Stephen Harding

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For other people named Stephen Harding, see Stephen Harding (disambiguation).
St. Stephen Harding, O.Cist.
Sv. Stevan Harding, Stevanovska cirkev.JPG
The Blessed Virgin Mary gives the scapular of the Cistercian Order to Saint Stephen Harding, from the high altar in the Church of St. Stephen Harding in Apátistvánfalva, Szentgotthárd, Hungary
Monk, priest and co-founder of the Cistercian Order
Born ca. 1050
Sherborne, Dorset, Kingdom of England
Died 28 March 1134
Citeaux Abbey, Duchy of Burgundy
Venerated in Roman Catholic Church
(Cistercian Order)
Feast 26 January
Attributes Co-founder of Cistercian Order; wrote Carta caritatis ("Charter of Love"), a principal document for the Cistercian Order

Stephen Harding, O.Cist. (French: Étienne Harding, died 28 March 1134), was an English-born monk and abbot, who was one of the founders of the Cistercian Order in what is now France. He is honoured as a saint in the Catholic Church.


Harding was born in Sherborne, Dorset, in the Kingdom of England, and spoke English, Norman, French and Latin.[1] He was placed in Sherborne Abbey at a young age, but eventually left the monastery and became a travelling scholar, journeying with one devout companion, into Scotland and afterwards to Paris and then to Rome.[2] He eventually moved to Molesme Abbey in Burgundy, under the Abbot Robert of Molesme (c. 1027-1111).

When Robert left Molesme to avoid its corruption and laxity, Harding and Alberic of Cîteaux went with him; but upon the complaint of the monks, they were called back again — Robert, by an order of the pope, the other two by the local bishop. The young Harding was then made superior. Seeing no hope of a sufficient reformation, Robert appointed another abbot at Molesme; then, with Alberic, Harding and twenty-one other monks, received permission from Hugh, Archbishop of Lyons, and legate of the Holy See, to retire to Citeaux, a marshy wilderness five leagues from Dijon where they formed a new, more austere, monastery.[2] Eudes, afterwards Duke of Burgundy, built them a little church, which was placed under the patronage of the Blessed Virgin, as all the churches of the Cisterians 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.[2] Stephen, the youngest of the three, became the third abbot of Cîteaux. However, very few were joining the community and the monks were suffering from hunger and sickness. It seemed for a while as if the new order was destined to die out.[3] In 1112,Bernard of Clairvaux entered the community, bringing with him thirty companions.[4] Between 1112 and 1119, a dozen new Cistercian houses were founded to accommodate those joining the young order. Harding's powers as an organiser were exceptional, he instituted the system of general chapters and regular visitations. In 1119, he wrote the "Carta Caritatis" (Charter of Charity), an important document for the Cistercian Order, establishing its unifying principles.[4]

Stephen Harding served Cîteaux Abbey as its abbot for twenty-five years. 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, was arguably due to the leadership of Harding. Insisting on simplicity in all aspects of monastic life, he was largely responsible for the severity of Cistercian architecture.[5] In 1133, he resigned as head of the order, because of age and infirmity.[4] He died on 28 March 1134,[6] and was buried in the tomb of Alberic, his predecessor, in the cloister of Cîteaux.[5]

In a joint commemoration with Robert of Molesme and Alberic, the first two abbots of Cîteaux, Stephen Harding's feast day is celebrated by the Cistercian Order, on 26 January.[7] 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).


The St. Stephen Harding Theological College and Seminary in located in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.[6]

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 were, at one time, under the pastoral care of the Cistercians.



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

See also[edit]