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Stephen Harding

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Stephen Harding

Saint Stephen Harding fresco in Apátistvánfalva, Hungary
Bornc. 1050
Sherborne, Dorset, Kingdom of England
Died28 March 1134(1134-03-28) (aged 83–84)
Cîteaux Abbey, Duchy of Burgundy
Venerated inCatholic Church (Cistercian Order)
Feast26 January (Solemnity of the Founders of Citeaux)
AttributesDressed in the Cistercian cowl, with miniature church model, holding abbot's crozier, holding the Carta Caritatis ("Charter of Charity"), a founding document for the Cistercian Order

Stephen Harding (French: Étienne Harding) (c. 1060 – 28 March 1134) was an English-born monk and abbot, who was one of the founders of the Cistercian Order. He is honored as a saint in the Catholic Church.

Early life[edit]

Stephen was born in south-west England and, as a youth, spent time at the Sherborne Abbey in Dorset. He then travelled to Scotland and France. Afterward, Stephen went on a pilgrimage to Rome. Back in France, Stephen joined a monastery at Molesme, Burgundy region.[1][2]

Founding the Cistercian Order[edit]

In 1098, Stephen, along with Robert and Alberic, left Molesme and founded a new monastery in Cîteaux, France. Robert became the first abbot. After Robert was ordered back to Molesme by Pope Urban II, Alberic became abbot and served for nine years until his death.[1][2]

Bernard and Stephen

Stephen was the third abbot of Cîteaux. At first, under his administration, there was hardship, especially regarding the attainment of new members. Eventually, Bernard of Clairvaux entered the community, bringing with him thirty companions.[1]

With Stephen and Bernard spearheading the order, many new Cistercian monasteries were founded.[1] In 1119, Stephen received official approbation for the Carta Caritatis (Charter of Charity), an important document for the Cistercian Order, establishing its unifying principles.[3][4] Many of his policies and decisions were influenced from his time with the Vallombrosians.[5][6]

Stephen Harding served as abbot of Cîteaux for twenty-three years.[1] While no single person is considered the founder of the Cistercian Order, the shape of Cistercian thought and its rapid growth in the 12th century were certainly due in some part to Harding's leadership.[7] Insisting on simplicity in all aspects of monastic life, Stephen encouraged the severity of Cistercian architecture and the simple beauty of the Order's liturgy and music.[8] He was an accomplished scribe; one of his greatest achievements is considered to be the Harding Bible.[9][2] In 1133, he resigned as abbot because of poor eyesight.[10] He died on 28 March 1134.[10]


Veneration for Stephen began in the modern era. His feast was celebrated on 28 March until 1683 and then moved to 17 April, where it remained until the liturgical reforms following the Second Vatican Council, when it was moved back to 28 March.[11] In a joint commemoration with Robert of Molesme and Alberic, the first two abbots of Cîteaux, the Cistercians and Benedictines today celebrate Stephen Harding's feast day on 26 January.[12][13]


  1. ^ a b c d e Burns, Paul (2003). Butler's Lives of the Saints. Minnesota, US: Liturgical Press. pp. 140–141. ISBN 0-8146-2903-2.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: date and year (link)
  2. ^ a b c "Saint Stephen Harding | Biography & Facts | Britannica". www.britannica.com. 24 March 2024. Retrieved 28 March 2024.
  3. ^ The Cambridge companion to the Cistercian order. Mette Birkedal Bruun. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 2013. ISBN 978-1-107-00131-2. OCLC 795645066.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: others (link)
  4. ^ Schachenmayr, Alkuin (2020). "Conference Notes on Stephen Harding as the Sole Author of the Carta Caritatis: Did the Carta found the Order?". Cistercian Studies Quarterly. 55 (4): 417–424.
  5. ^ Duvernay, Roger (1952). "Cîteaux, Vallumbreuse et Étienne Harding". Analecta Cisterciensia (in French). 8. Rome: Tipografia Poliglotta Vaticana: 379–495. hdl:2027/mdp.39015024591888. Retrieved 21 November 2021 – via HathiTrust.
  6. ^ Lekai, Louis J. (1969). "Motives and Ideals of the Eleventh-Century Monastic Renewal". Cistercian Studies Quarterly. 4: 3–20. Retrieved 21 November 2021 – via German National Library.
  7. ^ Feiss, Hugh (2009). "Book review of Stercal (2008)". American Benedictine Review. 60 (2): 216–218.
  8. ^ "Saint Stephen Harding | St Thomas & St Stephen". www.ss-thomas-stephen.org.uk. 30 September 2011. Retrieved 30 May 2017.
  9. ^ "Manuscript Miniatures: Bible of Stephen Harding". manuscriptminiatures.com. Retrieved 21 November 2021.
  10. ^ a b Huddleston, Gilbert. "St. Stephen Harding." The Catholic Encyclopedia Vol. 14. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912.Public Domain This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  11. ^ Martyrologium Romanum (in Latin) (2 ed.). Administrationem Patrimonii Sedis Apostolicae in Civitate Vaticana. 2004. p. 208.
  12. ^ "Jan 26 – Solemnity of the Founders of Citeaux – New Melleray". Retrieved 19 September 2022.
  13. ^ Proper Masses for the Use of the Benedictine Confederation. Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press. 1975. p. 9.

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainHerbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "St. Stephen Harding". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.


  • Claudio Stercal, Stephen Harding: A Biographical Sketch and Texts (Trappist, Kentucky: Cistercian Publications, 2008) (Cistercian Studies Series, 226).