St Bernard - Patron of the Parish

Canon John Mc Kenna.

The parish of Abbeydorney gets its name from an old Cistercian Abbey, Kyrie Eleison, the ruin of which is such a prominent landmark just north of the village. The patron of the parish is St. Bernard of Clairvaux.  The parish church is dedicated to St. Bernard.  The old church which it replaced in 1968 was also dedicated to him.  While that church was abuilding in the years 1966-68 Mass was celebrated for the people in the parish hall.  The hall was suitably fitted out and used as a temporary chapel and it was named St. Bernard's Oratory.  The influence of St. Bernard and of the Cistercian Order is deep-rooted in the parish and is an active factor in the life of its people.  But who was St. Bernard and what did he do?


Bernard was born in the year 1091 at Fontaines Castle near Dijon in France.  His family were of the nobility of France at the time and were extensive landowners and wealthy.  His father's name was Tescelin and his mother's Alice.  Six sons and one daughter were born to them.  The sons were Guy, Gerard, Bernard, Andrew, Bartholomew and Nivard.  The only daughter had the name Humbleline.  They were a remarkable family as all six boys became Cistercians and their sister became a Benedictine nun.  The parents Tescelin and Alice were deeply religious and loyal to the Church and as well as bringing up their children in an atmosphere of prayer and virtue they trained them also in the very necessary arts of the day horsemanship and expertise at the sword.  Later in life his skill at horsemanship was to stand Bernard in very good need when he undertook so many journeys throughout Europe preaching the word of God, defending the teaching of the Church or encouraging young warriors to take part in the Crusades.


The Abbey of Kyrie Eleison was a Cistercian Abbey.  The order of the Cistercians came into existence in the year 1098.  It owes its origin to a man named Robert of Molesme.  But we must go back much farther than that date to understand the reason for its foundation.  One of the oldest orders in the Church is that of the Benedictines.  During the early Middle Ages the rule of St. Benedict was the most widely observed rule in the monasteries of Europe. Benedict lived in the sixth century and in the year 528 laid the foundation of the monastery of Monte Cassino, in Italy, which played such a prominent part in the history of medieval Europe and won world prominence in modern times when it was shelled by Allied forces during World War 11.  There were literally thousands of monasteries throughout Europe following the rule of St. Benedict.  With the passage of years certain laxities crept into some of those monasteries.  In the 1090s Robert was Abbot of Molesme in France.  He was dissatisfied with the way the rule was being observed in his monastery but he failed in his efforts to reform matters and bring his monks back to the true spirit and letter of the rule of St. Benedict.

In the year 1098 he left Molesme accompanied by twenty others and opened a house at Citeaux, near Dijon, France where the rule was to be strictly observed.  The Latin word for Citeaux is Cistercium and so this new group assembled by Robert were referred to as Cistercians.  This new order, however, did not prosper.  It was considered too severe and there was a great danger that it would become extinct.  During the first fifteen years of its existence it was not joined by even one new recruit.  Then in the year 1113 an amazing transformation took place.  Bernard, our  St. Bernard, with four of his brothers and twenty six other young men arrived at Citeaux and asked to be admitted to the Order.  Bernard had a brilliant intellect, a strong personality and all the qualities for good leadership and through his zeal and enthusiasm numerous new members were attracted to the Cistercians and the Order progressed and flourished.  The result was that in a short time Citeaux was sending out some of its own monks to found monasteries all over France.  307 new monasteries were founded between the years 1125 and 1151.  It is for this reason that Bernard is regarded as the real founder of the Cistercians.  Some years after Bernard and his four brothers entered Citeaux his youngest brother, Nivard, also entered.  He was too young to enter with his brothers.  Bernard's uncle also became a Cistercian and later again his father entered as a lay brother.


The Abbot of Citeaux at the time of Bernard's entry was an Englishman named Stephen Harding.  Abbot Stephen recognised the qualities of young Bernard and when Citeaux began to expand and found other monasteries, Stephen in the year 1115 selected Bernard to lead a group which consisted of his four brothers, his uncle and seven others, to a place ninety miles north of Citeaux.  It was a desolate valley and their commission was to clear the valley first and then build a monastery.  That valley, when cleared and ready for the monastery, was called in Latin, Clara Vallis (the Clear Valley), a name which in time became Clairvaux.  Bernard was the first Abbot of Clairvaux and he remained so for the next thirty eight years.  He is known to history as Bernard of Clairvaux.


The Church went through some difficult times in the twelfth century.  When the Pope died in the year 1130 a difficulty arose as to who should succeed him.  There were two rival groups among the cardinals and they failed to agree on a candidate.  Each group held its own meeting and put forward its own candidate.  The result was that there were two claimants to the papacy, Innocent 11 and Anacletus 11.  Naturally, great confusion prevailed throughout the Church as it was impossible for the ordinary faithful to ascertain who was the lawful Pope.  Bernard of Clairvaux worked hard to have the deadlock resolved.  He studied the situation and concluded that Innocent was the lawful Pope.  Then he travelled all over Europe and used his influence and authority on behalf of Innocent.  Though the problem dragged on for 8 years, it was through the work of Bernard that it was finally settled.  Innocent 11 was recognised universally as the lawful Pope and peace and unity were restored to the Church.


Ever since the time of Our Lord christians like to visit Palestine and see the places associated with his life, death and resurrection.  In the eleventh century the Holy Land was invaded and taken over by the Turks and it became impossible for christian pilgrims to visit the holy places.  Western christiandom organised itself and with the sanction of the Pope sent expeditions from Europe to the Middle East to protect the christians there from oppression and to make access to the holy places safe again for pilgrims from the west.  These expeditions are known as the Crusades.  There were eight of them in all.  

The second Crusade took place in the years 1147-1149. The Pope at the time was Eugene 111.  He had been a novice at Clairvaux under the spiritual direction of Bernard years before that.  Now as Pope he turned to his former religious superior to use his talents as a preacher to encourage the rulers and the young men of Europe to undertake this expedition to win back the holy places from the Turks.  Always ready to promote the welfare of the Church and always obedient to the wishes of the Holy Father, Bernard accepted the commission to organise that Second Crusade and to accept the challenge it involved.  He left his monastery of Clairvaux and travelled the countries of Europe on horseback meeting rulers and subjects in his efforts to marshall a strong force to travel to the Holy Land.  He succeeded in getting Conrad 111 the Emperor of Germany and Louis V11 King of France to lead the expedition and between them they put an army of four hundred thousand men in the field.  They set off for the Middle East in 1147.  Though Bernard's efforts at recruiting were highly successful the crusade itself was a dismal failure.  It was a great disappointment to Bernard and to his friend Pope Eugene 111.  The failure of the crusade was felt throughout Europe as well and severe criticism was levelled against Bernard for supporting it.  This was one of the great failures in his career but he bore the cross with tremendous patience and humility.


Bernard lived for four more years after the disaster of that Second Crusade.  He died in his monastery of Clairvaux on the 20th August 1153.  He was sixty two years of age, but he had packed in to that comparatively short span an unlimited amount of work for the Church, for his monks and for all those Rulers, Kings and Popes who sought his advice and spiritual guidance.  He combined a very active external life with the austerity of a Cistercian monk.  On January 18, 1174, Pope Alexander 111 solemnly declared Bernard of Clairvaux a saint and published a Mass and Office in his honour. It was Pope Alexander, himself, who composed that Mass and Office.  The feast day of St. Bernard is on 20th August.

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