The Other Saint Bernard: The 'Troubled and Varied Career' of Bernard of Abbeville, Abbot of Tiron

KATHLEEN THOMPSON
2009 The Journal of Ecclesiastical History  
The Other Saint Bernard: the 'troubled and varied career' of Bernard of Abbeville, Abbot of Tiron 'A troubled and varied career.' 1 Such is David Knowles' assessment of Bernard of Abbeville, founder of the abbey of Tiron, which lies in the wooded landscape of the Perche region between Alençon and Chartres in western France. 2 Bernard's career is conventionally coupled with those of Robert of Arbrissel and Vitalis of Mortain, all of them important figures in the ascetic revival in monasticism
more » ... ch gripped western Europe in the late eleventh and early twelfth centuries. 3 Yet while the Fontevraudine and Savignac affiliations that derived from Robert and Vitalis's activities have been much discussed, there is no major history of the abbey of Tiron. The rigour of Bernard's approach to monastic life, however, was much admired by contemporaries, including the kings, Henry I of England, David I of Scotland and Louis VI of France. His abbey of Tiron was the source for over a hundred communities throughout France and perhaps surprisingly in Scotland, Wales and England. 4 The speed with which these daughter houses were established over such a broad area was remarkable, but the impetus was not sustained, and the so-called 'Order of Tiron' had ceased to be an influential force within the western monastic tradition by the beginning of the thirteenth century. The sources for the early history of the abbey of Tiron are fuller than for many other contemporary foundations. There is a cartulary or register of titles to property, compiled, according to its nineteenth century editor, in the 1160s and several references in near contemporary sources, the earliest of which dates from the 1120s. 5 Above all, however, there is a life of Bernard of Abbeville, apparently written at Tiron, by Geoffrey 6 , who describes himself as the least of monks, monachorum omnium infimus, probably within twenty five years of Bernard's death in April 1116. 7 The Vita Bernardi lies in a tradition of hagiographical writing that stretches back to Athanasius' life of St Anthony. By the eleventh century collections of founders' miracle stories 8 had evolved into a powerful tool that could serve a political purpose in defending communities from lay interference, and it was not not uncommon for houses to commission lives of their founders. 9
doi:10.1017/s0022046909990042 fatcat:vihovrf44bhabbh3udplso6lem