In 1098, during the month of march, a small group, consisting of 21 monks, set off though the swampland of Cîteaux. They are led by Robert, who is the abbot of the monastery of Molesme, close to Troyes. He and his abiders have left this abbey in order establish a movement at another place, as they weren't able to built it up in Molesme: the return to the roots of a monasticism true to the rule of holy Benedict. The wasteland lying in the South-West of Dijon seems to fit perfectly for this intent. The place where they settle on march 21st in 1098, the day of holy Benedict's holiday, is called Cistercium. The friars name the place “Novum Monasterium“, the new monastery.
The beginning is tough. The monks are plagued with hunger and coldness. In addition their abbot Robert is ordered back to his previous monastery Molesme. He and further 12 to 13 fellows return to their home abbey in 1099, following the behest of Pope Urban II. The papal arrangement allows the friars the choice of remaining in Cîteaux. Only eight monks decide to stay there, and to go on leading the hard life in the swamp.
In this existential crisis of 1099 the prior Alberich is the right man. His fellow brothers elect him as new abbot, he is to ensure the existence of Novum Monasterium. He enlarges the new foundation as regards content as well as material with insistent earnestness. By the time of his death in 1108, the convent has managed to re-reach it's former number of 22 members. The assertiveness of the renewal also shows itself in the brother's wearing a white garment made of unbleached lamb's wool henceforth. Like other reformist orders the Cistercians exchange the black habit for the white natural finish. The new foundation of Cîteaux is also secured by the priviledge of Pope Paschalis II.
Alberich was followed by the Englishman Stephen Harding († 1134), the third abbot of Cîteaux. It is mainly due to his cautious organising ability that the new foundation was enlarged to an appropriate order.
1098-1099 Robert of Molesme
1108-1134 Stephen Harding
Where does the word Cistercium comes from, which gave the name to the Cistercians? There are three propsals...