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Cistercians (OCist or SOCist = Sacer Ordo Cisterciensis), White Monks or Bernardines, monastic order formed by a group of Benedictine monks, founded at Citeaux (Burgundy) in 1098; assumed European importance when St. Bernard of Clairvaux joined the order in 1112; established many monasteries in Austria, mostly in valley locations. The first Cistercian monastery in Austria was founded as early as 1129 at Rein, Styria; Otto von Freising called Cistercian monks from France to Lower Austria, where they founded a monastery on the Sattelbach stream in the Vienna Woods in 1133 (later to be called Heiligenkreuz); many other monasteries were founded from Heiligenkreuz (e.g. Lilienfeld, Zwettl. Owing to their colonisation efforts, particularly in remote forest areas, the Cistercians assumed outstanding importance in the 12th and 13th centuries. They established model farms, promoted horticulture and wine growing, horse breeding, fish production, mining and wool trade, and contributed greatly to the spread and development of the art and culture of the High Middle Ages in Austria. Today, their focus is on pastoral care and education.

The strict organisation of the Cistercian Order and the fact that the individual monasteries remained dependent upon their parent institution had considerable impact on their architecture, which was subject to extremely strict rules (no towers or spires, rectangular chancels without apses, flat-roofed naves, absence of ornamentation, compensated by the excellence and noble proportions of the masonry; except for wooden crucifixes, sculptures and paintings were forbidden, as was stained glass other than grisaille). This austerity was somewhat relaxed with the transition to Gothic art; in the Baroque period, the Cistercians vied with the other major Orders for architectural excellence. In art, Austria is indebted to the Cistercians for the early introduction of Gothic Architecture (Hall choirs at Heiligenkreuz, Lilienfeld and Zwettl, numerous cloisters), which the master builders (Cistercian monks) brought from their parent monasteries in France. The Cistercians also contributed greatly to Austrian historiography (Otto von Freising, Johann von Viktring, Gutolf von Heiligenkreuz, Annales Sancrucenses, Chronicon Zwettlense, Annals of Rein).

During the Hussite wars and the Reformation many Cistercian monasteries were severely damaged and some completely destroyed, but the order witnessed a glorious revival during the Baroque era. In the course of Joseph I's reforms a number of monasteries were abolished or converted to other uses. In the 20th century the Cistercians regained importance, in particular in the field of education, and also engaged in some mission work in Latin America. (In 1928 a mission was established in Bolivia by monks from Wilhering and in 1938 monks from Schlierbach founded an abbey at Jequitibà, Brazil).

Cistercian abbeys in Austria: Austrian Congregation of the Sacred Heart at Rein (Styria,1129), Heiligenkreuz (Lower Austria, 1133), Zwettl (Lower Austria, 1138), Wilhering (Upper Austria, 1146), Lilienfeld (Lower Austria, 1202), Neukloster at Wiener Neustadt (Lower Austria, 1444, since 1881 a priorate of Heiligenkreuz), Schlierbach (Upper Austria, 1620); Mehrerau Congregation: Stams (Tirol, 1272), Wettingen-Mehrerau (Vorarlberg, 1854).

Former Cistercian abbeys: Baumgartenberg (Upper Austria, 1141-1784), Viktring (Carinthia, 1142-1786), Marienberg (Burgenland, 1194-1532, razed), Schlaegl (Upper Austria, 1204, ceded to Premonstratensians in 1218), Engelszell (Upper Austria 1293-1786, Trappist monastery since 1925), Neuberg (Styria, 1327-1786), Saeusenstein (Lower Austria, 1334-1789).

The female order of Cistercians was founded almost simultaneously with the male order (first abbess appointed in 1125). The regulae governing female Cistercians are the same as those of the male order, and they are either directly subject to the order or to diocesan bishops. Principal activities are contemplation and handicrafts. They had institutions in Vienna (near the Stubentor Gate and in Singerstrasse), St. Bernhard bei Horn (1277-1610), Ybbs an der Donau (ca. 1280-1598), Friesach (1251-1608) and Schlierbach (1355-1556, 1620 reopened as a male monastery). Existing monasteries: Mariastern Abbey at Gwiggen-Hohenweiler (Vorarlberg), Priorate Marienfeld bei Maria Roggendorf (Lower Austria, newly founded, consecrated in 1982), Marienkron Abbey near Moenchhof (Burgenland); Mariengarten abbey in South Tirol/Alto Adige).


L. Janauschek, Originum Cisterciensium, 1877; H. Rose, Die Baukunst der Zisterzienser, 1916; Festschrift zum 800-Jahr-Gedaechtnis des Todes Bernhards von Clairvaux. Oesterreichische Beitraege zur Geschichte des Zisterzienser-Ordens, 1954; H. Halm, Die fruehe Kirchenbaukunst der Zisterzienser, 1957; L. J. Lekai and A. Schneider, Geschichte und Wirken der weissen Moenche, 1958; A. Schneider (ed.), Die Cistercienser. Geschichte, Geist, Kunst, 31986; J. Sydow, E. Mikkers and A. B. Hertkorn, Die Zisterzienser, 21991; Die Zisterzienser in Oesterreich, Stand vom 1. 11. 1993.