The beginnings of the Cistercian Order

The origins of the Cistercian Order are closely related to the Cluniac reform, which - in theory - was to be a continuation of the reforms of St. Benedict of Aniane. The monastery monks undertook the works of reform in Cluny (909). The postulates adopted by them led to the independence of the monks from secular jurisdiction. The assumed goal was the unification and centralization of Benedictine religious life in the Carolingian monarchy.

The Cluniac reform is called a return to the severity and raising the moral level of monks (contemplation, reflection on the Holy Scriptures, and the writings of the Fathers of the Church).

The liturgy was expanded by clearly emphasizing the setting and external form of services (pilgrimages, processions, songs), as a result of which the monasteries gained many influential donors. With time, the Benedictines became the owners of many estates and their abbots - involuntarily - powerful lords. This kind of liturgical monasticism has obscured the original aspects of monastic life, such as self-sufficiency in the work of one's own hands.

In response to the changes in Benedictine life, a reform movement was born in the monastery in Molesme (established in 1075), postulating a return to the original Rule. The dynamic development of this abbey gave rise to a new monastic congregation, whose members, over time, faced the choice of how they wanted to live. Robert himself opted for asceticism and, having obtained the papal legate's consent to found a new monastery in 1098, he left Molesme in the company of the prior - Alberic and nineteen other monks, incl. Stephen Harding. They settled in Cîteaux (Latin: Cistercium) - a place named after a milestone on the road from Langres to Chalon (cis tertium lapidem miliarium, meaning: by the third milestone). Initially, this place - called the New Monastery (Monasterium Novum) - was not the seat of the new order - it functioned as a reformed Benedictine institution. In 1099, at the behest of the monks of Molesme and following the decree of the synod of Port d'Anselle, Abbot Robert returned to his former monastery, where he ruled until he died in 1111. Most of the monks left Cîteaux with him - sources say there are only eight monks left in the New Monastery.

Founding Fathers The thumbnail comes from a manuscript from Commentaire sur Jérémie. "Expositio sancti Jheronimi presbiteri super Jheremiam prophetam", Saint Jérôme, Cîteaux, 1125.

Founding fathers

In addition to the great rule of the West - St. Benedict - the first three abbots of the New Monastery (Cîteaux), recognized as the founders of the Order, were also worshiped. In works of art, usually, St. Robert of Molesmes, St. Alberic, and St. Stephen Harding are shown together, wielding the attribute of abbot power, the crosier. St. Alberic and St. Stephen Harding are usually presented in Cistercian habits. St. Robert - in Benedictine.

St. Robert of Molesme (c. 1024-1111)

Robert was born into a wealthy noble family in Champagne. When he was 15, he entered the Benedictine Order in Montier-La-Celle, near Troyes, where he was ordained a priest and became prior. In 1069, he became abbot in Saint Michel de Tonnerre in Burgundy, but - discouraged by the monastic customs - he left the monastery and joined the group of hermits from Cellan after a few years which he began to lead over time. In 1075 he obtained papal permission to found a monastery in Molesmes, and in 1098 - a monastery in Citeaux - the first Cistercian abbey in the world. St. Robert was abbot of Citeaux until 1099.

St. Robert of Molesmes by Adam Isajski oil, canvs, approx. 1832

St. Alberic of Citeaux (1050–1108)

After setting similar monastic goals in the forest of Cellan, St. Robert and St. Alberic founded a monastery in Molesmes. There, Steohen Harding joined them, with whom they decided to move to Citeaux. St. Alberic took over the position of Abbot of Citeaux after St. Robert in 1099. During his time, the Cistercians, previously treated as reformed Benedictines, were recognized as a separate order with its proper outfit - a white habit and a black scapular. Paschalis II also approved the strict rule of the Instituta monochorum Cisterciensum de Molismo venienti, which ordered the Cistercians to work independently, i.e., without the support of subjects or mercenaries.

St. Alberic of Cîteaux oil, canvas, 18th century
St. Alberic of Cîteaux oil, canvas, 18th century

St. Stephen Harding (c. 1059–1134)

Stephen was born in Merriott, England. As a young man, he entered the Benedictine Order in Dorset, from where he ended up in Molesmes, where he met Robert. Along with Alberic, he was one of Robert's closest and most trusted associates from the very beginning. In 1109, after the death of St. Alberic, Stephen Harding became the third abbot of Citeaux. He is considered the author of Carta Caritatis - a document approved by the Pope that gives a characteristic feature to the charism of the Cistercian Order.

St. Stephen Harding by Franciszek Ignacy Monitor oil, canvas, 1762

Polish Cistercians

In the 12th and 13th centuries, the Cistercian Order significantly influenced the development of the communities in which it operated because of its spirituality and economic and cultural activities. It became one of the most important connection lines between Poland and Western Europe in these times.

Cistercian monasteries in Poland proceeded in three stages. The first of them (Łekno - 1143, Jędrzejów - 1140-1149) was founded during the most dynamic development of the Cistercian Order in Europe. The stabilization of the political situation in Poland, which was divided into districts, facilitated the second stage of foundations. This took place in the 4th quarter of the 12th century. At that time, seven monasteries were founded in Pomerania, Silesia, and Greater Poland. These Cistercians came from Germany. There were also four foundations originating from the French Morimond Abbey in Lesser Poland. The third stage of Cistercian foundations took place in the 13th century. Seventeen monasteries were established then, including the abbey in Mogiła, founded in 1222 by Iwo Odrowąż, the bishop of Kraków.

Altogether, 26 Cistercian monasteries and about 14 convents were established in Poland in the Middle Ages. These were all finished between the 13th and 14th centuries.

The foundations of Cistercian monasteries in Poland were done mainly by magnates. Monks were brought in by secular and clergy dignitaries, mainly for religious reasons. The founders supported the Order, pursuing the ideal of austere monastic life. What is more, they were assuring themselves and their family members of the spiritual fruits of the monks' prayers. The economic activity of monks also significantly impacted inviting the Cistercians to new lands. They developed wastelands or reorganized and improved the existing economy. Cistercians also ran scriptorias and libraries. It is valuable to know that the first written sentence in Polish can be found in the chronicle of the founding and inventory of the Cistercian abbey in Henryków (called The Henryków Book after 1268): Daj, ać ja Pobruszę, a ty poczywaj (translated roughly as Give me, I will work, and you rest).

The last Cistercian foundations in Poland took place in the third quarter of the 17th century (Wistycze) and in the first half of the 18th century (Kimbarówka). The first wave of dissolution of Cistercian monasteries and convents was brought by the Reformation. Most of the repeal was connected with the repressions of the partitioning powers. These brought the Enlightenment reforms to Poland, which considered the monasteries as socially useless.

The second wave of repression and dissolution was related to the suppression of national uprisings, which the Cistercian monks supported, often sheltering insurgents in their monasteries. The scale of the repression is evidenced by the fact that at the beginning of the 20th century, only two of the Cistercian monasteries in the former Polish lands were active: Szczyrzyc and Mogiła. Some of the monks from these monasteries took it upon themselves to reconstruct the abandoned Cistercian monasteries. Only the ones with schools and hospitals were left.

Today the Cistercians live in 4 abbeys: Jędrzejów, Wąchock, Mogiła and Szczyrzyc; also 5 priories: Henryków, Kraków - Szklane Domy, Oliwa; as well as a few residences and parishes: incl. Sulejów, Trybsz, Czarna Góra and Jodłownik.

Cistercian Abbey in Mogiła
Cistercian Abbey in Mogiła
Cistercian Abbey in Mogiła
Cistercian Abbey in Mogiła

Foundation and bringing the Cistercians to Mogiła

Although the date of the foundation of the Mogiła monastery is usually assumed to be 1222, historical sources are not unanimous on this date. It is known that the foundation ran in the years 1220-1225, and the founder was Bishop Iwo Odrowąż, together with one of his relatives. They initially indicated the seat of the convent in the village of Kacice.
The mother of the Mogiła foundation is the monastery in Lubiąż, founded in 1163 in Lower Silesia - after a baroque expansion: one of the largest monastic foundations in this part of Europe. The abbey in Lubiąż fell victim to the Prussian dissolution in 1810. Apart from the Mogiła, the monks from Lubia also took over the foundations in Henryków and Kamieniec Ząbkowicki.

The first monks from Lubiąż, who came from Lubiąż, settled in the lands designated by the Odrowąż family. It was there that the construction of the monastery and the monastery church began, which was settled in 1225 by the Cistercians of Lubią from 1220, temporarily stationed in Kacice. Then the church was consecrated and given- according to the Cistercian tradition - two invocations: the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Wenceslas. In 1222, bishop Iwo took over the foundation exclusively and decided to increase the monastery's property by handing over the village of Mogiła to the monks.

Iwo Odrowąż was born around 1170 in the family of a komes from Końskie. The Odrowąż family was distinguished by great piety, and many members of this family decided to entrust their lives to the service of God. Bishop Iwo himself was educated, among others. In France and Italy. He became the successor of Bl. Wincenty Kadłubek, who, after handing over the function of the bishop of Krakow to Iwon, decided to enter the Cistercian monastery in Jędrzejów. Iwo Odrowąż also wanted to leave the diocese but did not receive papal consent.

The foundation activity of Bishop Iwo was not limited to the Mogiła and Cistercians - Odrowąż also made donations to the Dominicans, the Church of the Holy Fathers, the Norbertines, and several parish churches in Krakow.

The Cistercians occupied the area on the Dłubnia River, near the Vistula bend. The soil was fertile, numerous meadows were perfect for cattle breeding, and the surrounding small forests provided wood for construction and fuel. An ancient trade route was nearby, running from Prague through Kraków to Kyiv. It was, therefore, an area that met the requirements of the Cistercians and their determination to be self-sufficient.