Smirnova Viktoriia

Cistercian exempla of the late Middle Ages: from history to rhetoric

Smirnova Viktoriia (2013) "Cistercian exempla of the late Middle Ages: from history to rhetoric ", Vestnik Pravoslavnogo Sviato-Tikhonovskogo gumanitarnogo universiteta. Seriia III : Filologiia, 2013, vol. 33, pp. 98-112 (in Russian).


This paper proposes a new approach to late medieval Cistercian exempla collections, which have long been neglected by scholars due to the presumed lack of ‘originality’. Indeed, in contrast to earlier collections that draw inspiration from the rich and flourishing oral tradition, those of the 14th century mainly reuse well-known written sources of non-Cistercian origin, in apparent imitation of more popular mendicant exempla handbooks. However, it would be misleading to regard them simply as evidence of the genre’s or the Order’s decline. Having examined this view from the perspective of both historical and literary criticism, the author rejects it. The remarkable diversity of late medieval Cistercian exempla collections suggests, on the one hand, the potential of the regional (micro)historical approach, and, on the other hand, the necessity of integrating them into new literary contexts. To illustrate the opportunities of such a perspective shift, the paper proposes a brief cross-disciplinary study of Sertum fl orum moralium, compiled by Simon de Vauluisant, the student of the Cistercian College Saint-Bernard in Paris, around 1346. The product of the university milieu, the Sertum was probably intended to be a florilegium, an authoritative compendium of useful maxims and extracts from learned sources, a genre highly appreciated by Cistercian intellectuals. Its lack of originality therefore contributes to the author’s intent to provide his readers with an effective learning tool, and should not be seen as a failure.


Exempla, Cistercian, Decline, Late Middle Ages, Fourteenth Century, Regional Approach


1. Auberger J.-B. L'Unanimite cistercienneprimitive: mythe ou realite, Achels, 1986.
2. Berman C. The Cistercian Evolution: The Invention of a Religious Order in Twelfth-Century Europe, Philadelphia, 2010.
3. Bessmetrnyi Iu., Boitsov M., Gabdrakhmanov P. (ed.) Istorik v poiske: mikro- i makropodkhody k iuzcheniiu proshlogo (Historian's quest: micro and macro approaches to the study of the past), Moscow, 1999.
4. Bremond Cl., Le Goff J., Schmitt J.-Cl. L'Exemplum, Paris, 1982.
5. Bougard F., Petitmengin P. La bibliotheque cistercienne de Vauluisant. Histoire et inventaires, Paris, 2013.
6. Burton J., Stober K. (eds.) Monasteries and Society in the British Isles in the Later Middle Ages, Woodbridge, 2008.
7. Clark J. G. (ed.) The Religious Orders in Pre-Reformation England, Woodbridge, 2002.
8. Dehouve D. L'evangelisation des Azteques ou Lepecheur universel, Paris, 2004.
9. Falmagne Th. 1997 “Les Cisterciens et les nouvelles formes d'organisation des florileges aux 12e et 13e siecles“, in Archivum latinitatis medii aevi, vol. 55, pp. 73—176.
10. Genest J.-F., Vernet A. La Bibliotheque de l'abbaye de Clairvaux du XIIe au XVIIIe siecle, Paris, 1979.
11. Hamesse J. Les florileges philosophiques du XIII au XV siecle. Les genres litteraires dans les sources theologiques et philosophiques medievales: definition, critique et exploitation, Louvain-la Neuve, 1982, pp. 181-191.
12. Legendre O. (ed.) Collectaneum exemplorum et visionum Clarevallense e codice Trecensi 946, Turnhout, 2005.
13. Liebers A. 1992 “Rigor Ordinis — Gratia Amoris”, in Citeaux, vol. 43, pp. 161-220.
14. Mairhofer D. (ed.) Liber lacteus. Eine unbeachtete Mirakel- und Exempelsammlung aus dem Zisterzienserkloster Stams, Bachmann, 2009.
15. McGuire B. P. 2002 “Introduction“, in Friendship and Faith: Cistercian Men, Women, and Their Stories. 1100-1250, Adelshort, 2002, pp. i-vii.
16. McGuire B. P. 1983 “The Cistercians and the Rise of the Exemplum in early thirteenth century France: A Reevaluation of Paris BN MS lat. 15912”, in Classica et Mediaevalia, vol. 34, pp. 211-267.
17. Mula S. 2010 “Herbert de Torres et l'autorepresentation de l'ordre cistercien dans les recueils d'exempla”, in Le Tonnerre des exemples. Exempla et mediation culturelle dans l'Occident, Rennes, 2010, pp. 187-199.
18. Passeron J-Cl., Jacques Revel J. Penser par cas, Paris, 2005.
19. Polo de Beaulieu M. A. 1993 “L'image du clerge seculier dans les recueils d'exempla (XIIIe—XVe siecles)”, in Le clerc seculier au Moyen Age, actes du XXIIe congres de la Societe des Historiens Medievistes de l'Enseignement Superieur Public. Paris, 1993, pp. 61-80.
20. Polo de Beaulieu M. A., Berioz J. (ed.) Collectio exemplorum Ciserciensis e codice Parisiensi, BnF, lat. 15912 asseruata, Turnhout, 2012.
21. Smirnova V. 2012 “Le Dialogus miraculorum de Cesaire de Heisterbach: le dialogue comme axe d'ecriture et de lecture”, in Formes dialoguees dans la litterature exemplaire du Moyen Age, Paris, 2012, pp. 195-218.
22. Spitzlberger G., Kernig C. D. 1972 “Periodization”, in Marxism, Communism, and Western Society: a Comparative Encyclopedia, New York, 1972, p. 100.
23. Thomasset Cl. A., Zink M. (ed.) Apogee et declin: actes du colloque de l'URA, Paris, 1993
24. Ward B. (trad.) The Great Beginning of Citeaux: A Narrative of the Beginning of the Cistercian Order. The Exordium Magnum of Conrad of Eberbach, Kalamazoo, 2012.

Information about the author

Smirnova Viktoriia