The Restoration (after 1790)

Abbot the Rancé

Abbot the Rancé

Against difficulties of every kind the reform begun at La Trappe by Abbot de Rancé, reviving the austerity and fervour of primitive Cîteaux, was maintained almost intact until the French Revolution. There were then seventy religious and a numerous and fervent novitiate at La Trappe. When, on the 4th of December, a decree of the National Assembly suppressed the Trappists in France, Dom Augustin de Lestrange, then master of novices at La Trappe, authorized by his local superior and the Abbot of Clairvaux, set out with twenty-four of his brethren for Switzerland.

The Senate of Fribourg permitted them to settle in Val-Sainte, and Pope Pius VI, by a Brief in 31st July, 1794, authorized the erection of Val-Sainte into an abbey. On the 8th of December, a solemn decree of the nuncio of the Holy See at Lucerne, executing the Brief of Pius VI, constituted Val-Sainte to be the motherhouse of the whole Congregation of Trappists. Dom Augustine was the elected abbot. There the Rule of St. Benedict was observed in all its rigour, and at times its severity was even surpassed. Novices flocked there. From Val-Sainte Dom Augustin sent colonies into Spain, Belgium, and Piedmont.

In 1796 the French troops invaded Switzerland and forced Dom Augustin to leave Val-Sainte, with both his men and women religious.  This began two years of wandering through Europe.  During this period they showed to the world a spectacle of the most heroic virtues.

In 1800 Dom Augustin returned to France and, two years later, he regained possession of Val-Sainte. In 1803 he sent a colony of his religious to America under the direction of Dom Urbain Guillet. In 1811 fleeing from the anger of Napoleon, who first favoured the Trappists and then suppressed all their monasteries in France and in the whole empire, Dom Augustin himself left for America. In 1815, on the downfall of Napoleon, he returned immediately to La Trappe, while Dom Urbain Guillet established himself at Bellefontaine, in the Diocese of Angers.

Dom Augustine de Lestrange

Dom Augustine de Lestrange

During the imperial persecution, divisions arose among the Trappist houses, existing in the mid-nineteenth century three different congregations. But, on the first of October, 1892, at the desire of Leo XIII, a plenary general chapter was held in Rome and the fusion was adopted. Dom Sebastian Wyart, Abbot of Septfons, who had taken the most active part in all the negotiations to bring about this union, was chosen General of the “Order of the Reformed Cistercians of Our Lady of La Trappe”, the name then given to the order.

A decree of the Sacred Congregation of Bishops and Regulars of 8 December, 1892, followed by a pontifical Brief of 23 March, 1893, confirmed and ratified the Acts of the chapter. On the 13th of August, 1894, the sovereign pontiff approved the new constitutions and the Congregation of Bishops and Regulars promulgated them on the 25th of the same month.

In 1898 the 800th anniversary of the foundation of the order, the sons of St. Bernard again took possession of the ancient Abbey of Cîteaux. Dom Sebastian Wyart was elected abbot, and thus the chain of abbots of Cîteaux, which had been broken for 107 years, was restored. It was then decided to drop the words “Our Lady of La Trappe” from the title of the order. The Abbey of La Trappe yielded the first rank to Cîteaux.

Finally, on the 30th of July, 1902, an Apostolic Constitution of Leo XIII solemnly confirmed the restoration of the order and gave to it the definite name of “Order of Reformed Cistercians of the Strict Observance“.

In 1892 the pope attempted to unite into one order the three Congregations of La Trappe. He directed the Congregation of Bishops and Regulars to address a letter to the Cistercians of the Common Observance inviting them to join their brethren of the Reformed Observance of La Trappe. But as the pope left them free, they preferred to retain their respective autonomies. Since that time the Order of Cîteaux is divided into two branches absolutely distinct: the Strict and the Common Observances. To these may be added the small Congregation of Casamari, in Italy.