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Cistercian Life:
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The nunneries - an overview

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Cistercian nunneries in Britain
© Cistercians in Yorkshire Project
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Cistercian nunneries in Britain

The Cistercian life appealed to many women who wished to be part of this renowned Order and to embark upon what was purported to be ‘the surest road to salvation.’ The General Chapter did not share their enthusiasm and although a number of female communities during the twelfth century claimed to be Cistercian, they were not at this time officially recognised as part of the Cistercian family. In 1213, the General Chapter was forced to revise its position, and to embrace these women as part of the Order. The status of these nunneries, however, remained rather ambiguous.

The nunneries flourished during the first half of the thirteenth century, spreading ‘like the stars of heaven.’ The General Chapter sought to control this expansion and in 1228 prohibited the incorporation or foundation of any more nunneries. Whilst this put an end to the growth of official Cistercian nunneries, namely those that were formally sanctioned by the Order and visited by the Father Abbot, the number of unofficial Cistercian communities continued to increase. Many female communities throughout Europe adopted Cistercian customs, wore the characteristic Cistercian habit of undyed wool or claimed Cistercian privileges, such as exemption from the payment of tithes. In fact, the number of nunneries claiming a Cistercian identity greatly exceeded the number of those formally recognised by the Order.

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