Women and the Cistercian life
The Cistercians were devoted to the Virgin
the patron saint of the Order, but mortal women were kept well
away from the monks. Thus, whereas the Virgin was welcome to appear
in any of the monasteries at will - and even to stroll through
the monks’ dormitories working miracles – other women
were initially excluded from the Cistercian precinct. This at first
extended to all women, irrespective of their standing and regardless
of their relationship with the Order or a particular abbey. The General
Chapter of the Order was later forced to make concessions
and to allow access to women on certain occasions. Whilst the Cistercians
were more exclusive than the Benedictines, their attitude towards
women was not incongruous with the age. This was a time when women
were on the one hand associated with the Virgin Mary, yet, on the
other with the Temptress, Eve - and as monks were reminded, no
man since Adam had been able to resist the wiles of a woman.
Cistercians were also reluctant to welcome female religious within
their family. However, the General Chapter was later compelled
to reconsider its stance and for a short period in the thirteenth
century incorporated existing communities or acknowledged newly-founded
nunneries as belonging to the Cistercian Order. Before and after
this, however, a vast number of female communities that were
not formally recognised by the Order either claimed to be Cistercian
or were described as such by others. Accordingly, it was and
rather unclear what, precisely, it meant for a female community
to be Cistercian.
In this section you can read more about:
- The Cistercian nunneries - the problems that
we now have in determining which communities were Cistercian; the
and daily lives of the nuns.
- The Cistercians’ attitude to women
as visitors, the importance of women as patrons
their burial within the abbeys.