Marienhausen around 1910, archives R. Nägler
The Order of the Cistercians was established in 1098 in Cîteaux, France with the objective of adhering more strictly to the Rule established by St. Benedict of Nursia for his monks in the year 540 A.D..
The new community advocated strict asceticism and manual labour, as well as rejecting revenue from rent or taxation. It was thus one of the first poverty movements in Medieval times. Its church buildings were characterized by sobriety and abstention from the use of paintings, gilt decoration and mosaic floors. The latest renovations also attempt to take account of this way of looking at things.
Cîteaux Abbey would have represented a clear act of reformation had Bernard of Clairvaux not arrived at the abbey in 1113. Clairvaux was at the beginning of a great revival which resulted in the establishment of numerous monasteries throughout Europe.
Taking their lead from Jesus and his disciples, parties of 12 monks, each under the leadership of an abbot, set out to establish new abbeys. Each new abbey was then supervised and visited on an annual basis by the abbot of its mother abbey. By the end of the Middle Ages, the number of Cistercian abbeys had grown to more than 700 throughout Europe. One of the largest entirely preserved monasteries is Kloster Eberbach in the Rheingau.
Initially, the Cistercian monks rejected the idea of establishing a female counterpart of their order. However, the first Cistercian convent was founded as early as 1120. In the 13th century a large number of convents including Marienhausen were accepted into the order.
Over time the Cistercians became wealthier and gained in influence, thus abandoning the idea of reclusiveness. The rise of the concept of mendicant orders such as the Franciscans led to a decline in the attractiveness of the Cistercians. After the movement’s apogee in the 13th century, when it boasted almost 650 abbeys, a decline set in and in Germany the Reformation resulted in the dissolution of the majority of Cistercian abbeys. Following the French Revolution Cîteaux was closed down and the order thus left without leadership. After this many abbeys were abandoned.
In 2002 the Cistercian Order consisted of 1513 monks in 92 monasteries and 1016 nuns in 67 convents.