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St. Bernard of Clairvaux

Bernard de Montbard was born in 1090.  He was the son of the Lord of Fontaine, the head of an aristocratic French family.  Bernard was a child of fragile health leading to him spending much time separate from his siblings and contemporaries and was entrusted by his family to the local church canons.


Bernard of ClairvauxDuring a period of four years back at home living the life of a French aristocrat, Bernard felt the calling of the Monastic Life, and he became a novice monk at Citeaux Abbey at the age of 22. Approximately three years later he was sent to found a new abbey which became Clairvaux Abbey, of which he became abbot.


Clairvaux Abbey made a slow start as a Cistercian community, but then success was large.  Bernard’s own father and brothers joined the monastic order, leaving only his sister in the secular world.  She would later become a nun at a Benedictine nunnery.


During Bernard’s abbacy, he instructed groups of monks from the now overcrowded Clairvaux to set up new Cistercian communities across Europe, including Rievaulx, North Yorkshire, one of the first Cistercian abbeys founded in England. He led to the foundation of 163 monasteries across Europe. At his death, they numbered 343. It was to St Bernard that the rapid expansion of the Cistercian order is attributed.


Bernard was a prolific writer as well as a talented and intelligent abbot. He documented and published ‘The Apologia’, a text which promoted austerity, poverty and Cistercian simplicity as a way of life, opposing and contradicting other monastic orders’ ways.  Bernard quickly became a very important representative of the Cistercian Order, and indeed figure of Western Christianity.


During Bernard’s life as a high profile and very respected monk, he became involved with and led various religious councils, and liaised with King Henry I and several European religious leaders regarding which pope they should support.


Bernard died at the age of 63, with 40 years of cloister life behind him.  He was canonised by Pope Alexander III in 1174,  and was also bestowed the title of ‘ Doctor of the Church ‘ by Pope Pius VIII in 1830.




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Walking can be a dangerous sport.  Walkers should always be suitably equipped, including carrying and knowing how to use a map and compass.