[West range and church of Las Huelgas, photographed 2011 by Zarateman]
[Source: Wikimedia Commons]
The male leaders of the order had several concerns. To be blunt, some of the higher-ups were terrified of women and believed that no man could spend more than a certain amount of time around a woman without having sex with her.* They regarded the care of nuns’ souls as a temptation, a burden, and a distraction.** They also questioned whether women, being the weaker sex, would be up to the austerities of Cistercian life. Lastly, they were concerned about how well Cistercian nuns would be able to remain cloistered.
Even so, the numbers of Cistercian nuns continued to expand. Their abbesses followed the Cistercian practice of meeting in a general chapter*** making visitations to their daughter houses until the Council of Trent strengthened the rules regarding nuns’ enclosure and put a stop to it. When they had trouble finding priests for their communities, they turned to the Franciscans and Dominicans.**** In the 17th century Cistercian nuns were heavily involved in attempts to reform the Order and bring it back to a closer observance of its original rules, which eventually led to the formation of Cistercian Order of the Strict Observance, known as the Trappists.
*Regardless of her opinion or desires, of course.
**In their defense (sort of), these last two were actually commonly held views of female monasteries of any sort.
***Seemingly one separate from that of the male branch of the Order.
****Not that these orders were more welcoming to women. It was, however, easier to find priests already sworn to the monastic life in an order of friars (who were all ordained) than in an order of monks (most of whom weren’t).
Nichols, John A. and Lillian Thomas Shank, eds., Distant Echoes: Medieval Religious Women, Volume One. Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1984.
Simons, Walter. Cities of Ladies: Beguine Communities in the Medieval Low Countries, 1200-1565. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003.
Bynum, Caroline Walker. Holy Feast and Holy Fast: The Religious Significance of Food to Medieval Women. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987.
Cistercian Nuns - Wikipedia