Chapel Logo Graphic

Profile - Saint Bernhard of Clairvaux

Submitted by James Seidel

T he most influential spiritual leader of the early 1100s was a humble monk, living in a rugged monastery of his own creation near the town of Clairvaux in southern France. Bernhard of Clairvaux also happened to the be nephew of Andre de Montbard, one of the founding members of the Poor Knights of Christ and the Temple of Jerusalem (Templars).

B ernhard was a slightly built man with a short brown beard. In 1126, then aged 36, Bernhard appeared as frail as that of an old man. He had a chronic gastric disorder that kept him perpetually weak. Yet through this physical frailty shone a spiritual strength that caused even popes and kings to seek his advice.

L egend has it that before his birth, his mother dreamed that she bore a barking dog within her. A monk interpreted the dream as meaning her child would be a healer and watch-dog of the Church. By the age of 21, Bernhard had joined the monastery of Citeaux - persuading 29 others to take the vow with him and four of his five brothers. His youngest brother joined him later. By the time Bernhard was 35, the austere Citeaux monastery had grown to include three daughter-houses. Bernhard was abbot of a monastery he had built-up from nothing, in an isolated valley called Absinth.

H is faith was simple, direct and uncompromising. Many of his letters survive, giving a clear picture of a man totally devoted to his faith, but with love and compassion. His letters and sermons saw his reputation as a visionary spread quickly and far. Even before 10 years as abbot had passed, Bernhard had been called upon to resolve international disputes, chastise kings, advise those who asked and inspire the population to piety.

B ernhard slept little, and ate minimally because of his condition. Anything less than complete worship was, to him, a waste of time. He feared no mans anger and was eminently practical in his decisions. King Baldwin sent Montbard and Gondemare of the Templars to petition St Bernhard's support for a new Militant Order. Bernhard leapt upon the idea, convincing the Pope and the Holy Council of the Church Knights merit. On January 13, 1128, St Bernhard addressed the assembly at Troyes cathedral - presenting the Rule of the Knights Templar which was to defend the Holy Land for almost 200 years.

S t Bernhard was forced by Pope Eugenius III to throw much of his reputation and status into raising the disastrous Second Crusade. He did this, despite failing health and great reluctance. After Christendom's defeat, he returned to his monastery where he composed a series of sermons which have since become literary classics. He died at Clairvaux in 1153. By the time of his death, his monastery at Clairvaux had grown to include more than 160 affiliated daughter-houses.

Armory Bailey Barracks Chapel Dungeon Library Pub

Portcullis | Quick Tour | Search the Preceptory