Robert of Molesme

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Saint Robert of Molesme
A painting of the founders of Citeaux Abbey, showing Saints Robert, Alberic, and Stephen Harding venerating the Blessed Virgin Mary
Born 1028
Troyes, Champagne, France
Died April 17, 1111(1111-04-17)
Molesme, France
Venerated in Roman Catholic Church
Canonized 1222 by Pope Honorius III
Feast April 29

Saint Robert of Molesme (1028 – 17 April 1111) was a Christian saint and abbot, one of the founders of the Cistercian Order in France.


The Vie de saint Robert de Molesme was written by Guy, his immediate successor as abbot of Molesme.[1]

Robert was born about 1029, a member of the nobility in Champagne, a younger son, who entered the Benedictine abbey of Montier-la-Celle, near Troyes, at age fifteen and later rose to the status of prior. This abbey had been founded by Luxeuil about AD 660.

He was made the abbot of Saint Michel-de-Tonnerre around the year 1070. About this time a band of seven anchorites who lived in the forest of Collan, in the same diocese, sought to have Robert for their chief, but the monks, despite their constant resistance to his authority, insisted on keeping their abbot who enjoyed so great a reputation. Unable to reform the abbey, which had become known for its laxity, he returned to Montier-la-Celle. In 1072 he was made prior of Saint-Aiyoul.[2]

Meanwhile two of the hermits of Collan went to Rome and besought Pope Gregory VII to give them the prior of Provins for their superior. The pope granted their request, and in 1074 Robert initiated the hermits of Collan in the monastic life. As the location at Collan was found unsuitable, Robert founded a monastery at Molesme in the valley of Langres in Burgundy at the close of 1075. Initially, the establishment consisted of only huts made of branches surrounding a chapel in the forest, dedicated to the Holy Trinity. Molesme Abbey quickly became known for its piety and sanctity, and Robert's reputation as a saintly man grew.[2] It is because of this reputation that in 1082 Bruno of Cologne came to Robert seeking advice. He received from him the monastic habit before going to found the Grande Chartreuse.

In 1098 there were 35 dependent priories of Molesme, and other annexes and some priories of nuns. Several persons of quality in the neighbourhood, stirred up by the example of the bishop of Troyes, vied with one another in supplying them with necessaries, which introduced by degrees such a plenty as occasioned them to fall into great relaxation and tepidity.[1] Benefactors gave their children to educate, and the amount of land received required a large number of employees. When the house grew increasingly wealthy, new and unsuitable monks came to the area and divided the brothers, challenging Robert's severity. Robert twice tried to leave Molesme and was ordered back by the Pope.


However, in 1098[3] Robert and twenty-one of his monks left Molesme with the intention of never returning. Renaud, the viscount of Beaune, owned a desolate valley in a deep forest, which he gave to Robert and his companions, and thus they founded Cîteaux Abbey. Stephen Harding and Saint Alberic – two of Robert's monks from Molesme – were pivotal in founding the new house. The archbishop of Lyons, being persuaded that they could not subsist there without the assistance of some powerful persons, wrote in their favour to Eudo, duke of Burgundy. That prince, at his own cost, finished the building of the monastery they had begun, furnished them for a long time with all necessaries, and gave them much land and cattle. The bishop of Challons invested Robert with the dignity of abbot, erecting that new monastery into an abbey. The first rule established by St. Robert, at Citeaux, allotted the monks four hours every night for sleep, and four for singing the divine praises in the choir: four hours were assigned on working days for manual labour in the morning, after which the monks read till None: their diet was roots and herbs.[1]

In 1100, the monks of Molesme asked Robert to return and agreed to submit entirely to his interpretation of the Rule of St. Benedict. He did return and ran the monastery according to his own interpretation and example. Molesme became a major center for the Benedictines under his tutelage. Meanwhile, the monastery at Cîteaux, under the direction of Albéric, and especially Stephen Harding, became the cornerstone for the new Cistercian Order, which grew to greater fame in the 12th century under Bernard of Clairvaux.

Robert died on April 17, 1111. Pope Honorius III canonized him in 1222. His feast day in the Roman Catholic Church was fixed at first on April 17, but later it was transferred to April 29.[2] St. Robert's Day is celebrated in Washington, D.C. at the Capital Lounge annually on the Sunday before Columbus Day.


 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainHerbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company.