Saint Bernhard von Clairvaux, keystone in the cloister of Maulbronn Monastery

Austerity and strict rulesTHE CISTERCIANS

The Cistercians were basically medieval reformers, created as a countermodel to the worldly Benedictine orders. Slowly, through isolation from society and a simple lifestyle, they became a leading order of the Catholic church within only a few decades.

Detail of the tiled stove in Salem Monastery

Salem Monastery: The Cistercians were self-sufficient.


With the goal of strictly following the original rules of the Benedictine order, a group of monks founded Cîteaux Monastery in 1098. The order endorsed strict austerity and did not want to live off of leasing to farmers. Instead, the monks worked their own lands. When Bernhard von Clairvaux entered the monastery in 1113, the order began experiencing an enormous revival. Because of his sermons and his works, he may be considered the true founder of the order.

Chapter house in Bebenhausen Monastery

Bebenhausen Monastery: Daily readings took place in the chapter house.

Strictly controlled daily life

The daily life of the Cistercians was strictly regulated. At five in the morning, the day began with a doxology. Distributed throughout the day, several additional prayers in the monastery church and readings in the chapter house determined the structure of daily life. In the morning and afternoon, several hours were devoted to working the fields. Yet, due to their swiftly increasing numbers, the monks soon could no longer work their own lands. Lay brothers therefore took on caring for the cattle and fields.

Aerial view of Heiligkreuztal Monastery

Heiligkreuztal Monastery: farm and management buildings in the monastery complex.


By 1300, the order had already proliferated throughout Europe and had about 700 houses. The order's female house also grew quickly. Organized farming and cattle breeding, in particular, turned monasteries whose monks had originally lived in poverty and seclusion into important economic and trade powerhouses. The Cistercians played an important role in the economic boom of the Middle Ages. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the order experienced another increase in prosperity.

Cistercians building a monastery church, image on the founders panel of Maulbronn Monastery

Maulbronn Monastery: Cistercians building a monastery church.


Bernhard von Clairvaux also reformed the architecture of the monastery. According to the "Bernhardian Plan", the monastery churches were built to be narrow and without towers. A complete lack of any architectural sculpture or decorations was particularly important. The reduction of decor, in combination with the monumental size of the churches, still creates a strong effect today. With the Cistercians, Gothic architecture spread throughout all of Europe.

Schöntal Monastery

Aerial view of Salem Monastery and Palace

Kloster Heiligkreuztal, Außenaufnahme
Maulbronn Monastery
Aerial view of Bebenhausen Monastery

Our Cistercian monasteries: Schöntal Monastery, Salem Monastery and Palace, Heiligkreuztal Monastery, Maulbronn Monastery, Bebenhausen Monastery and Palace.