Early years
Early years (circa 1120)
We monks of Citeaux, the first founders of this church, inform our successors by this present text through whose agency and in what circumstances the monastery and our way of life came into being, and on what canonical authority they rest; so that, when the whole truth is laid before them, they may have a stronger love for the place and for the observance of the holy Rule, which we, in one way or another, implanted here with the help of God's grace; that they may pray for us who have, unflagging, borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat; and that they too, on the strait and narrow path traced by the Rule, may sweat it out until they breathe their last and, having laid down their mortal load, repose happily in everlasting rest.
The text goes on to relate hour Robert of Molesmes and six brothers, among them Stephen Harding, approached Hugh, Archbishop of Lyons and apostolic legate, to seek his support in leaving Molesmes and founding a community dedicated to a stricter observance of St Benedict's Rule. Hugh provides them with a letter of authority.
Thereafter the abbot and his disciples, strong in the authority of so great a prelate, went back to Molesmes and chose from that community companions wholly devoted to the Rule, numbering, with the monks who had spoken with the legate at Lyons, twenty-one in all. Such was the serried company that set out eagerly for a wilderness known as Citeaux, a locality in the diocese of Chalon where men rarely penetrated and none but wild things lived, so densely covered was it then with woodland and thorn bush. When the men of God arrived there and realized that the less attractive and accessible the site was to laymen, the better it would suit themselves, they began, after felling and clearing the close-growing thickets and bushes, to build a monastery; and this at the wish of the Bishop of Chalon and with the agreement of the lord Odo, Duke of Burgundy, to whom the place belonged. The duke, delighted with their holy fervour and encouraged thereto by a letter from the legate, later completed at his own expense the wooden monastery they had begun, and for a long time after saw to all their needs and made them generous gifts of lands and livestock.
A brief account of the circumstances surrounding Abbot Robert's return to Molesmes and the election of Alberic as his successor is supported by an array of letters and documents culminating in the Roman Privilege, which confirmed the independent existence of the New Monastery under the protection of the Pope.
Thereafter Abbot Alberic and his brethren, mindful of their solemn promise, took the unanimous decision to institute and keep in that locality the Rule of blessed Benedict, rejecting whatever contravened it: namely, long-sleeved tunics and furs, fine linen shirts, caps and breeches, combs, quilts and coverlets, and a variety of courses in the refectory, as well as lard2 and everything else that militates against the purity of the Rule. And thus, drawing the integrity of the Rule over the whole tenor of their life –liturgical observance as well as daily living - they followed faithfully in its track, and, having stripped off the old self, they rejoiced to have put on the new.
Finding no evidence in the Rule or in the life of St Benedict that he, their teacher, had possessed churches or altars, offerings or burial dues, other men's tithes, ovens or mills, villages or peasants, and no sign either that women had entered his monastery or that the dead were buried there, save only his sister, they renounced all these privileges, saying: 'When blessed Father Benedict teaches that a monk should set himself apart from secular conduct, he gives a clear witness that such matters should find no place in the conduct or hearts of monks, who should strive to live out the meaning of their name by shunning such things as these.' They also said that the holy Fathers, who were the mouthpiece of the Holy Spirit and whose statutes it is sacrilege to transgress, had distributed tithes four ways: one part, that is, to the bishop, another to the parish priest, a third for the needs of travellers, of widows and orphans, or of the poor without other means of sustenance, and a fourth for the repair of the church. Finding no mention in that reckoning of the monk, who lives, by working his own lands with the help of his cattle, they declined to arrogate wrongly to themselves another's right. The world's wealth thus held at naught, and poor as Christ was poor, his new recruits debated among themselves by what exercise of brains or brawn they might provide for themselves and for the guests, rich and poor, whom the Rule bids us receive as Christ. 
It was then that they decided, with the bishop's permission, to take in bearded lay- brothers, whom they would treat as themselves in life and in death – the status of monk apart - and also hired men, because without such backing they did not see how they could fully observe, day and night, the precepts of the Rule. They would accept lands as well, in isolated places far from human habitation, and vineyards, meadows and woods, and streams for driving mills, but for their own use only and for fishing, and horses too, and the different sorts of livestock useful for men's needs. And since they had set up farmsteads here and there for cultivating their lands, they resolved that the aforesaid lay- brothers, rather than the monks, should manage these steadings, because monks, according to the Rule, should live in their own cloister. And knowing that blessed Benedict had built his monasteries not in cities, towns or villages, but in places unfrequented and remote,-they vowed to imitate him. And just as he had set up the monasteries he built with twelve monks and an abbot, they affirmed themselves ready to do the same.
A certain sadness weighed on God's servant, Abbot Alberic, and his monks, because it was rare in those days that anyone came to emulate them. The holy men had a passionate desire to commit to successors their heaven-sent treasure of virtues for the salvation of many yet to come, but almost everyone seeing and hearing of the exceptional and almost unheard-of harshness of their life, instead of drawing near, made haste to put heart and body at a distance, and could not understand their perseverance. But, as what follows will make plain, the mercy of God, which had inspired them to enter this spiritual militia, proceeded in notable fashion to enlarge and perfect it to the advancement of many.
Alberic, man of God, after nine and a half fruitful years spent training himself in Christ's school in the discipline of the Rule, passed over to the Lord, resplendent in faith and virtues and therefore well deserving that God should bless him in eternity. He was succeeded by a certain Stephen, a brother of English birth who had himself come with the others from Molesmes to Citeaux and loved both the Rule and the place. It was in his time that the brothers, in conjunction with their abbot, prohibited the Duke of Burgundy or any other lord from ever holding court in the church, as had formerly been their custom on great festivals. From then on, to ensure that God's house, in which they desired to serve him devoutly day and night, was empty of anything redolent of pomp or superfluity, or tending to corrupt the poverty - guardian of the virtues -which they had unconstrainedly embraced, they settled that they would keep neither gold nor silver crosses, but only ones of painted wood, nor more than one branched candlestick, and that of iron, nor censers, save of copper or iron, nor any but fustian or linen chasubles without silk or gold or silver, nor albs or amices except of linen, and likewise without silk, gold or silver. As regards all mantles, copes, dalmatics and tunics, these they eschewed entirely. They did, however, keep chalices, not gold but silver ones, or preferably silver gilt, and a silver communion tube, again, if possible, gilded; stoles too and maniples of plain silk without gold or silver. And they laid down, too, that the altar cloths should be made of linen and have no ornamentation, and that the wine cruets should be without gold or silver.
In those days the church at Citeaux grew in lands and vineyards, meadows and farmsteads, without any decrease in fervour, and God in consequence visited that place and poured out his mercies on those who called on him, entreating him with tears, and with sighs dragged day and night from their inmost core, as they neared the threshold of despair over their almost total lack of followers. For God's grace at one stroke sent that church as many as thirty recruits –lettered clerks of gentle birth and laymen just as noble and wielding dominion in the world – who enthusiastically entered the novices' cell together and, fighting successfully against their own vices and the incitements of evil spirits, completed their probation.
Meanwhile, young men and old, of divers conditions and places, inspired by their example and seeing that what they had previously dreaded as impossible in the keeping of the Rule was in fact being achieved by these, started hastening to Citeaux to submit their proud necks to Christ's gentle yoke, and, embracing with ardour the hard and gruelling precepts of the Rule, they brought to that church a wonderful renewal of joy and vigour.
Abbeys thereafter were established in different dioceses, which in time, through God's ample and active blessing, grew until, eight years later, counting those which had sprung from Citeaux itself and others to which these daughter houses had given birth, a total of twelve monasteries were found to have been built.