Cistercian architecture

The Cistercians, a Roman Catholic religious order of enclosed monks and nuns, was founded by a group of Benedictine monks from the monastery of Molesme in 1098, with the goal of more closely following the Rule of Saint Benedict.The Order was, by family links, closely related to the founding families of the Knights Templar in Champagne and Flanders.


Cistercian architecture is considered one of the most beautiful styles of medieval architecture. Cistercian architecture has made an important contribution to European civilization. Because of the pure style of the Cistercian monasteries and churches, they may be counted among the most beautiful relics of the Middle Ages. Cistercian institutions were primarily constructed in Romanesque and Gothic architectural styles during the Middle Ages; although later abbeys were also constructed in Renaissance and Baroque.

Theological Principles

Cistercian architecture was based on rational principles. In the mid-12th century, the prominent Benedictine Abbot Suger of Saint-Denis had united elements of Norman architecture with elements of Burgundinian architecture (rib vaults and pointed arches respectively), creating the new style of Gothic architecture. This new "architecture of light" was intended to raise the observer "from the material to the immaterial" – it was, according to the 20th century French historian Georges Duby, a "monument of applied theology. " Cistercian architecture expressed a different aesthetic and theology while learning from the Benedictine's advances. Although St. Bernard saw much of church decoration as a distraction from piety, and the builders of the Cistercian monasteries had to adopt a style that observed the numerous rules inspired by his austere aesthetics, the order itself was receptive to the technical improvements of Gothic principles of construction and played an important role in its spread across Europe.
This new Cistercian architecture embodied the ideals of the order, and in theory was utilitarian and without superfluous ornament. The same "rational, integrated scheme" was used across Europe to meet the largely homogeneous needs of the order. Various buildings, including the chapter-house to the east and the dormitories above, were grouped around a cloister, and were sometimes linked to the transept of the church itself by a night stair. Usually Cistercian churches were cruciform, with a short presbytery to meet the liturgical needs of the brethren, small chapels in the transepts for private prayer, and an aisle-edged nave that was divided roughly in the middle by a screen to separate the monks from the lay brothers.

Engineering and Construction

The building projects of the Church in the High Middle Ages showed an ambition for the colossal, with vast amounts of stone being quarried. This was also true of the Cistercian projects. Foigny Abbey was 98 meters (322 ft) long; Vaucelles Abbey was 132 metres (433 ft) long. Monastic buildings came to be constructed entirely of stone, right down to the most humble of buildings. In the 12th and 13th centuries, Cistercian barns consisted of a stone exterior, divided into nave and aisles either by wooden posts or by stone piers. The Cistercians recruited the best stone cutters. As early as 1133, St. Bernard was hiring workers to help the monks erect new buildings at Clairvaux. It is from the 12th century Byland Abbey, in Yorkshire, that the oldest recorded example of architectural tracing is found. Tracings were architectural drawings incised and painted in stone, to a depth of 2–3 mm, showing architectural detail to scale.


The Cistercian abbeys of Fontenay in France, Fountains in England , Alcobaça in Portugal, Poblet in Spain and Maulbronn in Germany are today recognized as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

source illustration Fountains France from wikimedia and text:

The Templars of Nieuwpoort (Flanders, Belgium)

Few things remain of the Templar presence in Nieuwpoort, a coastal city of the Belgian province of West Flanders.

In 1239, a lady Ogilve, widow of Gilles Quathar (which makes one think of the French Cathars), bequeathed to Molensteen Willard, Commander of the Temple House of Yper, some property situated in the territory of Nieuwpoort.

At the time the Templar tower of Nieuwpoort, also known as Devil's Tower (or Tour Saint-Laurent), was attached to the church of St Lawrence. The church, a possession of the Templars, was destroyed by fire in 1913. The tower also served as a beacon to indicate the port entrance to the sailors. She was also one of the most important astronomical stations in Belgium.

The Templar Tower was destroyed in 1941 by the four giant guns of the battle ship Tirpitz of the German army. The ruins of the tower are visible at the Willem de Roolaan (lane), a few tens of meters from the Nijverheidstraat (street).

Demolition in 1819 of a staircase inside the tower revealed ancient murals. A paper entitled "Notes on an ancient painting discovered at Newport" by J.L. Kesteloot noted the historical ties between Nieuwpoort and the Templars. It also referred to the animosity between the Templars and the King of France, Philip the Fair. These lead to the Battle of the Golden Spurs in 1302, during which the Flemish militia, supported by contingents of Wallonia and the Templars themselves, defeated one of the most powerful armies in Europe 

Charles Saint-André

Illustration and translated text from source. A list of Flemisch Templar sites can be found here and here..  

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