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The Cistercians’ arrival in Britian


The Cistercians had already made an impression in England before the arrival of the first monks in 1128. William of Malmesbury, a Benedictine monk, writing c. 1125-6, commented on their distinctive lifestyle. His account shows no hostility or rivalry, but is full of praise for Cistercian austerity, which is presented as a model for others:

MS 173 f. 20r: the initial ‘Q’ from Book 19 of the Moralia in Job shows an armed rider engaged in battle with a dragon © Dijon Municpial Library
MS 173 f. 20r: the initial ‘Q’ from Book 19 of the Moralia in Job shows an armed rider engaged in battle with a dragon © Dijon Bibliotheque Municpiale
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In his days (Henry I’s reign) began the Cistercian Order, which is now both thought and said to be the high road of supreme progress toward Heaven. … Cîteaux … now so famous for continuing monastic vocations that it might well be supposed to have some link with Heaven itself … But to sum up all that has been said or can be said about the Cistercians, they are today an example for all monks, a mirror for the zealous, and a gadfly for the easy-going (1)

William even expressed feelings of solidarity with the White Monks, for one of their founding figures, Stephen Harding, was an Englishman. England was therefore a part of this success story, and could share a sense of pride at the Cistercian achievement. This link with Harding must have made the White Monks more appealing and acceptable to those living in England.

Knowledge of and admiration for the Cistercian life in the 1120s drew Englishmen to France, to join the monks at Cîteaux and Clairvaux. Some responded to a personal invitation from the charismatic abbot, Bernard of Clairvaux, and left for the ‘promised Jerusalem’ . Several of these men later played a leading role in the development of the Order in Britain.



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