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Sunday, 22 July 2012

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux

Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) was born in Fontaine-lès-Dijon parents to Lord of Fontaines, and Aleth of Montbard, who both belonged to the highest nobility of Burgundy. Bernard was the third of a family of seven children.

During his youth, Bernard did not escape trying temptations and he thought of retiring from the world and living a life of solitude and prayer. When at the age of 19, his mother died, Bernard sought admission into the Cistercian order. He withdrew from riches to live a life of poverty and a diet of cooked beech and herbs.

Three years later, Bernard was sent to found a new abbey at an isolated clearing in a glen known as the Val d'Absinthe, about 15 kilometers southeast of Bar-Sur-Aube. He founded the monastery on June 25, 1115, naming it Claire Vallée, which evolved into Clairvaux. Bernard was joined by 27 of his friends and relations including four of his brothers.

By the late 1120s, the monastery had become under Bernard of Clairvaux’s rule the most prominent of the Cistercian order. Bernard’s eloquent preaching and the miracles witnessed there attracted numerous pilgrims.

The original Clairvaux Abbey is now in ruins; the present structure dates from 1708. The grounds are now occupied and used by Clairvaux Prison, a high-security prison.

Clairvaux Abbey


It is said that Bernard was a saint of such purity that he made others feel their impurity and many of his monks were afraid even to come into his presence. It only required a few minutes in his company to learn how far they have fallen short.

Bernard of Clairvaux, true effigy by Georg Andreas Wasshuber (1650–1732)

By 1146 around 70 monasteries had been founded under the auspices of the one at Clairvaux and Bernard has established himself as one of the most influential men in Christendom. He was especially influential in advocating a more personal faith in which he taught that the Virgin Mary is the bridge between humanity and our savior Jesus Christ. Bernard s also gained a reputation for denouncing liberal monks who undermine the mysteries of God by trying to understand the Christian faith through philosophy and intellectual means.

On March 31, 1146 at the command of the pope, Bernard of Clairvaux preached a sermon at Vézelay, promoting a second Crusade that aroused enthusiasm throughout Western Europe. Louis VII, the King of France was persuaded to join the Crusade and recruits from northern France, Flanders and Germany were soon signing up.


Bernard of Clairvaux died at the age of sixty-three on August 20, 1153, after forty years spent in the cloister. He was buried at the Clairvaux Abbey, but after its dissolution in 1792 by the French revolutionary government, his remains were transferred to the Troyes Cathedral.


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