Key qualities of the Cistercian Order: simplicity, practicality and self-sufficiency

"The promotion of the tenets of their faith on one hand and desire to return to the simplicity of early monasticism on the other, permitted the Cistercians (...) art and architecture. (...) As St Bernard envisaged the Earth as the work of Divine Architect, he himself as a head of his order, actively participated in many practical aspects of founding new Cistercian monasteries, including solving concrete architectural problems. (...) 

Their churches and monasteries, usually build in wild and remote places, emulating the model of Monte Cassino and 'the desert of Citeaux, were simple yet beautifully constructed structures, without unnecessary ornamentations and gildings as not to disturb the monks from work and pray routine.

Yet it wasn't the beauty, although that came almost as an afterthought, which characterised most of the Cistercian endeavours. It was the simplicity and practicality. It is precisely because they wanted to prove to themselves and others that simple monastic life is the panaceum for all the world's ills, that they excelled in anything which required and promoted self-sufficiency, and that included science needed for providing sustenance and general survival of the monks.

Because their monasteries were usually located in remote locations, they developed a highly sophisticated hydraulic engineering and pioneered the use of water wheels. Their metallurgists were well known for their kills and the forges and factories were always located within the monastery complex, which shows us that it was the monks themselves who worked there and not the lay workers."

Source (slightly edited by TN): Igor R. Murawski Features of Cistercian monasticism in the twelfth century. Illustration: Cistercians at work in a detail from the Life of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, illustrated by Jörg Breu the Elder (1500)
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