The founding of a Cistercian abbey, a good investment

"The founding of a Cistercian abbey was a comparatively cheap investment, in comparison to other monastic orders. The patrons, while seeking the spiritual rewards from charity, were also looking to develop their land. The Cistercians ventured into the wilderness to seek self sufficiency, a Cistercian abbey depended on cultivating a great expanses of wasteland, woodland and marshland.

Many abbeys actually became economic hubs and the white monks would either through acquisitions or donations obtain more land and subsequently build more granges to manage their growing estates. Instead of finding self-sufficiency they found greater produce, losing sight of their early principles of austerity. Newman concurs, ‘by the late twelfth century, they had abandoned their early ideals’.

This was not evident to all, the papacy rewarded the Order with exemptions to aid them on their journey to seclusion. A bull, Privilegium Romanum, (1100, TN) exempted the Order from any taxation: archbishop or bishop, an emperor or king, prince or duke, a count or viscount, a judge or any other clerical or secular person were all under threat of excommunication if they ignored the bull. Pope Paschall II decreed this because he believed in the spirituality the early Cistercians had set forth – that they would reject normal forms of income: churches with their tithes, manors held by feudal tenure, mills and rents. The Cistercians would take these donations, and subsequently, their untaxed economic growth in England caught the attention of the monarchy. This is where the conflict derives from: A prosperous monastic order has the necessary resources to support the King, but because of the Cistercians’ belief and dedication to the ideal of austerity any form of taxation was refuted by them, as an attack on their liberties and spirituality."

This blog quotes from the MA thesis of Luke Randell: "The Cistercian Order’s relationship with King Richard and King John" published on Illustration: Waverley Abbey, the first Cistercian abbey in England, founded in 1128. Source:

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