Also known as the Order of Citeaux or the White Monks. A Benedictine reform, established at Citeaux, Burgundy, France in 1098 by Saint Robert of Molesme to restore literal observance of the Rule of Saint Benedict. Previous attempts at reform in monasteries of the Order of Cluny had met with little success when Saint Robert with twenty companions, retired to Citeaux in 1098 to adopt a more severe regimen and restore the gravity and simplicity proper to monastic ceremonies. The successor of Saint Robert, Saint Alberic of Citeaux, gave the monks their white habit and secured the community under Apostolic protection in 1100. From Saint Bernard‘s entrance into the Order in 1112, and his foundation of the colony at Clairvaux in 1115 dates a period of extraordinary development. The statutes were drafted by Saint Stephen Harding and approved by Pope Callistus II in 1119; decisions of the general chapters were codified in 1133, 1240, 1316, and 1335. The order numbered 350 abbeys in 1152, of which 54 were in England where the first foundation had been made at Waverly in 1129. Commended many times by papal Bulls, the Order conferred great benefits on society during its golden age (1134 to 1342) by charitable works and intellectual labours, producing also a great number of saints.
During their decline period from 1342 to 1790, the Order was split by the dissensions of those who countenanced abuses and the reformers who rose to combat them. The result was the division into Common Observance and Strict Observance, but the latter was prevented from forming an independent Order by the Bull of Alexander VII in 1666. Since 1892, however, they have been distinct and autonomous. The Reformation overthrew the monasteries in England, and the French Revolution further reduced the order to mere remnants of its former prestige. For restoration and further history of the Strict Observance, see also Trappists.
Certain modern congregations together with those that escaped the persecution now form the Common Observance. They are in England, Ireland, Italy, Austria, Germany, France, Belgium, Hungary, Bohemia, and Poland. Cistercian Sisters have existed as part of the Order since 1125. There are Reformed Cistercian Nuns, or Trappistines, and Non-Reformed, or nuns of the Common Observance of Citeaux. The first genuine community of Cistercian Nuns in America was established in 1902, near Quebec, Canada. See also