Dom Eamon Fitzgerald
Abbot General OCSO


Cistercian Family at Cîteaux, 2017


EFitzgeraldCîteaux is the place where the founding community of what was to become the Cistercian Order began over 900 years ago. On May 2-3, 2017 the present community hosted a meeting of members of the Cistercian family together with associates, professional/advisers/friends of the Abbey. The meeting was the brain-child of the Abbot of Cîteaux, Dom Olivier, who wanted to address some important challenges facing the community of Cîteaux not just in living its monastic life, but in living it in this place and with the eclectic heritage that the ravages of history have left it.

Since the celebrations of the 9th Centenary of the founding of Cîteaux in1998 the community has continued to develop access to the site first of all by setting up a fine exhibition centre which provides an excellent history of the abbey and a presentation of Cistercian life, and along with that a tourist walk to the buildings that remain from different periods (there is nothing from the 12th century though the site of the original stone church is outlined on the actual site in its original proportions and this in itself has an impact on the visitor). The exhibition centre and guided tours are managed by M. & Mme Grasset who are also responsible for the Centre for Cistercian Documentation. There is question of renovating some of these building with the possibility of state funding for the project; there is also a desire from the Regional authorities that the monastery offer more for cultural visitors in the area. Then there is the monastic community which is the raison d’être of the place, 26 members, a living witness of the Cistercian charism in the Church and world of today. They are a lively and energetic community with a good core of able people, alive to the challenges of today, with a solid economy (their cheese is much in demand) but who are also decreasing slowly in number while still attracting new members. They have a good balance in their monastic life but don’t have too much room for manoeuvre in terms of human resources. In short, they are busy keeping going and they can’t take on too much more in terms of other projects.

The idea of the meeting was to broaden the range of participants in the discussion, seeking a solution that would provide a fruitful coexistence between the living community and the historical site. The meeting was not just to deal with a concern of the present community but it was to involve the rest of the Cistercian Family for whom the place of Cîteaux is important. So among those present were the Abbots General, O. Cist and OCSO, the Prioresses General of the Bernardines d’Esquermes and d’Oudenaarde, the Procurator General O. Cist and abbots and abbesses of Acey, Orval, Rivet, Hauterive and La Maigrauge, a representative of the Lay Cistercians, professional advisers/friends of Cîteaux, M. & Mme Grasset, mentioned above and a number of members of the Cîteaux community – in all about 25-30 participants.

FitzgeraldresteegliseThe meeting had been well-prepared by a small steering-committee and the community of Cîteaux had also done its homework in terms of their economy, their human resources at this time and their possibilities. For those who did not know the site the first morning allowed time for a guided visit, and then it was down to meetings for the remainder of the two full days of work, tempered by sharing in the community liturgy, occasional contacts with the brothers and a shared meal with them too. The meetings were chaired by Dom Olivier while Brothers Rafael and Benoit were the secretaries. The discussion profited from the experience of members of the group who have historic monuments and know the financial, legal and human dimensions that go with managing the kind of ensemble in question. But the point that came across most clearly and that marked the meeting was the sense of the place, Cîteaux, and its importance for all members of the Cistercian family and specifically the site of the original church being at the heart of the symbolic value of Cîteaux as the source of the Cistercian charism. This intuition was put into words by Dom Mauro-Giuseppe but it immediately resonated with many others and the idea of having some 21st century building, possibly a chapel in this spot, won widespread approval. In fact, it emerged that this place was important for many of the participants at the meeting. It could be, for Cistercians, what Assisi or Loyola is for Franciscans or Jesuits, to paraphrase Dom Mauro-Giuseppe.

FitzgeraldDefinitoireTwo other topics engaged the group: that of the need to redesign the entrance to the abbey and the renovation of the building that at one time functioned as the Definitory of the Order. The entrance to the abbey, important as it is, was seen as a matter for the community of Cîteaux while the historical buildings were more the concern of the wider group. The former Definitory building is historically of greatest interest and so likely to receive the biggest subsidy from the State (Monuments Historiques). While it is not in good shape the building offers the greatest potential for development. It has sufficient space for exhibitions of a temporary or permanent nature; could provide one floor-level for the expanding needs of the archives of the Centre for Cistercian Documentation (CERCCIS) and also provide a space for sessions or conferences. In this location and with these resources it would provide spiritual, intellectual and cultural enrichment for the Cistercian patrimony.

Putting these ideas into effect will of course cost money and a great deal of work but, if the projects can be subsidized - estimates are significant but not extravagant - it seems that the funds could be raised. A first stage in the process is the setting up of a foundation with representation from the Cistercian Family, and this is already underway with the full accord of the community of Cîteaux.

Why do I mention this event? Because I think it is good news! It is also important for the Cistercian Family and the community of Cîteaux and may be of interest for the wider Benedictine family. Some reasons for saying this are:

• It is an example of collaboration among the Cistercian Family as the result of an initiative of the community of Cîteaux.
• The event showed that things can happen when we share our concerns, our needs and our hopes. In this case the meeting at Cîteaux sparked recognition of the importance that Cîteaux has in our shared vocation, and brought out an idea that might make it a place of renewal and new life for others in the Family or outside it.
• The creation of a possible “Chapel of the Founders” on the site of the original church (known as la chapelle St Edme) could be the heart of the renewal of the site as a place not just of tourist interest but also of “pilgrimage” in getting in touch with the grace of the Cistercian charism.