swamp and forest areas. So they worked for the prosperity of the order. The activity of the Konversen made it necessary that they lived partly outside the monastery in often distant farmyards, which are known as grangie . In addition to the conversations, seasonal wage laborers were also employed on the Grangien.

In addition, the monasteries maintained city courtyards , which were used as trading places to exchange surpluses from agricultural and handicraft production for goods that the monasteries could not produce themselves. Often there was a chapel and a so-called hospital at these city courtyards , which served as a hostel for pilgrims passing through.

Spread and flowering period

Due in particular to the work of Abbot Bernhard von Clairvaux, the order began to spread very quickly across Europe. Through a sermon , personal example and theoretical guidelines for building a monastery , he became the actual father of the order, so that the Cistercians are sometimes referred to as St. Bernard dogs. A female branch is called St. Bernard today .

The order expanded in two different ways: on the one hand, new convents were founded in places where there had been no monasteries before; on the other hand, numerous already existing abbeys joined the order. At the end of the dynamic expansion period, around 1300, the order was represented in all important European countries and had a total of 742 branches.

From the 13th century onwards, the Cistercian order also allowed women's convents to join the order, which it had previously resisted. As a result, the number of Cistercian monasteries rose sharply. This was done on the one hand by the establishment of new monasteries, but also numerous existing women's monasteries were reformed according to Cistercian rules and placed under the order. Expansion was viewed with suspicion in the General Chapter. In 1228 it decided not to accept any more convents into the order.

Important monastery centers in the 13th century

Development in France

The geographical center of the order was France, even if the preponderance of French monasteries decreased from around the middle of the 12th century (around 1153, when Bernhard von Clairvaux died, 180 of 350 monasteries were still in France, around 1300 only approx. 240– 250 of 700). The dynamic development in France was made possible, among other things, by the support of the highest ecclesiastical and political circles, which was particularly mediated through the work of Bernhard. The kings of France, the dukes of Burgundy , the counts of Champagne and many other noblemen supported the order and its branches with extensive foundations. In addition to the original monastery and the four primary abbeys and are as important French Cistercians Abbey Fontenay , Trois-Fontaines Abbey , Abbey Longpont , Abbey Ourscamp , Hautecombe to name.

Bernhard von Clairvaux as a teacher in the chapter house , by Jean Fouquet , in the Musée Condé , Chantilly

Development in the Netherlands and Belgium

The order also developed rapidly in the area of ​​what is now the Netherlands and Belgium. In the 1830s, Orval (1132), Vaucelles (1132) and Ter Duinen (1138) were the first three abbeys founded, followed by many more during the 12th and 13th centuries. Numerous women's communities also sought pastoral care from the Cistercians and tried to join the order. From 1182 onwards, with the incorporation of the Herkenrode convent, the monks were ready to take on this task. The Cistercian convents of the Netherlands and Belgium produced numerous intellectually important personalities, for example the mystics Ida von Nivelles , Lutgard von Tongern and Beatrijs von Nazareth . The Cistercians were soon an important factor for the region due to their efficient economy. In some cases, they used their great financial strength to expand the country, for example through larger dike measures. Here is z. One example is the Abbey of Ter Duinen, which not only carried out large-scale reclamation measures, but whose abbots also appeared several times as advisors to the Counts of Flanders. Aduard Monastery northwest of Groningen was once considered the richest, largest and most famous monastery in the northern Netherlands.

Development in Germany

Lehnin Monastery, "royal house", 14th century

A total of 91 male monasteries were established in what would later become Germany. The first German Cistercian monastery was the Kamp monastery founded in 1123 ; Ebrach Monastery followed in 1127 and Walkenried Monastery shortly thereafter . Although the order was only ready to incorporate women's convents into the order from 1190 onwards, a total of 15 convents for women were established in Germany as early as the 12th century. In the 13th century there was even a kind of “foundation boom”: between 1200 and 1250, around 160 Cistercian convents were built in the German-speaking area.

The male Cistercians achieved outstanding importance in the 12th and 13th centuries through their settlements, especially in the area east of the Elbe . These include the Cistercians Sittichenbach , Doberan , Lehnin , Pforta , for Silesia the Leubus Monastery , for Pomerania Kolbatz Monastery , for Pomeranian Pelplin Monastery and for the Bohemian area Waldsassen Monastery . These monasteries were supported by the respective regional noble lords, among other things, with the aim of consolidating and gradually expanding the country through the missionary work of the Slavs living in these areas, some of whom were still pagan, and through the economic power of the monks. The Cistercians created model farms here, promoted fruit and wine growing , horse and fish breeding , mining and the wool trade and also contributed to the spread of high medieval culture. The Gothic architectural style , initially adopted only hesitantly, found its way into Germany not least through this order, for example in the Chorin monastery . Like all monks, they also dedicated themselves to copying liturgical and theological manuscripts. Some monasteries, such as the Himmerod Abbey , had large and valuable libraries towards the end of the Middle Ages.

Three German Cistercian women gained great importance in the mystic movement: Mechthild von Magdeburg , Mechthild von Hackeborn and St. Gertrud von Helfta , who all belonged to the Helfta monastery , which was called “the crown of German women's monasteries”.

Development in Austria

The Rein was in 1129 by Margrave Leopold the Strong founded and monastery Ebrach settled out. It is the world's oldest, still existing Cistercian monastery. The monastery Heiligenkreuz was founded in 1133 by the mother monastery Morimond in Burgundy . Other new foundations included Zwettl Abbey in 1138 , Viktring Abbey in 1142 , Lilienfeld Abbey in 1202 , Goldenkron Abbey in 1263 and Stams Abbey in 1273 .

Development in Switzerland

The pin Olsberg was founded in 1236 and abolished the 1803rd

See also:

Development in Spain and Portugal

The Cistercians developed on the Iberian Peninsula in the context of the Reconquista , i.e. the re-conquest of the areas ruled by the Muslim Moors for centuries. On the one hand, the order contributed to the settlement and economic development of the newly won territories and, on the other hand, inspired the Hispanic knightly orders that were directly involved in the conquest. He was patronized by the royal houses of Castile, Aragon and Portugal. The first Cistercians were founded between 1140 and 1142. By the end of the 12th century there were more than 40 of them. The military order of Calatrava was created with the participation of the Cistercians and was officially attached to them in 1187. The knightly orders of Alcántara and Avis as well as the order of the Knights of Christ also oriented their religious life on them.

Development in Poland

Cistercians in Poland

The Cistercians came to Poland in the middle of the 12th century . The first monasteries arose in Brzeźnica ( 1149 - 1153 , today in the city of Jędrzejów ) and in Łekno near Wągrowiec ( 1143 ). In addition, there were other monasteries in Ląd ( 1153 ), Lubiąż ( 1163 ), Sulejowie ( 1176 ), Wąchock ( 1179 ), Koprzywnica ( 1185 ) and Oliwa ( 1186 ). In the 13th century, monasteries were established in Trzebnica ( 1202 , first Cistercian nunnery in Poland), Mogiła near Kraków ( 1222 ), Kamieniec Ząbkowicki (1222), Henryków ( 1227 ), Szpetal ( 1230 ), Obra ( 1231 ), Bledzew ( 1232 ), Szczyrzyc ( 1234 ), Paradyż ( 1234 ), Koronowo ( 1254 ), Rudy ( 1255 ), Pelplin ( 1276 ), Przemęt ( 1278 ), Bierzwnik ( 1286 ) and Krzeszów ( 1292 ). In the 14th century monasteries were added in Jemielnica and Cieplice Śląskie-Zdrój . For a short time there was also a Cistercian monastery in Bardo . The monasteries in Mogila, Jedrzejów, Szczyrzyc and Wąchock are still active. Cistercians also lead the parishes in Oliwa, Henryków and Sulejów.

Medieval missionary work in Livonia and Prussia

The Cistercian monk Christian of Prussia began to proclaim Christian doctrine among the Pruzzen around 1206 . These hitherto pagan peoples showed themselves to be relatively receptive to Christian's message; In 1215 he was given by Pope Innocent III. consecrated mission bishop for the area. In 1228 he founded the order of the Milites Christi de Prussia - similar to that of Calatrava, a knightly version of the monastic order of Cîteaux - which, however, had little success. From 1233 to 1238 Christian was a prisoner of the Prussians. As early as 1231, the Teutonic Order was the successor to the Cistercians in Prussian territory. When an ecclesiastical order for Prussia was established in 1243, Bishop Christian was not appointed to be responsible; he retired to the Sulejów monastery .

Stagnation, crisis and reform efforts in the late Middle Ages

At the end of the 13th century, the Cistercians began to move away from their founding ideals. The efficient economy had made the individual monasteries rich, at the same time not enough lay brothers (conversationalists) entered the monasteries, partly because young men from non-aristocratic families were more likely to join the newly emerging mendicant orders , especially the Franciscans and Dominicans , connected. Due to this development, the extensive land could no longer be farmed independently. Therefore, the Cistercians began to live on the taxes of dependent tenant farmers, like the Benedictines before. In many cases, the prosperity of the convents led to a weakening of the ascetic lifestyle, and the lifestyle of some communities became lavish.

The spread of the mendicant orders led to a stagnation in the expansion of the Cistercian order. Nevertheless, the number of monasteries remained large. In the middle of the 13th century there were 647 Cistercian monasteries; In 1675 724 monasteries belonged to the order. From 1425, due to the wide geographical spread of the order and the associated difficulty of central management, Cistercian monasteries based on the model of the Benedictines came together to form congregations. Even if the Colligatio Galiaensis did not call itself a congregation, this group of Reformed monasteries, known for their particularly strict adherence to the rules of the order, belonged in this context. These were mainly in the Netherlands, on the Lower Rhine and in Westphalia.

Modern times

Young Cistercians from Vietnam studying in Heiligenkreuz
Cistercian nuns of the Abbey Maria Star Gwiggen in Statio

In Germany, many Cistercian monasteries were closed in the Protestant areas during the Reformation and the churches were converted into parish churches. Nevertheless, some monasteries were received in a new form, for example as a seminary . The Loccum Monastery , which has an abbot and has been praying one of the hours of the Liturgy of the Hours every day since 1600, still exists today . Another example is the Amelungsborn monastery founded in 1135 by Count Siegfried IV von Boyneburg . Amelungsborn was not abolished when the abbot and convent accepted the Augsburg Confession . In 1655 the duke issued a new monastery order and appointed the new superintendent general in Holzminden to be abbot of the monastery. In 1760 the monastery school was moved to Holzminden and merged with the local city school. All corporate cohesion ended around 1810, although the office of abbot continued in the 19th century. When in 1875 the educational duties of the monastery ended due to the nationalization of the school, the abbot's office still existed as an honorary title for the high Brunswick clergy. The Evangelical Cistercian Convents have come together in the "Community of Evangelical Cistercian Heirs".

In the Roman Catholic Church , after the Council of Trent (1545–1563), reform efforts to renew religious life emerged in the Cistercian order. B. in Spain the congregation of the Bernardas Recoletas . In the 17th century, Abbot Armand Jean Le Bouthillier de Rancé led a reform of the La Trappe monastery , from which the Cistercians of Stricter Observance (OCSO) emerged, popularly known as Trappists . In 1892 the Trappists separated from the Cistercians organizationally. Since then, there have been two independent Cistercian orders, each with its own Abbot General and General Chapter. There are also the congregations of the Cistercian Congregation of San Bernardo (CCSB) , the Saint Bernard Sisters of Esquermes and the Congregation of Anagni, which also belong to the Cistercian family . This results in an irritating polysemy of the term Cistercian or Cistercian insofar as it can mean: a) all Cistercians including Trappists and other congregations b) Cistercian OCist and OCSO, but without the other congregations c) Cistercian OCist without Trappists and / or without other congregations d) (regional, e.g. in France) the Trappists, because the existence of the Cistercian OCist is largely unknown.

During the French Revolution, Cîteaux, the mother abbey of the Cistercian order, was abolished and the monks were expelled. As a result, the central leadership of the Order collapsed, since the General Chapter , which had previously met in Cîteaux, could no longer take place there. The last session of the General Chapter before the revolution in 1786 was followed by the next session in Rome in 1869.

In the 20th century, the Cistercian order gained greater importance, especially through school activity. In addition, missionary work , albeit limited, began in South America . In the 20th century, the Trappists were able to establish numerous new foundations in North America , South America, Africa and Australia , some of which have developed into flourishing centers of monastic life.

As of September 1, 2005, the Cistercian Order (excluding Trappists) consists of 1626 monks and 825 nuns.

The way of life of the Cistercian wafer is relatively new . Cistercian wafers are bound by a public promise to a Cistercian monastery and usually live outside the monastery according to the rule of St. Benedict and according to the Cistercian spirit.

Spiritual life

The Cistercians are a contemplative order. They lead an outwardly purposeless life in order to be free for their search for God. Core characteristics of the Cistercian spirituality are a constant life in the cloister and tied to a certain monastery ( Stabilitas loci ) , the connection of secluded life and at the same time community life within the monastery, the maintenance of a simple way of life, appreciation of handicraft and a contemplative way of life with communal choral prayer and contemplating prayer in silence. Adoration of the Virgin Mary has a special place in the Cistercian life .

The habit of the Cistercians includes a white or gray tunic , a scapular with a belt or cingulate, and a white bowl for members with perpetual profession . The Cistercian women wear a veil , which is black for the perpetually professed and white for the novices . In addition, the novices wear a white one instead of the black scapular of the professed.

Admission and training

Novitiate Habit During the novitiate the scapular is white; with the simple profession the monk receives the black scapular.
Two Cistercians in habit

Any adult man or woman can enter a Cistercian monastery, who is mentally and physically suitable and ready to fully engage in a life with God and “to truly seek God”, as Benedict of Nursia demands in his rule . If you want to enter, you first visit the monastery as a guest. After this first phase of getting to know each other, the candidacy follows. This serves to check whether the candidate is suitable for the Cistercian experience. Initially, the candidate spends a few weeks in the cloister of the monastery and thus gets an insight into life in the community. The candidacy can take different lengths of time. After the candidacy, the postulate follows , which usually lasts several months. The postulant takes part in life in the monastery and takes on smaller tasks within the community.

The novitiate follows the postulate and lasts at least one year. The novitiate begins with the clothing . Here the postulant is given the habit in a separate rite and he receives the religious name . With the clothing the novice is firmly integrated into the religious life, he takes on independent tasks. He receives instruction, for example about the spirituality of the order, its organization and history. Postulants and novices are not yet canonically bound to the order and can leave the monastery at any time. After the novitiate, the novice can, after approval by the superior and the convent, make temporary profession and thus initially commit to the order for three years.

The Heiligenkreuz Abbey runs a religious college under papal law

The novice only enters into a permanent bond with the order if he makes solemn profession three (normal case) up to a maximum of nine years after the formal profession. Here he praises “monastic way of life, constancy and obedience ” until the end of his life, as prescribed in the Benedictine Rule . This implies material undemanding and celibate chastity . With the solemn profession, the monk or nun binds himself to a certain monastery (stabilitas loci) .

If desired, a monk can do further training. High school graduates have the opportunity to study theology and prepare for the ordination offices . In German-speaking countries this usually takes place at the religious college in Heiligenkreuz Abbey near Vienna.

Work and activity

The Cistercians also live and work in social and cultural areas. Many monasteries run schools in addition to their own workshops or, as priests, have taken on pastoral care for individual parishes .

daily routine

The daily routine of the monks is characterized by the times of the hour prayer . The Matins is held in the early morning hours, usually 4 to 6 am, the Compline after sunset. The daily convention fair is central .


Since their beginnings, the “white monks” have been said to have a special skill in agriculture, water management and architecture. Their belief in the dignity of physical labor understandably led to success in the areas mentioned. The grangie - a common expression for agricultural storage buildings in the Middle Ages - became a program of success for the Cistercians; Lay brothers (Conversi) and a few choir monks lived on farms, which ideally should not be more than 20 km away from the abbey, but were occasionally further away. If necessary, a priest monk also lived there.

A monastery usually operated more than one grangie; five was not an unusual number. The Ter Duinen Abbey had 25 grangia, which covered a total of 10,000 hectares. On the grangie there was housing for the monks, administrative buildings and a chapel. Grangia could develop into secular settlements; in some cases they became parishes.

The monks' other areas of economic activity were viticulture , forestry , milling , cattle , sheep and fish farming . In addition to this, the monks usually had more or less lucrative properties, for example in the vicinity of their city courtyards.

Administration and writing

Since they soon became important landlords and economic leaders, the Cistercians are considered “pioneers of writing in general and of documentary in particular.” In dealing with bishops and benefactors, they developed an advanced culture in the chancellery and scriptorium . Because of the close network within the order and the frequent correspondence before and after the general chapters, the practice of writing flourished; one speaks of a Cistercian script . Here, too, a pronounced self-identification with the Pope can be recognized: the Cistercian documents were formally based strictly on the model of the papal chancellery.

The order's efforts to ensure uniformity resulted in a considerable set of rules. Fundamental decisions of the order's leadership could only be communicated in writing, and things had to be done quickly: “Within three months, every abbey should have a current copy of the latest statutes”.


Ideal plan of a Cistercian monastery, similar to Boyle Abbey
Roof turrets as a feature of a towerless Cistercian church, here Mariawald Abbey

The name of the monasteries of the Cistercians as Cistercen or Cistercian is derived from the Latin name Cistercium of the mother monastery Cîteaux and was later established in the language of the order.

Monastery complexes

The Cistercians had no actual building regulations. The available written sources only contain prohibitions that concern the luxury of construction.

In 1098 the Benedictine abbot Robert von Molesme founded the Cîteaux monastery and called it "Novum monasterium", "new monastery". Its first abbots introduced innovations that still characterize the Cistercian order today. In Cîteaux particular emphasis was placed on simplicity . There was no valuable furnishings, no valuable church equipment and no architectural decorations. Nothing should distract the monks from the liturgy . The rooms of the monastery were largely unheated all year round . Simplicity and functionality are criteria that characterize the medieval monastery buildings of the Cistercians as well as monumental size and aesthetic spatial effect. On the other hand, even passageways or kitchens in many Cistercian monasteries experience a design that goes far beyond their functionality.

The architecture of the Cistercian abbeys was shaped by Bernhard von Clairvaux, among others. In some cases, ornamentation and architectural decorations were largely dispensed with inside. The prohibitions that affected the luxury also saw the monastery church a crypt and towerless construction with flat abschließendem choir (no apse before). The church was built as a basilica with a higher central nave and low aisles. In addition, many buildings have an open vestibule, attached to the western front ( Maulbronn Monastery ). Bernhard spoke out against the attachment of sculptures , pictures and forms of jewelry. In the church of Fontenay Abbey , the choir is formed in such a way that the choir square adjoining the crossing is flanked by narrow rectangular chapels for individual devotions and penitential exercises.

At the end of the 12th century, chapels were added, which are grouped around a gallery around the square of the choir. Under the impression of the large parlor choirs, the choir square was completed with a polygonal apse and the corridor was designed accordingly. The chapels retained their rectangular floor plan and look like isolated yokes of an outer corridor (Abbey Church in Clairvaux). In the course of the 13th century the chapels were also given a polygonal closure (Royaumont, Altenberg), so that the floor plan of a Cistercian church can hardly be distinguished from that of another abbey or cathedral church . Inside, by holding on to simple round supports and sparing use of profiles and decorative motifs, the impression of great simplicity is created. The windows should also be kept as simple as possible. So the grisaill technique soon caught on: gray silver glasses were used, the individual glass fields of which were joined by dark lead; the contours of the gray glass fields were added by applying black paint.

The thesis that in the time of Bernhard von Clairvaux a standard type for monasteries arose, on which many new foundations were based, is rejected by recent research. In particular, the idea expressed by the term “Bernardine Plan” that the typical church floor plan realized in the church building in Clairvaux (1130s) with a straight choir closure and chapels lined up at the transept is a binding implementation of ideas by Bernhard von Clairvaux is being questioned today. According to Matthias Untermann, it has been clear for almost a century that the Cistercians had no actual building regulations. The assertion that there are such regulations was and is mainly in popular scientific works or publications in the neighboring subjects.

Principles for the location of the monasteries were laid down in the early days of the order: All Cistercians should be founded in places far away from human traffic. This results in the characteristic location of the early monasteries in wooded valleys far from the big cities and important trade routes. Cistercian monasteries on mountains or ridges are therefore rare and often only justified by the fact that an already existing monastery was taken over by the Cistercians ( Wörschweiler ). In this strict form, however, the rules were only applied in the early days of the order (Fontenay is an example), but from 1150 onwards they were increasingly weakened.


The Cistercians played an essential role in spreading Gothic architecture in Germany.

Abbot-General of the Cistercian OCist

Before the French Revolution , the Abbot of Cîteaux was the Order's Abbot General.

  1. Raimondo Giovannini , 1814-1820
  2. Sisto Benigni , 1820-1825
  3. Giuseppe Fontana , 1825 († January 21, 1826)
  4. Venceslao Nasini , 1826-1830
  5. Sisto Benigni, 1830–1835 (second term)
  6. Nivardo Tassini , 1835-1845
  7. Livio Fabretti , 1845-1850
  8. Tommaso Mossi ( San Bernardo alle Terme ), 1850–1853
  9. Angelo Geniani (Cortemilia), 1853-1856
  10. Teobaldo Cesari (San Bernardo alle Terme), 1856–1879
  11. Gregorio Bartolini , 1880-1890
  12. Leopold Wackarž ( Hohenfurth ), 1891–1900
  13. Amadeus de Bie , St. Bernhard Abbey (Bornem) , 1900–1920
  14. Kassian Haid ( Mehrerau ) 1920–1927
  15. Franziskus Janssens ( Achel , then Notre-Dame de Pont-Colbert), 1927–1936
  16. Edmondo Bernardini ( Santa Croce in Gerusalemme ), 1937–1950
  17. Matthäus Quatember ( Hohenfurth ), 1950–1953
  18. Sighard Kleiner ( Hauterive ), 1953–1985
  19. Polikárp Zakar ( Zirc ), 1985–1995
  20. Maurus Esteva Alsina ( Poblet ), 1995-2010
  21. Mauro-Giuseppe Lepori ( Hauterive ), since 2010

Abbots-General of the Cistercians of the Stricter Observance (Trappists)

  1. Sébastien Wyart (Mont-des-Cats and Sept-Fons), 1892–1904
  2. Augustin Marre (Igny), 1904-1922
  3. Jean-Baptiste Ollitrault de Kéryvallan (Melleray), 1922–1929
  4. Herman-Joseph Smets (Westmalle), 1929–1943
  5. Dominique Nogues (Timadeuc), Vicarius (Sedisvakanz) from 1943, 1946–1951
  6. Gabriel Sortais (Bellefontaine), 1951–1963
  7. Ignace Gillet (Dombes and Aiguebelle), 1964–1974
  8. Ambrose Southey (Mount St. Bernard), 1974–1990
  9. Bernardo Olivera (Azul), 1990-2008
  10. Eamon Fitzgerald (Mount Melleray), since September 2008

General Procurators of the Cistercians

  • Ferdinando Ughelli , around 1637
  • Ilarione Rancati
  • Alano Bagattì (Congregatio S. Bernardi in Italia), 1789–1798
  • Raimondo Giovannini, 1798–1801 (became Abbot Praeses of the Congregatio S. Bernardo in Italia, and in 1815 Abbot General)
  • Colombino Fatteschi, 1801-1805
  • Sisto Benigni, 1805-1820 (became Abbot General)
  • Malachia Leoni, 1820-1825
  • Venceslao Nasini, 1825 (became Abbot General in the same year)
  • Paolo Pancaldi, 1826-1833
  • Nivardo Passini, 1833-1835
  • Urbano Poggiarelli, 1835-1840
  • Girolamo Bottino, 1840-1845
  • Alberico Amatori, 1845-1847
  • Tommaso Mossi , 1847-1850
  • Teobaldo Cesari , 1850-1856 (became Abbot General)
  • Venceslao Marchini, 1856-1860
  • Girolamo Bottino, 1860-1871
  • Heinricus Smeulders ( Bornem ), 1871-1892
  • Bernardo Dell'Uomo (S. Bernardo), 1892
  • Mauro Tinti (Congregatio S. Bernardi), 1892–1900
  • Placido Magnanensi (Congregatio S. Bernardi), 1900-1910
  • Ernö (Sándor) Szeghy ( Zirc ), 1910–1917
  • Raimondo Bazzichi ( Santa Croce in Gerusalemme ), 1920–1934
  • Matthäus Quatember ( Hohenfurth ), 1934–1950
  • Sighard Kleiner ( Hauterive ), 1950–1953
  • Gregorio Battista ( Casamari ), 1953-1995
  • Meinrad Tomann ( Heiligenkreuz ), 1995–2015
  • Lluc Torcal ( Poblet ), since 2015

Well-known Cistercians

Existing and former Cistercian monasteries

A list of the existing and former Cistercian monasteries around the world can be found at: List of Cistercian Monasteries .


  • Leopold Janauschek: Originum Cisterciensium. Vol. 1. Vienna 1877 ( full text )
  • Studies on the history, art and culture of the Cistercians, Lukas Verlag, Berlin 1996ff. (scientific study series with currently approx. 25 volumes; DNB data set )
  • Immo Eberl: The Cistercians. History of a European Order . Thorbecke, Stuttgart 2002, ISBN 3-7995-0103-7 .
  • Stephanie Hauschild: Paradise on Earth. The gardens of the Cistercians . Thorbecke, Ostfildern 2007, ISBN 978-3-7995-3530-4 .
  • Terryl N. Children: The World of the Cistercians . Schnell & Steiner, Regensburg 1997, ISBN 3-7954-1297-8 .
  • Ulrich Knefelkamp (ed.): Cistercians. Norm, culture, reform - 900 years of the Cistercians . Springer, Berlin 2001, ISBN 3-540-64816-X .
  • Emile Brouette, Anselme Dimier and Eugène Manning (eds.), Dictionaire des auteurs cisterciens , Rochefort 1975–1979 (La documentation cistercienne 16).
  • Jean-Francois Leroux-Dhuys, Henri Gaud [photo], Ulrike Bischoff [transl.]: The Cistercians. History and architecture . Könemann, Cologne 1998, ISBN 3-89508-893-5 .
  • Ekkehard Meffert , Die Zisterzienser and Bernhard von Clairvaux - their spiritual impulses and the Christianization of the earth of Europe , with an appreciation of the 3rd abbot of Citeaux Stephan Harding , the creator of the constitution “ Carta Caritatis ”, Stuttgart 2010
  • SM German:  Cistercienser . In: Realencyklopadie for Protestant Theology and Church (RE). 3. Edition. Volume 4, Hinrichs, Leipzig 1898, pp. 116-127.
  • Bernhard Nagel: The Cistercians' own work. From religious asceticism to economic efficiency. Metropolis, Marburg 2006, ISBN 3-89518-549-3
  • Bernhard Nagel: The Cistercians' own work - a conflict between asceticism and economic success. In: Cistercienser Chronik 125 (2018), pp. 396–414.
  • The Cistercians. Religious life between ideal and reality. Ed .: Kaspar Elm, Peter Joerißen and Hermann Josef Roth (= Schriften d. Rhein. Museumsamtes, No. 10), Bonn 1980, ISBN 3-7927-0557-5
  • Dißelbeck-Tewes, Elke: Women in the Church. The life of women in the medieval Cistercian monasteries of Fürstenberg, Graefenthal and Schledenhorst (also Diss. Bochum 1988/89), Cologne, 1989
  • Franz Winter : The Cistercians of Northern Germany - A Contribution to the Church and Cultural History of the German Middle Ages , Perthes, Gotha 1868–1871
    • Part I: The Cistercians of northern Germany until the appearance of the mendicant orders . Gotha 1868 ( full text ).
    • Part II: From the appearance of the mendicant orders up to the end of the 13th century , Gotha 1871 ( full text )
    • Part III: From 1300 to the Reformation , Gotha 1871 ( full text )
  • James Westfall Thompson: The Cistercian Order and Colonization in Mediaeval Germany . In: The American Journal of Theology . tape 24 , no. 1 , 1920, p. 67-93 , JSTOR : 3155939 .
  • K. Elm among others: Cistercians . In: Lexicon of the Middle Ages (LexMA). Volume 9, LexMA-Verlag, Munich 1998, ISBN 3-89659-909-7 , Sp. 632-650.
  • LVR-LandesMuseum Bonn (ed.): The Cistercians - the Europe of the monasteries (accompanying volume to the special exhibition) , Theiss, Darmstadt 2017, ISBN 978-3-8062-3492-3 .
  • Joachim Werz and State Palaces and Gardens of Baden-Württemberg (ed.), Die Zisterzienser. Conceptions of monastic life , Schnell & Steiner, Regensburg 2017, 978-3-7954-3194-5.

To architecture

  • Hanno Hahn : The early church architecture of the Cistercians - investigations into the building history of Eberbach monastery in the Rheingau and its European analogies in the 12th century. Verlag Gebr. Mann, 1957.
  • Matthias Untermann: Forma Ordinis. The medieval architecture of the Cistercians (= art studies 89) . Deutscher Kunstverlag, Munich, Berlin 2001, ISBN 978-3-422-06309-9 .
  • Gereon Christoph Maria Becking: Cistercian monasteries in Europe. Card collection . Berlin: Lukas 2000.
  • Jean-Francois Leroux-Dhuys: The Cistercians. History and architecture. Könemann, Cologne 1998.
  • Bernard Peugniez: Routier Cistercien. Abbayes et sites. Editions Gaud, Moisenay 2001.
  • Peter Pfister : monastery leader of all Cistercian monasteries in the German-speaking area. Éditions du Signe, Strasbourg 1998.
  • Julie Roux: Les Cisterciens. In situ. Thèmes. Vic-en-Bigorre: MSM 1998.


Web links

Wiktionary: Cistercians  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Commons : Cistercians  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Excerpt from Florent Cygler: The General Chapter in the High Middle Ages: Cistercians, Premonstratensians
  2. CCPrior II, 2nd M. Hildegard Brem OCist and Alberich Altermatt OCist, Einmütig in der Liebe. The earliest source texts by Cîteaux , (Turnhout 1998), p. 102.
  3. Heinrich Meyer to Ermgassen: The self-sufficiency of the monastery, its economy yards, his craft branches and its trade . In: The Hessian Minister for Agriculture and Forests, Freundeskreis Kloster Eberbach eV (Hrsg.): Eberbach im Rheingau . Cistercian - Culture - Wine. The Hessian Minister for Agriculture and Forests, Wiesbaden / Eltville 1986, p. 77-91 .
  4. ^ Hansjürg Stückelberger: Europe's rise and betrayal. PJI, Adelberg 2015, page 155
  5. ^ Heinrich Schipperges: Medicine among the Cistercians . In: The Hessian Minister for Agriculture and Forests, Freundeskreis Kloster Eberbach eV (Hrsg.): Eberbach im Rheingau . Cistercian - Culture - Wine. The Hessian Minister for Agriculture and Forests, Wiesbaden / Eltville 1986, p. 93-104 .
  6. Zenon Hubert Nowak, Milites Christi de Prussia. The order of Dobrin and its position in the Prussian mission, in: The spiritual knight orders of Europe (Sigmaringen 1980) pp. 339–352
  7. Christian Schütz, Philippa Rath (ed.): The Benedictine order: God seek in prayer and work. Mainz: Matthias Grünewald Verlag, 3rd edition 2003, p. 188.
  8. Kaspar Elm / Peter Feige: Reforms and formation of congregations of the Cistercians in the late Middle Ages and early modern times. In: The Cistercians, religious life between ideal and reality. Bonn, 1980 pp. 244-249
  9. Evangelical heritage in ecumenical neighborhood , on Evangelical-Cistercian-inheritance
  10. M. Stark: The separation of the "Observantia Strictior" from the Cistercian order (1880-1892). History and documents , in: Analecta Cisterciensia 48 (1992), pp. 105-310
  11. Statistics 2015 monks (pdf) and statistics 2015 nuns (pdf)
  12. Sebastian Slawik: The clothing of the Cistercians in the Middle Ages. White monks in brown dress , in: Analecta Cisterciensia 65 (2015), pp. 134–151.
  13. Alkuin Schachenmayr : Wirtschaftsgeschichte und Cistercienserforschung , in: Analecta Cisterciensia 65 (2015), pp. 3–13.
  14. David Williams, Cistercians in the Middle Ages (Leominster 1998), pp. 276-384.
  15. Reinhard Schneider, Stadthöfe der Cisterzienser, in: Zisterzienser-Studien 4 (Berlin 1979), pp. 11–28.
  16. Reinhard Härtel, Notarial and Church Documents in the Early and High Middle Ages (Vienna 2011), p. 142
  17. Elke Goez, On the importance of writing in the Cistercian order , in: The Cistercians and their libraries. Book ownership and written use of the Altzelle monastery in a European comparison, ed. by Tom Graber (Schriften zur Sächsischen Geschichte und Volkskunde 28, Leipzig 2008), pp. 17–44, here p. 21.
  18. ^ Matthias Untermann: Built Unanimitas. On the building regulations of the Cistercians, in: Zisterzienser. Norm, culture, reform. Ed .: Ulrich Knefelkamp. Berlin / Heidelberg / New York 2001, p. 239-266 .
  19. ^ Rupert Schreiber / Mathias Köhler: The "building laws" of the Cistercians . Messkirch 1987.
  20. Karl Heinz Esser, On the Church of St. Bernhard of Clairvaux. An art-historical investigation based on the excavation of the Romanesque abbey church of Himmerod , in: Archive for Middle Rhine Church History 5 (1953), pp. 195–222; Review: Carsten Fleischhauer: A Medieval Prefiguration of the European Unification Idea? Research into Cistercian architecture in western post-war Germany , in: Nikola Doll, Ruth Heftrig, Olaf Peters and Ulrich Rehm (eds.), Art history after 1945. Continuity and a new beginning in Germany, Cologne / Weimar / Vienna 2006, pp. 77–87
  21. ^ Matthias Untermann: Built Unanimitas. To the building regulations of the Cistercians. Ed .: Ulrich Knefelkamp. Berlin / Heidelberg / New York 2001, p. 239-240 .
  22. ^ Polycarp Zakar : Regulations for the Exercise of the Rights of the Abbot of Cîteaux after the French Revolution (1790 1900) , in: Analecta Cisterciensia 23 (1967), pp. 226-294.
  23. ^ The Irish Times , "Mount Melleray abbot named as Cistercian head," September 9, 2008
  24. New General Procurator , on