The Cistercian Order regards itself as having, not one founder, but three: Sts Robert, Alberic and Stephen (not St Bernard!). The Church celebrates the three of them today. On the face of it, the Cistercian project was conservative in scope, retrospective in motivation. Yet its protagonists made ground-breaking innovations. Several trends contributed to this process. One consisted in a systematic appeal to established authorities. Of these, the most obvious was the Rule of St Benedict. The Exordium Parvum provides a succinct account of the manner in which the community approached it. It gives the impression of seamen setting sail on a crisp, clear day, joyfully throwing overboard any ballast threatening to hamper speedy progress. The emphasis is not on grim-faced ‘strict observance’ but on the shedding of encumbrances. Furs, fine frocks and feather beds: let the current take them! Benefices and privileges went the same way.

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