Keys to the Past



A monk, or lay brother or nun, of the Cistercian Order. They wore white so were called the White Monks. The Cistercians were a reforming order of the Church, who sought to reform the church through spiritual and physical hardship, from 1098AD. This was first achieved at Citeaux from where the order took its name - under the leadership of Stephen Harding and Hugh of Malmose.
When building the Cistercians chose sites in (usually) remote areas for their improvement. The buildings were plain when compared to the churches of the other monastic orders, such as the Benedictines), often by being whitewashed, whilst a general rule prohibited decorative floor tiles. The Cistercians were famous for simple lifestyles, biblical and biographical studies, and their internal annual conferences. The Cistercians established Newminster Abbey in the 1130s AD, near Morpeth, Northumberland.

To serve the self-supporting monasteries Cistercians used lay brothers who carried out the manual works, and extensive specialised granges for agricultural, salt and metal production. Over time the Cistercian ideals of the abbots, (including the first Newminster abbot, Saint Robert), faded as they accumulated large amounts of money from the sale of their gathered surplus, notably wool. This money often went on decoration and elaboration of churches - economic crashes in the price of wool occasionally meant that some Cistercian monasteries ended up owing money widely.

The early aspirations of the order persuaded some monks of other orders to join. These included Saint Robert of Newminster (1100?-1159AD) who had previously been a Benedictine at Whitby. Robert wrote a number of works (now lost) and according to his biographer he was zealous for prayer and poverty. Ailred of Rievaulx, Yorkshire, (1110-1167AD) also had northern connections to Hexham, and wrote a life of the Hexham saints. Both these men knew and admired the hermit Saint Godric.

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