The Cistercian Order

Cistercian Monks

Cistercian Monks

The Order of Cistercians also known as Trappists, is a Roman Catholic religious order, which consists of monasteries of monks and nuns.  It is part of the larger Cistercian family which can trace its origin back to 1098.  Cistercians follow the rule of St.Benedict, and are part of the Benedictine family as well.  Cistercians dedicate their lives, to seek union with God, through Jesus Christ, within a community of brothers or sisters.

Saint Robert of Molesme-art

Saint Robert of Molesme – Artists Impression

On the 21st March 1098, St.Robert of Molesme, Abbot of the Benedictine Abbey of Molesme, felt compelled to lead twenty-one of his monks to Citeaux, and establish a new monastery.  This new abbey was dedicated to the restoration of Benedictine Rule in its most primitive form.  A life devoted to prayer and poverty.

Tension rose amongst his followers, and the relationship between the new monastery at Citeaux, and the Benedictine Abbey of Molesme, they had left behind.  The monks of Molesme, grieved by the loss of their holy leader, and it wasn’t long before they obtained a papal decree, forcing St.Robert to return to Molesme, and take up his position once again as their Abbot.

Abbey of Citeaux

Abbey of Citeaux

The Abbey of Citeaux, continued after the loss of St.Robert’s return to Molesme, by a small number of monks who chose to remain and carry on the order.  The new Abbot was St.Alberic, who was later succeeded by St.Stephen Harding.

St.Robert, St.Alberic and St.Stephen Harding, each Abbots in their own right, are celebrated as founders of the Cistercian Order.

With the guidance of St.Alberic, the small community of monks, built their first church, and settled down to their new way of life.  St.Stephen Harding, an Englishman from Dorset, was one of the founding Abbots, of the Abbey of Citeaux.

St.Bernard was born in 1090, to parents Tescelin de Fontaine, Lord of Fontaine – les – Dijon and Alethe de Montbard of high French nobility in the Burgundy region.  In 1109, his mother died, and his life was to undertake a dramatic change.

For the next three years, Bernard a nobleman from Fontaine – les – Dijon, went on a spiritual journey.  Then in 1112, the twenty-two-year-old felt he had his calling from God, and knocked at the doors of the Abbey of Citeaux, fourteen miles to the south of Dijon, with thirty of his relatives.

Stephen quickly sensed Bernard’s talents, and so it was, after three years as a monk, St.Bernard was sent to Vallee d’Absinthe in the Diocese of Langres, where he founded the Abbey of Clairvaux.  St.Bernard was accompanied by four of Stephen’s own brothers, uncle and two cousins, alongside an architect and two other monks.

The land, upon which the Abbey of Clairvaux was to be built upon, was a gift from Hugh, Count of Champagne, who would eventually become a member of the Knights Templar.

Abbey of Clairvaux

Abbey of Clairvaux

The project they were faced with, was to build a new abbey from the ground upwards.  This new abbey would be built by their own hands, stone by stone, in the name of their God, and Bernard would become the Abbot of the Abbey of Clairvaux.

It didn’t take long, for the news to filter through, as disciples and monks flocked to St.Bernard, wishing to follow in the steps of the renowned Abbot; St.Bernard of Clairvaux.

During St.Stephen’s tenure, four daughter-houses were created; La Ferte, Pontigny, Clairvaux and Morimond, between 1113 and 1115.  This monastic life led by the Abbey of Citeaux, saw an ever-growing network of monasteries rise up through medieval Europe.  Which led to the Carta Caritatis (Charter of Charity) being drawn up, designed to harmonize a sense of unity in its monasteries.

Almost in unison with the Templars, the Cistercians grew in wealth.  Like the Knights Templar, the Cistercian order was exempt from taxes and tithes.  They were expert in farming, industry and commerce.  The lead used on their Abbey roofs, was sourced from their own mines and smelted in their own works.

The construction of their Abbey’s were well thought out, and water was a major concern in any build.  Abbey’s would be situated by a secluded river or stream.  Monks would create a dam, designed to carry water to all parts of the Abbey; flowing through kitchens, washing facilities and indoor plumbing.

The Cistercian Order opted for plain cloths on their altars, with a plain wooden cross, whilst their Benedictine rivals had altars, crosses and candle holders made of gold.

The very rule of the Templar order, held this monastic institution with the highest regard, and many a co-operative venture would be undertaken by the two.

It is said, if a knight was expelled from the Knights Templar, he was not free to join secular life.  The said knight would seek shelter in a Cistercian monastery, in the hope that he would be rehabilitated.

In 1128, St.Bernard and Pope Honorius II attended the Council of Troyes, to settle conflicts within the French Church.  He offended Cardinal’s by his words, and was denounced by these men, yet his words, led to a strong bond with the Pope.

saint-bernard-of-clairvaux

St. Bernard of Clairvaux

St.Bernard, man of God became a renowned churchman in Christendom, known for correcting abuses within the faith.  He went out on a limb, defending church rights against the monarchy, who sought control of its resources, and chose their own bishops.

With news from the Holy Land, that the Crusader state of Edessa had fallen to Turkish forces.  Fear rang out, for Antioch and Jerusalem, which could see them fall into Islam control once again.

St.Bernard of Clairvaux was the man who called, who promoted the founding of the Knights Templar, and created the monastic rules of life they would follow.

St.Bernard called for a new crusade to the Holy Land, asking knights to arm themselves and wear the cross upon their chest, showing to all, they be God’s warriors.  He even used part of his own habit, fashioning crosses for many a warrior.

On the 21st August 1153, St.Bernard of Clairvaux died at the Abbey of Clairvaux in France.  At the time of his death, some 343 Cistercian monasteries had been established .  Sixty-five by him, and the remainder by fellow monks of the order.  In 1174 St.Bernard was canonized by Pope Alexander III.

The Cistercian Order continued to expand, and by the year 1200, there were in excess of 500 houses, and at the time of the reformation the number had risen to 742.

In 1664 Pope Alexander VII recognized within the Cistercian Order two observances; the Common and the Strict.  Among these arose Armand Jean de Rance, an Abbot who underwent conversion in his Abbey of Notre Dame de la Grande Trappe.  A renewal in the practice of monastic enclosure, silence and manual labour, expressing a spirit of apartness from all worldliness and a dedication to prayer and penance.  His was one community, lucky enough to have escaped destruction at the hands of the French Revolution.

During the French Revolution, Augustine de Lestrange travels led to the creation of Cistercian Orders in England, Belgium, Spain, Italy, and America.

In 1892 Pope Leo attempted to create a single Cistercian house under one order… but this proved impossible, for it now consisted of many national congregations.  This resulted with the Pope recognizing two Cistercian Orders: Order of Citeaux and Cistercian Order of the Strict Observance, also known as the Trappists.

In 1120, the Benedictine nunnery of Tart, adopted Cistercian Order rules, and sought an ever closer alliance with the monks of the order.  In modern times, the Strict Observance order, has sixty monasteries of Nuns, serving with Monks of the order in Rome.

According to the Modern Catholic Encyclopedia, the Cistercian Order have given to the Church many spiritual masters:

Bernard of Clairvaux
William of Saint Thierry
Alfred of Rievaulx
Guerric of Igny
Isaac of Stella
Gilbert of Hoyland
Adam of Perseigne

Cistercian Nunnery of Helfta in Saxony
Saint Gertrude the Great
Saint Mechtild of Magdeburg

12th Century Spiritual Masters
Thomas Merton
Thomas Keating

(Images) Abbey of Clairvaux and Citeaux: Wikipedia
(Image) Cistercian Monks: Wikipedia
(Image) Saint Robert of Molesme: Pininterest

The Face of the Templars

Crusader Wallpaper 1

The Templar’s presented themselves as missionaries and God’s warriors to Christian pilgrims and the Pope.  They were perceived as saints, offering aid to the poor and needy.

On one hand, these Knights Templar appeared to be following God’s teachings.  In truth, one observed an order whose wealth grew through donations, trade, looting and piracy.  No longer were they humble men of God…

The few who discovered the true identity of the Knights Templar, dare not speak out, against such a powerful order, which had the backing of the Pope.

As the years passed by, the Templar’s wealth grew and grew, even to the point of controlling governments.  Questions were being asked, what they did behind closed doors, by many a monarch, clergy and local people.

In the early 1300’s, it reached a time when the Papacy were convinced in their mind, that these Templar’s did what they pleased, and could be a danger to the church.  They abused the privileges granted them by the Papacy.

Rumours began circulating about these Templar’s, leading to accusations, that they be performing rituals of Satanic worship, in their palaces, behind closed doors.

The Papacy faced a new enemy from within, and it fell upon Pope Clement V, to calculate what damage the Templar’s could cause to Christianity, and the Vatican.  Pope Clement V also faced much pressure, on what to do with these Templar’s from the King of France.

As we know, King Philip IV of France, ruler of a country heavily in debt to these Templar’s, he could see these men of God, taking control of France.

In 1307 King Philip was forced into a situation, where he had to go cap in hand, before the Templar’s, and ask for a loan.  Philip was stunned, that his request was denied.

Philip could take no more, these Templar’s had to go, and so it was on the 13th October 1307, the King’s men arrested these Templar’s, seizing their assets across France.

They were put on trial and accused of the following:

  • That during the reception ceremony, new brothers were required to deny Christ, God, The Virgin or the saints on the command of those receiving them.
  • That the brothers committed various sacrilegious acts either on the cross or on an image of Christ.
  • That the receptors practised obscene kisses on new entrants, on the mouth, navel or buttocks.
  • That the priests of the Order did not consecrate the host, and that the brothers did not believe in the sacraments.
  • That the brothers practised idol worship of a cat or a head.
  • That the brothers encouraged and permitted the practice of sodomy.

Jacques de Molay, Grand Master of the Knights Templar Order was burnt at the stake on the 18th March 1314, in the shadow of the Notre Dame in Paris, on trumped up charges of heresy.

Jacques de Molay cried out to his God, as flames burned around him, that King Philip IV of France and Pope Clement V, his accusers should join him… Within a year, both had died.

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The Siege of Malta

Siege of Malta

Siege of Malta

The Knights Hospitaller had been driven out of the Holy Land, when Acre fell in 1291.  In 1309, they captured Rhodes, becoming the Order of the Knights of Rhodes.  In 1522, they were forced to leave Rhodes, having been defeated by Suleyman the Magnificent, a Turkish warrior.

With no place to call home, the gift of the island of Malta, by the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V in 1530, must have seemed a blessing.  The downside was, Malta was arid and infertile, fresh water was scarce.  The inhabitants were poor.  Yet it was home.

The Knights of St.John had a fight on their hands, for in 1565, Turkish forces tried to capture Malta, by sending a fleet of eighty-one ships and 30,000 soldiers.

On the 18th May they sailed into the Bay of Marsaxlokk, where the mighty army disembarked and set up camp on the Plain of Marsa.

The Turks set their sights on capturing the Fort of St.Elmo, which stood on the Sceberas Peninsula.  The fort resisted capture until the 23rd June 1565.  The victory was a small one for the Turks, as they had lost 8,000 men in the siege against the fort.  The Turkish commander, Dragut Rais, lies among the dead.

The Turks captured four knights, beheaded them, and nailed them to crosses and floated them across the harbour to Fort St.Angelo.  Grand Master la Valette replied by beheading Turkish prisoners, and firing their heads from cannons, landing among Turkish forces.

The Turks attempted the capture of Birgu (Vittoriosa) and L’Isla (Senglea), but suffered heavy losses.

On the 7th September, 8,000 Sicilians arrived in North-east Malta, the Turks withdrew from Malta.

Grand Master la Valette, fearing another siege by the Turks, built new fortifications and a city on the Peninsula.  On the 28th March 1566, the foundation stone was laid.  Walls built, with a huge ditch across the peninsula.  In 1568, la Valette died, aged seventy-three, and the city was named after him.

In 1574, the knights built the hospital; Sacra Infermeria in Valetta. In 1676 Grand Master Cottoner founded the School of Anatomy and Surgery.

Grand Master Antoine de Paule created additional fortifications across the peninsula to the south of Valetta, based on the designs of Pietro Paolo Floriani in the mid 1600’s.  In the 18th century a suburb of Valetta was built between the two lines of fortifications, and called Floriani after its designer.

1693 was a bad year for Malta, for it was devastated by an earthquake.

By the end of the 17th century, the Turkish threat against Malta ceased, as the Turkish Empire was in decline.

Napoleon Bonaparte’s French fleet anchored off Malta on route to Egypt.  He asked for water for his ships, but the knights refused.

Malta Surrender to Bonaparte

Napoleon Bonaparte forces seize Malta

On the 11th June 1798, Napoleon’s forces landed on Malta, and captured the knights… French knights were permitted to stay on Malta; all others were forced to leave.  Napoleon forces seized all the treasure from the churches, before leaving six days later, leaving 4,000 men to guard the island.

On the 2nd September 1798, the Maltese rose up against the French at Mdina.  The French withdrew to Valetta and the Maltese people appealed to the British for assistance.  A blockade was imposed on the island…

The French forces at Valetta, surrendered on the 5th September 1800.

Wikipedia Images

The Maltese Cross

order-of-st-john-medal

The Maltese Cross was officially adopted by the Order of the Knights Hospitallers of St.John in the year 1126.

It consists of eight points, which denote the eight obligations of the knights:

  • To live in truth.
  • Have faith.
  • Repent one’s sins.
  • Proof of humility.
  • Love justice.
  • Be merciful.
  • Sincere and whole-hearted.
  • Endure persecution.

Some years later, the eight points of the cross, came to represent national groupings, of the noblemen who were admitted into the brotherhood.

  • Auvergne
  • Provence
  • France
  • Aragon
  • Castille and Portugal
  • Italy
  • Baviere (Germany)
  • England, Scotland and Ireland

The current symbol of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta is the Maltese Cross.

The Knights of Malta

Knights Hospitaller

An ancient hospice for Christian pilgrims, was located in Jerusalem, and had been in existence well before the arrival of these Crusaders.  The Hospice was founded by Abbot Probus around 600AD.  It underwent restoration in 1010 by the Emperor of Charmagne, only to be destroyed by Caliph El-Hamin, and in 1023 restored by the citizens of Amalfi.

In 1048, the Order of St.John was born by Amalfian merchants and its founder Gerard from Martigues in Provence, who also went by the name; Blessed Gerard, the then Benedictine Abbot of St.Maria Latina.  First came the construction of a church, convent and hospital in Jerusalem, offering care to pilgrims of any faith.

The Hospice had been dedicated to St.John the Almoner.

What would follow over the coming years would be the creation of a chivalric order, which would evolve into a military machine.

A Papal Bull was issued on the 15th February 1113, by Pope Paschal II, approving the hospital’s foundation, and placing it under the protection of the church.

As such, the Order was ruled by a Grand Master, who was answerable only to the Pope.  Knights were chosen from aristocratic families of England, France, Spain, Portugal and Italy.

The popularity and praise Gerard received from 1st Crusade warriors, led to his separation from the Benedictine Order, and the foundation of the Order of Hospitaller’s, who adopted the Augustinian rule.

Their habit: A long black monastic cloak, with slits on each side for arms, with an eight pointed white cross on the breast, which included the arms of the Republic of Amalfi.

St.John the Baptist became the new patron saint of the order, replacing St.John of Almoner.  The Order of Hospitaller undertook three solemn vows: Chastity, Obedience and Poverty, in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre before their patriarch; Dragobert.

As their fame grew across the land, they received many donations, which allowed the Order to purchase properties in the Holy Land and across Europe.

In 1099, the First Crusading armies, had taken three years, marching across Europe, traversed the sun-scorched waterless plateau of Asia Minor.  Thousands of their comrades had perished on the journey, from its hardships, or slain by Turkish warriors.

As they came upon the Holy City of Jerusalem, they fell to their knees in the sand, and wept.

On Friday, the 15th July 1099, at 3.00pm they stormed the Holy City of Jerusalem in their thousands, on the very day and hour their saviour had died.  The first knight to enter was Godfrey of Bouillon, Duke of Lower Lorraine, who humbled himself in prayer, at the tomb of his saviour.  Unlike others, he was devoid of earthly ambitions, and fought for the love of Christ, a true warrior of God.

Godfrey of Bouillon

Godfrey of Bouillon

Eight days after the capture of Jerusalem, Godfrey of Bouillon was elected as its first Christian King.  He refused to wear a crown or receive the title of King.  This humble warrior, in the city where his saviour had died, accepted he be its defender and ruler.  Knowing his life was short, created a Christian kingdom.

In the year 1100, Godfrey took his army to Caesarea of Philippi, an enemy held town on the Mediterranean coast.  The Muslim leader went out to meet the mighty Godfrey, King and ruler of Jerusalem, on the pretext of making peace.

Godfrey accepted and ate the dishes presented to him, and his military commanders in good faith.  What was thought to be a gift of peace, was far from the truth, as Godfrey’s life was taken from him, by a deadly fever, possibly brought on by eating poisoned food.  He was buried in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

Gerard from Martigues in Provence, known as Blessed Gerald died in 1120, secure in the fact, that the Order of the Hospital of St.John of Jerusalem had been created.

By 1126, the Order had begun its military defence of pilgrims in the Holy Land.

Raymond du Puy  from Provence became the elected successor of Gerard of Martigues, and took the title of Master.

Raymond du Puy laid down the foundation for an order of chivalry, with the introduction of the Knights Hospitaller, to run alongside one of prayer and caring for others.  He laid down rules to be observed during military engagements; Swords must not be drawn, unless the standard of the cross was displayed, either in defence of the Kingdom of Jerusalem or in siege against a pagan city.  The military body had been founded in 1123, in response to Egypt’s invasion of Palestine.

Events taking place in the Holy Land would change the future of the Hospitaller’s.  For it was on the 4th July 1187, Saladin defeated Christian forces and the Kingdom of Jerusalem fell. The Hospitaller’s were forced to relinquish their headquarters in Jerusalem for Tripoli on the east coast of Palestine, where they stayed until 1197, then moving to Acre.

The Knights Hospitaller’s, felt robbed of their role as defenders of the Holy Land in 1291, when Acre fell to the Mamluks, and they had been driven out of the Holy Land and sought refuge in Cyprus.  It was here they changed their method of waging war, and became a force to be reckoned with, in naval power.

In 1309, the Hospitaller’s conquered the island of Rhodes, and changed their name; Order of the Knights of Rhodes, which they ran as an independent state, exercising their right of sovereignty.

In the year 1343, the Order conquered Smyrna, and took part in battle in Egypt and Syria.  They supported Armenians in their defence against Muslim forces.

When the Knights Templar were disbanded, their goods, their wealth was transferred to the Order of St.John of Jerusalem, under the order of the Pope, which greatly increased the wealth of the Order.

In 1522, a six-month siege by Suleyman the Magnificent, a Turkish warrior, led to their defeat and on the 1st January 1523, they left Rhodes.

In 1530, the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V gave them the island of Malta, and duly went by the name of; Sovereign and Military Order of the Knights of Malta.  In 1565, it resisted a four-month siege by the Ottoman fleet.  A Spanish task force came to the assistance of the Grand Master; Jean Parisot de la Valette in his defence of Malta.

In 1571, the Turkish navy was destroyed at the “Battle of Lepanto” by the combined fleets of the Knights of Malta, European forces led by Don Juan of Austria, half brother to King Philip II of Spain.

A new capital of Malta was built, in recognition for his achievements in the defence against the Turks of 1565, they named it after their Grand Master; Valetta.

As the centuries passed by, these knights, gave up their military lifestyle, returning to their roots, by offering medical care, attracting patients from near and far.

The French Revolution of 1789, abolished the Order in France and confiscated its properties.  Malta rejected the French Revolution, offering shelter to nobles fleeing France and supporting countries at war with them; England, Spain and Russia.

Napoleon Bonaparte

Napoleon Bonaparte

In 1798 they lost Malta to Napoleon Bonaparte, but regained it in 1802 under the Treaty of Amiens.

In 1814, the Treaty of Paris gave Malta to Britain, and the Hospitaller’s left, moving their headquarters to Sicily where they remained until 1826.  From there they moved to Ferrara, and in 1834 finally settled in Rome.

From 1834 to 1961 they were known as the Knights Hospitaller of St.John of Jerusalem, and in 1961 to the present time are formally known as the Sovereign Military and Hospitaller Order of St.John of Jerusalem, of Rhodes and of Malta, and a closed fraternity of the Roman Catholic Church.

The order no longer governs any territory, yet it is recognised as a sovereign nation by the Vatican, the only authentic Order of Malta by the Pope, and as such does issue its own passports.

In 1966, Pope Paul VI reformed the statues of the Order of Malta, abolishing its militant character, and vowing it would serve the poor and sick.

In times when the Pope’s life is threatened, the Swiss guards that guard the Vatican are dismissed, and the Knights of Malta, become guardians of the Pope.

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Knights Templar: Gothic Architecture

Gothic Cathadral - PI

Design of Gothic Cathedral

Gregorio Papareschi, was appointed to the post of Pope Innocent II, in the year 1130, supported to the Papal throne by Bernard of Clairvaux.

Pope Innocent II

Pope Innocent II

Following his appointment, to the Papal throne, Pope Innocent II, approved the request made by the Knights Templar, granting them the right, to build and run their own churches.  Overnight the Templar’s became answerable to only one person; the Pope, and out of reach of most authorities.  They could hold their own court, impose taxes, and no longer did the church hold any pressure over them.  They were their own men, and becoming a powerful order.

They planned and developed their own style of buildings, one which was French Gothic by design.  This new style was born in 1134.

The Templar’s mentor and spiritual leader; St.Bernard of Clairvaux, showed his flair, and his designs were used for the building of the north tower at Chartres Cathedral.

Gothic architecture dates back to the 12th century, it was to be an exciting time in Medieval European history, with the development of a new style of buildings.  Many a knight had served in the Holy Land, on the Crusades, and many had been influenced by the buildings and engineering styles used.

Gothic architecture evolved over a 300 year period, with bright and airy interiors, pointed arches to emphasize light and soaring spaces, ribbed vaulting, flying buttresses, tall spires and gargoyles.

The early forms of Gothic architecture was predominately used for the building of cathedrals, and later used in the building of castles, palaces and bridges.

Gothic architecture first emerged in northern France around 1140.

Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey

The Gothic style of building was soon taken up by the English, and used in Canterbury Cathedral and Westminster Abbey.

Gothic architecture in Medieval England was developed from Norman building styles, which related to buildings from 1200 – 1500.

Early English Style: 1200 – 1300

Decorated Style: 1300- 1400

Perpendicular Style: 1400 – 1500

Gothic churches and buildings were different to Normans, on their style and way of construction.

  • Stone blocks lined side by side was the choice of Normans, but Gothic buildings used many a shaped stone.
  • Hollow walls favoured by Normans, became solid under Gothic builds, thus they could handle far greater weight.
  • The use of pointed arches strengthened buildings, compared to Normans round arches.

Cathedral roofs were much larger, and buttresses were installed to take extra weight, alongside the nave and into the foundations.  These changes spread additional weight around the building, creating additional strength.

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