St Bernard of Clairvaux was born in 1090 at Fontaines, near Dijon, his parents belonging to the highest nobility of Burgundy.
As he was growing up, Bernard developed a strong scholastic aptitude and desired to take up the study of Sacred Scripture. He had a special devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary and often retired from the world to spend time in prayer and reflection.
In 1113 he entered the monastery of Cîteaux and three years afterwards, the English-born abbot St Stephen Harding sent him to found a new house at Vallée d’Absinthe in the Diocese of Langres. He named it Clairvaux.
Many flocked to the new monastery, including Bernard’s aged father and brothers, so much so that more houses were subsequently founded over the following ten years.
In 1128, St Bernard assisted at the Council of Troyes which had been convoked by Pope Honorious in order to settle disputes between the bishops of Paris and regulate matters in the Church of France. Bernard was also reputed for defending the rights of the Church against the encroachments of kings and princes.
In 1146, when Pope Urban II learned that the Christians had been defeated at the Siege of Edessa and that most of the country had fallen into the hands of Selijuk Turks, he commissioned Bernard to preach a Second Crusade. On March 31 that year, with King Louis present, St Bernard did just that, to a large crowd in a field at Vézelay. By the time he had finished, the initially unenthusiastic crowd had enlisted en masse.
The subsequent failure of the Second Crusade made St Bernard melancholy towards the end of his life and he recorded an apology to the Pope in the second part of his Books on Consideration.
Bernard died on August 20 1153, aged 63, and was buried at the Clairvaux Abbey, and was the first Cistercian monk to be named a saint, canonised by Pope Alexander III on January 18 1174.
However his abbey was dissolved by the French revolutionary government, and his remains were then transferred to Troyes Cathedral. He was named a doctor of the church in 1830, and the Marian prayer, the Memorare, is sometimes attributed to him.
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