The birth of an abbey

The abbey of Clairvaux was established in 1115 by Bernard de Fontaines who managed it up to his death on August the 20th, 1153.

Etienne Harding, abbot of Cîteaux, entrusted it to Bernard, who was twenty five years old, with the mission to establish a new abbey. Bernard left with twelve monks and settled down in the valley of Absinthe on the left side of the river Aube. The abbot Harding chose that place because it belonged to a cousin of Bernard’s mother.

The "clear valley" is an isolated valley which is crossed by a river. The Cistercians were looking for the funds of valleys for asceticism and work reasons.

Twenty years later, in order to welcome more and more numerous novices, it was necessary to have new buildings built.

In a very short time, the third daughter of Cîteaux became a well-known monastic center of the Christendom. By the end of the Middle Ages, 530 other abbeys established in all Europe were depending on this abbey.

Right from the foundation of the abbey, books are omnipresent as monastic life is not possible without them. The minimum required for a foundation was to own the liturgical books as well as the Rules of Saint Benoît.

It is possible to think that Bernard and his first companions brought some other volumes. In any case, it is the activity of the scriptorium of the abbey, right from the years 1140, which quickly made the library of Clairvaux a rich place which held attention of men of letters in search of rare texts.

At the end of the XIIth century, the library had a number of volumes between 300 and 350. This number placed Clairvaux at the top of the other Cistercian libraries, in front of Pontigny (270 volumes) and before Cîteaux (with a little more than 200): in this way the daughter had exceeded the mother.