17 Apr Saint Stephen Harding, Confessor
Today is the feast day of Saint Stephen Harding. Ora pro nobis.
Saint Stephen Harding, son of an English noble, consecrated himself very early to the monastic life in the Abbey of Sherbonne in Dorsetshire. He was sent to France and pursued a brilliant course in humanities, philosophy and theology. (3)
After a pilgrimage to Rome, he returned to France to the Abbey of Molesme, under the direction of the Abbot St. Robert and Blessed Alberic. Notwithstanding the influence of these saints, the monastery declined. The two saints determined to leave the community and together with St. Stephen and 18 other monks, they instituted a reformed new abbey in Cîteaux (Cister) with the support of Duke Eudes of Bourgogne. This was the origin of the famous Cistercians. On Alberic’s death in 1110, St. Stephen was elected Abbot of the monastery and wrote its statutes, which were approved by Pope Paschal II. (3)
During his term as Abbot, St. Stephen fought to maintain the strict observance. Since the monastery received very few novices, he began to have doubts that the new institution was pleasing to God. He prayed for enlightenment and received a response that encouraged him and his small community. From Bourgogne a noble youth arrived with 30 companions, asking to be admitted to the abbey. This noble was the future St. Bernard. (3)
In 1115 St. Stephen built the abbey of Clairvaux, and installed St. Bernard as its Abbot. From it 800 abbeys were born.
His powers as an organizer were exceptional: he instituted the system of general chapters and regular visitations and, to ensure uniformity in all his foundations, drew up the famous “Charter of Charity” or collection of statues for the government of all monasteries united to Cïteaux, which was approved by Pope Callistus II in 1119. (1)
St. Stephen died in 1134, saying that he would appear before God as a useless servant who had made poor use of the gifts God had given him. (3)
Stephen was buried in the tomb of Alberic, his predecessor, in the cloister of Cîteaux. (4)
Image: The portrait of St. Stephen Harding in the high altar of Church Apátistvánfalva, Vendvidék, Hungary (18th century) (4)
Research by Ed Masters, REGINA Staff