The art of Cistercian order

The art of the Cistercian order is an actualization of the thoughts of St. Bernard of Clairvaux. Cistercians owe him not only the influence on the development of religious spirituality and piety, but also a contribution to the understanding of aesthetics.

According to the recommendations of St. Bernard, Cistercian churches and monasteries should be characterized by simplicity and architectural austerity. The aesthetic of the building was to be subordinated to the function of places, i.e. prayer and work.

In his treatise “Apologia ad Guillelmum” (directed to William of Saint Thierry), St. Bernard pointed out that the richness and variety of the decoration of churches distract the monks' attention, interfering with prayer and contemplation.

St. Bernard postulated the reduction of decorative elements: the abandonment of paintings and sculptures.

Strict resolutions of Cistercian general chapters at the beginning of the history of the order tried to prevent excessive decoration of churches and monastery buildings; however, this did not lead to the removal of all decorative elements from abbeys.

Gradually, people began to loosen the recommendations of St. Bernard. The Cistercians used clear stained glass with ornamental geometric and floral decorations. The same was the case with floor tiles.

Another change from the rules of the Rule was the appearance of zoomorphic and figural representations in the interiors of the monastery and church.

This phenomenon was especially noticeable in illuminations, which then influenced painting, sculpture and architecture.


A copy of the template from the Rein Monastery in Austria (Reiner Musterbuch), 1208-1213; author unknown

On the cards of the template, apart from scenes from everyday life, there are figures of birds, animals, plants, precious stones, calligraphic initials, and ornamental motifs similar in style to Greek mosaics.

These motifs were used to decorate tiles, stained glass, or manuscripts. Templates of this type were transferred between Cistercian monasteries.


The rule of St. Benedict, common to the entire family of Benedictine orders, defines the exact place of singing and and other music in the liturgy and life of monks.

The Cistercians reformed liturgical singing as early as 1147, which St. Bernard of Clairvaux worked very hard for.

The Cistercian chant, derived from the Gregorian chant, is characterized by brevity and simplicity of the melodic line. It functioned in this form by the Cistercians until the 17th century.

„Viridarium musico-Marianum. Contertus ecclesiasticos (...)”, Johann Donfried, Trier, 1627