OF THE ORIGINS OF THE CISTERCIANS

At the Abbey of Sherborne Dominicans, the monks of the black habit were suffering under a strict abbot. Four of their number decided they could take no more and escaped, making their way to France, the mother of all mischief.

They roamed all over the countryside seeking pleasures, of which France is rich. At last they found themselves running short of food and the money to buy it but they were unwilling to contemplate a return to their former hard life. Finally they decided to search out a wild place to live and pretend to be religious but in the end they chose a pleasant place that they had obtained from a rich man in return for a promise to pray eternally for his soul, a valuable plot in the heart of a great wood, where they lived with much outward piety, making God every second word. They had the wood cut down and fields planted to grow their crops.

They decided on a very strict rule, as hypocrites often do to emphasise their godliness. There would be no dyed wool, their habits would be white. They would keep away from meat, although they would keep pigs, but sell the bacon, although perhaps not all of it. This attracted many of their ilk and the rule spread to many establishments including Clairvaux, from which came Bernard, rising like Lucifer.

Once Thomas Beckett was dining with two white abbots and the talk fell to Bernard’s many miracles and the letter he had written condemning Peter Abelard. One of Beckett’s clerks, a John Planeta, told the company of miracle of the saint that he had heard of. A madman was brought to Bernard, tied to a donkey. Bernard commanded that the man be freed whereupon the madman started throwing stones at the saint and chasing him through the streets. It was said that the madman was kind to all but the most vicious of humbugs.

Two Cistercians were talking to Gilbert Foliot, bishop of London. Foliot mentioned that he had heard of a man living on the borders of Burgundy, who had asked Bernard to heal his son, who had just died. Bernard fell upon the body of the boy, prayed for him to get up but the boy just lay there, still dead. “Thus he was the most unlucky of monks,” said the bishop, “Because I have often heard of monks of your order throwing themselves on boys but that both the monk and the boy promptly get up again afterwards.”

Many of those present had to get up and leave the room, so that they could relieve the laughter that was building up in their mouths.

William, Count of Nevers, a man of great violence, at the end of his life became a monk, in an attempt to expiate his sins. Being of high birth and wealth he chose La Grande Chartreuse, the centre of the Cistercians. When news came of his death Bernard hastened to the tomb and spent a long time in prayer. Asked to come to dinner he replied: “No, I will not come until William speaks to me.” William, not hearing the voice of Jesus, did not come. Eventually Bernard realised his task was useless and left the cold church for the warm dining room.

 

 

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