|Saint Stephen Harding|
|Died||28 March 1134|
|Major shrine||Church of St. Stephen Harding in Apátistvánfalva, Hungary, district of Szentgotthárd.|
|Attributes||Co-Founder of Cistercian Order; Wrote Carta caritatis ("Charter of Love"), a principal document for the Cistercian Order|
|Patronage||Saint Robert of Molesme|
Saint Stephen Harding (Spanish: San Esteban Harding, French: Saint Étienne Harding, Hungarian: Harding Szent István, Slovene: Sveti Štefan Harding, Prekmurian: Števan Harding Svéti) (died 28 March 1134) is a Christian saint and abbot, one of the founders of the Cistercian Order.
Stephen Harding was born in Dorset, England, and spoke English, Norman, French and Latin. He was placed in Sherborne Abbey at a young age, but eventually put aside the cowl and became a travelling scholar, journeying with one devout companion, into Scotland and afterwards to Paris and to Rome. He eventually moved to Molesme Abbey in Burgundy, under the abbot Saint Robert of Molesme (c. 1027-1111).
When Robert left Molesme to avoid its corruption and laxity, Stephen and Saint Alberic of Cîteaux went with him; but upon the complaint of the monks, were called back again—Robert, by an order of the pope, the other two by the diocesan. Stephen was then made superior. Seeing no hopes of a sufficient reformation, St. Robert appointed another abbot at Molesme, and with B. Alberic, St. Stephen and twenty-one other monks, with the permission of Hugh, Archbishop of Lyons, and legate of the holy see, retired to Citeaux, a marshy wilderness five leagues from Dijon to form a new more austere monastery. Eudes, afterwards Duke of Burgundy, built them a little church, which was dedicated under the patronage of the Blessed Virgin, as all the churches of this Order from that time have been.
Robert was initially abbot of Cîteaux Abbey, returning to Molesme after a year. Alberic then took over, serving as abbot until his death in 1109. Stephen Harding, the youngest of the three men, became the third abbot of Cîteaux. However, very few men were joining the community and the monastery was suffering from hunger and sickness. It seemed for a while as if the new order was destined to die out. Bernard of Clairvaux came to visit in 1112 and brought with him thirty companions. Between 1112 and 1119, a dozen new Cistercian houses were founded to contain the monks coming to the new movement. Harding's powers as an organizer were exceptional, he instituted the system of general chapters and regular visitations. In 1119, Stephen wrote the "Carta Caritatis" (Charter of Charity), an important document for the Cistercian Order, establishing its unifying principles.
Stephen served Cîteaux Abbey for twenty-five years. While no single person is considered the founder of the Cistercian Order, the shape of Cistercian belief and its rapid growth in the 12th century was due to the leadership of Stephen Harding. Insisting on simplicity in all aspects of monastic life, Stephen was largely responsible for the severity of Cistercian architecture. In 1133, he resigned as head of the order, because of age and infirmity. He died 18 March 1134, and was buried in the tomb of Alberic, his predecessor, in the cloister of Cîteaux.
His feast day in the Roman Catholic calendar of saints is 17 April. The north aisle of the church of St Sepulchre-without-Newgate in London was formerly a chapel dedicated to him (it became the Musicians' Chapel in the 20th century).
In Hungary, in the village of Apátistvánfalva there is a Catholic Baroque church, established by 1785, whose patron saint is Stephen Harding. The village and the vicinity around Vendvidék was at one time under Cistercian influence.
- "Saint Stephen Harding", Oye Magazine
- Butler, Alban. The Lives or the Fathers, Martyrs and Other Principal Saints, D. & J. Sadlier, & Company, 1864
- "St. Stephen Harding", Catholic News Agency
- Huddleston, Gilbert. "St. Stephen Harding." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 14. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. 25 May 2013
- "Saint Stephen Harding", St Thomas & St Stephen Roman Catholic Church, Market Drayton, Shropshire
- St. Stephen Harding Theological College and Seminary
- Stercal, Claudio, Stephen Harding: A Biographical Sketch and Texts (Trappist, Kentucky: Cistercian Publications, 2008) (Cistercian Studies Series, 226).