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Cistercian Sisters

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The first Cistercian monastery for women was established at Tart in the Diocese of Langres (now Dijon), in the year 1125, by sisters from the Benedictine monastery of Juilly, and with the co-operation of St. Stephen Harding, Abbot of Cîteaux. At Juilly, a dependence of Molesme, Ste Humbleine, sister of St. Bernard, lived and died. The Cistercian Sisters of Tart founded successively Ferraque (1140) in the Diocese of Noyon, Blandecques (1153) in the Diocese of St-Omer, and Montreuil-les-Dames (1164) near Laon. In Spain the first Cistercian monastery of women was that of Tulebras (1134) in the Kingdom of Navarre. Then came Las Huelgas de Valladolid (1140), Espirito Santo at Olmedo (1142), Villabona, or San Miguel de las Duenas (1155), Perales (1160), Gradefes (1168), etc. But the most celebrated was Santa Maria la Real, or Las Huelgas de Burgos, founded in 1187 by Alfonso VIII of Castile. The observance was established there by Cistercian nuns who came from Tulebras, under the guidance of Misol, who became its first abbess. The second abbess was Constance, daughter of the founder, who believed she had the power of preaching in her church and hearing confessions of her religious. In the following year, 1190, the eighteen abbesses of France held their first general chapter at Tart. The abbesses of France and Spain themselves made the regular visits to their houses of filiation. The Council of Trent, by its decrees regarding the cloister of religious put an end to the chapter and the visits. In Italy, in 1171, were founded the monasteries of Santa Lucia at Syracuse, San Michele at Ivrea, and that of Conversano, the only one in the peninsula in which the abbesses carry a crosier. A century later the Cistercian Sisters were in Switzerland, in Germany, and Flanders.

The decadence which manifested itself in the Cistercian Order towards the middle of the fourteenth century was felt also in the convents of nuns. But among them energetic efforts were made to restore the primitive observance or to introduce a new one. It was at this time that the order of the Conception was founded in Spain, at Toledo, by Beatriz de Silva. But her religious were not slow to abandon the Cistercian rule for that of the Clares. In France Jeanne de Courcelles de Pourlan, having been elected Abbess of Tart in 1617, restored the regular discipline in her community, which was transferred to Dijon in 1625. Owing to the hostility of the Abbot of Cîteaux to the reform she had her abbey withdrawn by the Holy See from the jurisdiction of the Order of Cîteaux. Another reform was effected at Port-Royal des Champs by Angélique Arnauld, 1602 (see Arnauld, under Jacqueline-Marie-Angelique), who, to provide for the ever-increasing number of her religious, founded Port-Royal de Paris, in the borough of Saint-Jacques (1622). Queen Marie de Medicis declared herself protectress of this institution, and Pope Urban VIII exempted it from the jurisdiction of the Abbot of Cîteaux and placed it under that of Paris. The religious of Port-Royal de Paris and of Port-Royal des Champs ended by consecrating themselves to adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. But the vicinity of the Abbé de Saint-Cyran was dangerous to them, and these religious saw the suppression and destruction of Port-Royal des Champs by order of the king (1710), while they themselves were dispersed. The property and abbatial titles were annexed to Port-Royal de Paris, which subsisted up to the time of the French Revolution, and was transformed first into a prison, and then into a maternity hospital.

After the French Revolution another reform took place. Dom Augustin de Lestrange gathered the scattered Cistercian Sisters of France, with members of other orders that had been equally dispersed, and reconstructed the Cistercian Sisterhood. In 1795 he gave them a monastery which he called the Holy Will of God (La Sainte-Volonté de Dieu), situated in the Bas-Valais, Switzerland. The Trappistines, for so the new religious were called, were obliged to leave Switzerland in 1798. They courageously followed the Trappist monks in their travels over Europe, returned to Switzerland in 1803, and remained there until 1816, when at length they were able to return to France and take up their abode at Forges, near La Trappe. Two years later they occupied an old monastery of the Augustinians at Les Gardes, in the Diocese of Angers. The Trappistines spread quickly all over France, and into other countries of Europe. They have new monasteries in almost all parts of the world, and since the reunion of the three congregations of La Trappe, in 1892, they have been officially entitled: Reformed Cistercians of the Strict Observance.

The actual status (1908) of the Cistercian Sisters, Reformed and Non-Reformed, is as follow: The Reformed Cistercian nuns, or Trappistines, occupy 21 monasteries, with about 2000 religious. The monasteries are distributed as follow: nine in France, one in Italy, three in Holland, one in England, one in Spain, one in Belgium, one in Germany, one in Switzerland, two in Canada, one in Japan. To these twenty-one houses must be added twenty others of the Non-Reformed Cistercian nuns in Spain, affiliated to the order of Reformed Cistercians so far as spiritual matters are concerned, but remaining under the jurisdiction of the bishops. The Non-Reformed, or Common Observance of Cîteaux, possess: in the Congregation of Austria three monasteries with 124 members, in the Congregation of Switzerland 12 monasteries with 574 members, and in the Observance of Sénanque two monasteries with thirty members. (See also Bernardines.)

Cistercian nuns in America

A Cistercian novice who came from Europe at the same time as the Trappists, and who was joined by seventeen American women, tried to establish a community. Circumstances prevented this. Father Vincent de Paul, at Tracadie, having asked the Congregation of Notre-Dame of Montreal for three sisters to help him with his mission in Nova Scotia, established them there and after probation admitted them to the profession of simple vows of the Third Order of La Trappe. But the community never in reality formed a part of the Order of Cîteaux and never even wore the Cistercian habit. The monastery of Our Lady of Good Counsel, St. Romuald, near Quebec, the first genuine community of Cistercian nuns in America, was established in 1902 by Mother Lutgarde, prioress of Bonneval, France. On 21 November, 1902, she brought thither a small colony of religious women. On 29 July of the following year Mgr. Marois, as delegate of the Archbishop of Quebec, blessed the new monastery. Though this kind of life was entirely new to the young women of Canada, vocations were not wanting. The means of subsistence for this house are agricultural labour and the manufacture of chocolate. The community is under the direction of the Archbishop of Quebec. Another at Rogersville, New Brunswick, where there were already some Cistercian monks, was established by the sisters expelled by the French Government from their monastery of Vaise, at Lyons.


Hélyot, Dictionnaire des ordres religieux; Gaillardin, Histoire de La Trappe; L'Abbaye de N.D. du Lac et l'ordre de Cîteaux au Canada et dans les Etats-Unis.

About this page

APA citation. Gildas, M. (1908). Cistercian Sisters. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Gildas, Marie. "Cistercian Sisters." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 3. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Larry Trippett. In memory of Fr. Columban, Our Lady of Guadalupe parish, Oregon, whose kindness and wisdom remain with me.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. November 1, 1908. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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