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Portrait de Saint Bernard de ClairvauxThe Cistercian order was founded in 1098 by St Robert of Molesmes in order to return to the foundations of the Benedictine Rule, which was written in the 6th century by St. Benedict. 


In 1112, at the age of 23 years, Saint Bernard joins Cîteaux to become a monk there. He comes from a Burgundian aristocratic family that owns land in the regions of Montbard, Alise St Reine and Dijon. St Bernard's mother is the daughter of the Lord who rules over Montbard.

As he joins Cîteaux, Saint Bernard answers his desire to enter into a strict asceticism and a life of prayer. His charisma allows him to gather with him more than 30 family members and friends who become monks as well. 


Very quickly, with the help of St Bernard, the community enjoys a great expansion creates four new abbeys, "daughters of Cîteaux" in the Cistercian term. In 1115, St Bernard personally founds Clairvaux, the third daughter of Cîteaux. Very rapidly, Cîteaux itself gives birth to three new colonies, Troisfontaines (1115), Fontenay (1118) and Foigny (1121). The Cîteaux line will be the most prolific, with 341 abbeys established at the time of the death of St Bernard.

Fontenay is today the only abbey founded by Saint Bernard that has remained intact through the centuries. It is this unique testimony to the monastic life, and the purity of its architecture, which led it to being recognized as World Heritage in 1981.

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