Son. Brother. Priest. Hammer against heresies, promoter of crusades, and founder of monasteries. St. Bernard of Clairvaux, despite once referring to himself as a “noisy and troublesome frog”, lived a life packed full of intrigue and influence.
Born to Burgundy nobility in 1090, Bernard was the third of the aristocratic couple’s seven children. Well raised and pious, young Bernard very early on showed a strong devotion to Our Lady. He was sent to excellent schools, and paid particular attention to literature studies, the better for him to read and study the Bible.
Then, when he was 19, Bernard’s whole world changed. His mother, to whom he was intensely attached, died. In response, the young man considered withdrawing entirely from the world and spending the rest of his days in prayer and solitude. In one of those curious twists of fate, Bernard’s discussions about the virtues of monastic life were so compelling, that some 30 of his relatives and friends decided to join the man in a Benedictine monastery. Notions of solitude no longer viable, Bernard nevertheless devoted himself to his new life as a religious.
Shortly after joining the Benedictines, Bernard was sent off with 12 other monks to found a new house, named Clairvaux. In an attempt to discipline the flesh as much as possible, the living conditions at Clairvaux were so austire, so stringent, that Bernard himself fell ill. It was only submission to his superiors that compelled the future saint to make the needed changes, and the monastery grew in leaps and bounds. New members included Bernard’s father and all his brothers. The sole sister, Humbeline, was the only one to remain in the secular world, though she soon convinced her husband to give her permission to become a Benedictine nun.
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