The Monks of Tiron
Dr Kathleen Thompson “The Monks of Tiron: A Monastic Community and Religious Reform in the Twelfth Century” [Cambridge University Press, 2014]
“This book offers the first comprehensive history of the order of Tiron. As a unique survey of the Tironensian experience it sheds new light on traditional assumptions of twelfth-century monastic history. Previous sketches have been shaped by the life of the founder, the Vita Bernardi, which depicts the forests of western France teeming with holy men, and that self-image of hermit preachers in the wilderness has been deeply influential in the historiography of twelfth-century reform. Drawing from the latest advances in the understanding of hagiography and institutional memory, Thompson reinterprets key sources to offer a valuable contribution to the history of monasticism. She outlines the rapid dissemination of the Tironensian approach in the first thirty years of its existence, its network of contacts with the lay elite and the impact on the Tironensians of the successes of the Cistercians and Mendicants.”
“The Tironensian Order or the Order of Tiron was a Roman Catholic monastic order named after the location of the mother abbey (Tiron Abbey, French: Abbaye de la Sainte-Trinité de Tiron, established in 1109) in the woods of Tiron (sometimes Thiron) in Perche, some 35 miles west of Chartres in France). They were nicknamed “Grey Monks” because of their grey robes, which their spiritual cousins, the monks of Savigny, also wore.
The order, or congregation, of Tiron was founded in about 1106 by the Benedictine Bernard de Ponthieu, also known as Bernard d’Abbeville (1046-1117), born in a small village near Abbeville, Ponthieu. As a pre-Cistercian reformer, Bernard’s intention was to restore the asceticism and strict observance of the Rule of St. Benedict in monastic life, insisting on manual labour.
Tonsured at the Benedictine Abbey of Saint-Cyprien in Poitiers around the year 1070, Bernard left the order in 1101 when his nomination as new abbot was disapproved by Cluny and Pope Paschal II. From then on Bernard lived first as a hermit on the island of Chausey, between Jersey and Saint-Malo, then in the woods of Craon, near Angers, with two other rigorist monks: Robert d’Arbrissel, future founder of the controversial Abbey of Fontevraud, and Vitalis de Mortain, later the founder of the Congregation of Savigny in 1113. Following the example of the Desert Fathers, all three men and their followers (men and women) lived detached from the world, in great poverty and strict penance.
Within less than five years of its creation, the Order of Tiron owned 117 priories and abbeys in France, England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. In Scotland, the Tironensians were the monks and master craftsmen who built and occupied (until the Reformation) the abbeys of Selkirk (1113), Kelso (1128), Arbroath (1178), and Kilwinning (1140+), the legendary birthplace of Freemasonry. In France, the order was integrated into the new Benedictine Congregation of St. Maur in 1627.”