Founded in 1098, the Cistercian Order began as a reformed form of Benedictine life.
They deliberately chose solitude, far away from towns, so that they could maintain, without interruption, an integral and balanced way of life in worship, prayer and work for the community as a whole, not just for the individual. When they had cleared the land, their buildings were to be always simple and unadorned. Fontenay, founded in 1118, and one of the first monasteries from this period, is a good example. But the Cistercians, (their name came from the Latin translation of Cīteaux, Cistercium) were not rustics. They made beautiful copies of books, and compared the available editions of the bible and liturgies to find what they assumed to be the purest texts and music.
From this small seed the great Cistercian Order sprang, covering Europe with abbeys before the next century was fifty years old. Because their task in building and working virgin land was so immense they accepted laymen as brothers who by their work would enable the monks to attend the services in choir according to the Rule. The lay brothers took vows like the monks and often outnumbered the monks by three to one.
One of the enduring legacies of the first fifty years was the flowering among the monks of a literature that revealed a new warmth and humanism, almost a mystical spirituality. Bernard of Clairvaux is well known but there were others among his contemporaries such as Guerric of Igny and Aelred of Rievaulx in Yorkshire. Describing the common life together in the Spirit, they speak the language of friendship.