The age of foundations (1142-1242)
cikádor (bátaszék) ruins of the medieval cistercian abbey church; at right the new neogothique parish church For the establishment of the first abbey King Géza II. invited the monks of Heiligenkreuz. They settled on royal property at Cikádor in 1142. The exact spot of this was discovered during archaeological excavations in 1992, at the foot of the parish church of Bátaszék. In the years that followed they founded newer and newer Cistercian abbeys all over Europe. However, in Hungary for almost forty years only Cikádor represented the order. After that King Béla III. (1172-1196) became the greatest patron of the Cistercians. He founded in 1179 the abbey on the banks of Maros, at Egres; in 1182 in the Bakony at Zirc; in 1184 at the foot of the Pilis at Szentgotthárd. In 1191 he gave to the Cistercians the little monastery of Pásztó. His successors followed his example by establishing one-one monastery each. King Imre settled the Cistercians on the bank of the Olt, at Kerc (1202); András II. south of the Száva at Toplica (1208); King Béla IV. while still a prince, at Pétervárad (1234). For all these places the monks came from France. With their spirituality, knowledge, culture, they enriched the country. az egyedüli épenmaradt ciszteri középkori templom: bélapátfalva. a templom mellett az egykori apátság alapfalai láthatóak. We can tie to the royal family also the foundation of the abbey of Szepes (1223), at the source of the river Hernád. Among the 18 foundations these were the most significant. The measurement of the churches of Zirc, Pilis, Kerc and Toplica: 56 m long, exceeded that of the cathedrals, but did not approach the big western Cistercian monasteries' measurements. The following prelates allocated places to the Cistercians in 1232: archbishop Ugrin of Kalocsa, near Pozsega at Gotó (Honesta Vallis, Kutjevo); bishop Kilit of Eger, at the western foot of the Bükk hills by Bélkő, at Bélapátfalva (Bélháromkut). They were able to receive monks only from home monasteries from Zirc and Pilis. Of the foundations by aristocrats the first was that by ban Domonkos: Borsmonostor in the county of Sopron in 1197. The other five aristocratic foundations did not account for much. Of the female abbeys only that of Veszprémvölgy was notable. Originally it was St István who established it for Greek nuns. In 1240 at the request of Béla IV. the Cistercian general chapter accepted it into the order.
In the year 1241-42 the invading Tartars delivered a heavy blow to the monasteries. Those monasteries owning property, the Benedictines, Cistercians, Premonstratensians were able to rejoice over only a few foundations after that, and property donations had also faded away. The attention of benefactors was turned toward the beggar orders: Dominicans, Franciscans, Augustinian hermits. Our records, documents from the middle ages had been destroyed to such an extent that only one report remained, which give details of the internal life of the Cistercian monasteries in Hungary. The general chapter commissioned Seifrid, abbot of Rein of Styria, to visit all the abbeys of Hungary. In his report dated 1357, which he submitted also King Lajos I., he accounts for 15 monasteries. The wording of this report remained in the archives of the abbey of Rein. It shows a picture of decline of the Cistercians of Hungary. The visitor found 12-12 monks only in the abbeys of Szepes, Pétervárad and Kerc, at the other abbeys, besides the abbot, there were at the most 6 monks, or none at all. Although the abbot of Rein left reminders at each abbey indicating the increase in the number of monks that was necessary for the convent, it had no effect. In 1411 the general chapter commissioned again the abbot of Rein with the tasks of reformation of the abbeys of Hungary and collection of the compulsory taxes. Unfortunately there are no written records of the fulfilment of his assignment. In 1478 King Mátyás turned to the general chapter to send monks to the reformation of the Hungarian Cistercian monasteries. In 1480 the abbots of Germany sent new convents to seven of the abbeys of Hungary, but even these could not change the decline in monastic life permanently. In the years between the defeat at Mohács (1526) and the occupation of Buda (1541) with the reformation and the advance of the Turks monastic life ceased altogether in Hungary not only in the Cistercian monasteries but, with few exceptions, in all the monastic houses. Only a few monasteries of the Franciscans and Paulists were able to maintain the continuation of life in the face of one and a half centuries of Turkish occupation and the effects of the reformation on almost the whole of the country. The nuns of Veszprémvölgy escaping from the Turks went to Körmend and there between 1624 and 1641 the last of the nuns also died.
The first Abbey of Zirc was founded by King Béla III. in 1182 on the property of the royal woodlands of the Bakony hills. Its first monks came from Clairvaux, the monastic order's most famous and most densely populated monastery of which St Bernard was the first abbot. The documents and books of Zirc had been lost without a trace in the 16th century, and for this reason we know very little about its early history. Already in 1060 there was a royal court (curtis) here with a small church. That's where King András I. died, and he was then buried at Tihany in the abbey that he had founded. Many authors almost to the latest times thought that the original spot of the abbey of Zirc was somewhere else in the hills of Bakony, and only in 1198 did it move over to Zirc. The reason for this assumption was that, according to the oldest sources the abbey had been called "of the Bakony" and it was only later that they called it of Zirc. Furthermore, in the registers of Pope Ince III. there is a document worded to the effect that the pope in 1198 asked the king to move the monastery - which Both, the bailiff of Bihar had started building but could not finish because of his death - over to a more suitable place. az első zirci apátság rekonstruált alaprajza This document, however, referred to the monastery of Bátormonostor in the county of Bodrog where the properties of bailiff Both's people were situated. Until 1357 the documents used either Bakony or Zirc when referring to the monastery, later exclusively Zirc was used. The place, unpopulated but well provided with water at the source of the Cuha rivulet was outstandingly suitable for the settlement of the Cistercians. The building of the monastery presumably lasted over several decades. Proof of this is that King Imre also founded an altar for it, and there's a carved stone tablet to vouch for this. The church had a ground-plan in the shape of the Latin cross, it had a nave and two side-aisles, and stood a little east of the present church. Its only visible remnant is a bundle of columns that was left standing when the walls of the ruins had been demolished. Adjacent to the south side of the church stood the cloister (claustrum) the measurements of which could be established through exploratory digging. The abbots of Zirc enjoyed great esteem before the popes and the general chapter because, especially in the 13th century, they quite often received delegations to perform tasks in respect of matters of Church or the order. Monks were sent from France to Zirc even after the establishment of the abbey. A pointer to this are the names Guido, Odo, Alard, Garinus, Radolphus, Hugo, Gefre, which are not found, or rarely found elsewhere in Hungary. According to sources at Clairvaux, one of their priors, Johannes Lemovicensis later became abbot of Bakony and was head of the abbey probably between 1208 and 1218. In 1232 the monks from Zirc filled the abbey of Gotó (Honesta Vallis) in the county of Pozsega. The properties of Zirc were in the hills of Bakony and its surroundings. Its most significant income was derived from one-third of the customs of Győr, which was allocated to it by the founding king. Over the years a village developed near the abbey. In 1417 in a document about a lawsuit the names of 40 serfs were listed. This shows that the residents of Zirc were all Hungarian then. In 1552 the Turks occupied the castle of Veszprém also. Life was no longer safe even at Zirc. During the decades that followed not only the monks but every last resident of the village left Zirc and for 150 years it remained uninhabited. The crumbling walls of the prestigious ancient abbey stared skyward and proclaimed the earlier glory of the site.
Already in the 15th century the Order had lost many Hungarian abbeys due to royal or papal instructions. During the Turkish occupation the properties of the former abbeys were used for the war efforts, and also set aside for the upkeep of Church institutions: Jesuit colleges, seminaries. At the same time the Austrian abbots received delegation from the general chapter to keep in mind constantly the needs of the Order in regard to the former abbeys of Hungary. In this way in 1659 the abbot of Lilienfeld acquired the title of abbot of Zirc. However, the properties he had to redeem at extremely high cost. In 1660 the Hungarian-born Márton Újfalusi was appointed abbot of Zirc. He resided at the town of Pápa because there was no undamaged house at Zirc and the Turks were also far to close. In 1678 he was killed on the road at the edge of Gyulakeszi. It may have been marauding Turks who committed the crime. The abbot of Lilienfeld soon lost interest in the revival of the abbey of Zirc. In 1699 he handed over the task to Kalert Henrik, the abbot of Heinrichau of Silesia, against a refund of all the moneys that he had expended on the venture. Kalert Henrik first sent one of his monks to Hungary to look over the site of the abbey of Zirc and its properties and report on the economic possibilities there. Although he found hardly any inhabitants on the properties, he noticed that with sufficient funds and the introduction of settlers, flourishing farming could be created. On the basis of his report the abbot of the Heinrichau convent decided to take on the considerable task. The first two monks resided in the town of Pápa. German settlers were sent to Zirc and they built up the first houses. In 1726 the Cistercians of Pápa who numbered three by that time, moved over to the temporary one-storey residence at Zirc, which stood on the road toward Veszprém at its junction with the road to Bakonybél, bringing with them all their equipment. From here they supervised the building of the new monastery. Although the upright walls of the old church were still standing, they did not regard the style of construction to be in line with the then current fashion and so they demolished them and used the stones to raise completely new buildings. a ciszterci rend zirci apátsága In 1733 four persons moved into the new one-storey abbey and they soon started the design and foundation work of the new church. In 1750 the number of monks rose to 12 and so the abbot of Heinrichau appointed as prior the administrator of Zirc, to head the convent which now had attained the required number of monks. On 4th June 1752 Márton Padányi Biró, bishop of Veszprém, with great ceremony consecrated the baroque church that had been built with considerable care. Its furnishing required a few more decades of work. The numbers in the convent grew constantly. In 1798 when they celebrated the 700th anniversary of Cistercium and the presumed 600th anniversary of the foundation of the abbey of Zirc, out of 28 monks 11 was Hungarian-born. Members of the convent carried out the pastoral work in the abbey's villages: Olaszfalu, Tósokberénd, Nagytevel and Bakonykoppány. The abbot of Zirc built the churches and parish priest's residences. The Cistercians of Zirc served also those villages around Zirc which were not under the patronage of the abbey of Zirc, but were under other landlords, however, due to lack of priests had not been provided for. These were Nagyesztergár, Bakonynána, Lókút, Porva and Borzavár. Right up to 1950 these parishes were administered by the Cistercians of Zirc. Until 1814 Zirc had no abbot of its own, but it was under the abbot of Heinrichau. In that year the last abbot died. Its abbey was dissolved four years earlier together with all the other abbeys of Silesia, by the Prussian government. Therefore, nothing hindered Zirc from getting its own abbot. The ruling King Ferenc I. appointed Antal Dréta, then prior of Zirc, to the position of its abbot. Already in 1812 Dréta became abbot of Pilis-Pásztó, so in his person three abbeys were united. In the interest of the restoration of the former abbeys of Hungary, besides Zirc there were three other instances where success was partly achieved. In 1702 Lipot I. handed over the rights over the abbey of Pásztó to the abbot of Velehrad of Moravia, and in 1712 he also received the rights over the abbey of Pilis. He succeeded in taking possession of the abbey of Pásztó, but its properties were completely missing because no documents about them remained in existence. The Paulists took over the site of the abbey of Pilis, however, Velehrad obtained a portion of its properties. As the abbey of Pilis-Pásztó had not sufficient income to build a new church and abbey at Pásztó, the Cistercians of Pásztó moved over to Eger and there in 1779 they accepted the task of the upkeep and direction of the Jesuit grammar school. Szentgotthárd had its specific fate. In 1734 the abbot of Heiligenkreuz received it. By 1779 the new abbey and church were built. On average 6-8 Austrian monks lived there, and these administered the priestly duties in those villages that were settled on its properties nearby. In 1878 the Hungarian government, on the basis of higher instructions, bought Szentgotthárd from Heiligenkreuz for the abbey of Zirc, whom they charged with the responsibility for providing the needs of the grammar school of Baja.
At the time of the appointment of Antal Dréta as abbot, the state and society expected the Cistercians of Zirc also to take part in the maintenance of the grammar schools that had been abandoned after the dispersal of the Jesuits in 1773. Thus Zirc took on the grammar schools of Székesfehérvár and Pécs. The direction of the grammar school of Eger also devolved on Zirc as a result of the coupling of Pásztó. In this way the Hungarian Cistercians became somewhat of a teaching order. The new task moved into the forefront and beside it the requirements of monastic life were relegated into the background. Teaching in the grammar schools hindered the daily prayer of the Divine Office in community. At the same time, due to the political situation the Hungarian Cistercians had no contact with the other parts of the Order or with the Holy See in Rome. The successor of abbot Dréta, Ferdinánd Villax between 1844 and 1857 built up the second floor of the monastery and the entire western wing of today, with the library and the tower above it. The Hungarian Cistercians walked their own way, worked conscientiously in the three grammar schools to which that of Baja was added as fourth, as a proviso for receiving Szentgotthárd. However, the basic characteristics of the order have almost disappeared for them. A change started to happen with the interest that was generated through the history books of Remig Békefi who ventured to search the past of the Order and its traditions, as well as the outstanding work of Imre Piszter who wrote St Bernard's biography in two volumes. In 1911 Békefi was chosen abbot, and he immediately began work on the foundation of the order's grammar school at Buda, so that the Cistercians could be present in the capital city of the country. Zirc became the centre of the Cistercians of Hungary. The novices of the order received their formation here. In 1866 the abbot launched the theological college here, so that the abbey could prepare its students for the monastic priesthood in its own institute. Here were situated the central offices, the library and the archives. In 1923 pope Pius XI. established the order's Congregation of Zirc, the constitution of which was first approved by the Holy See in 1941. Under the direction of abbot Adolf Werner (1924-1939) the order built new, modern, excellently furnished grammar schools between 1928 and 1939 at Buda, Baja, Pécs and Székesfehérvár. This was made possible by the income the abbey derived from its estate at Előszállás that was managed in an exemplary manner in the hand of Gyula Hagyó-Kovács Cistercian agriculturist estate manager (1920-1945). In the five grammar schools, each of 8-year study duration, altogether 2500 youngsters studied. The number of monks continuously increased. The Cistercians' work of education and training acquired recognition and esteem all over the country. At the same period, especially among the younger men an endeavour started toward living a deeper Cistercian monastic life. Even the Second World War could not break this momentous development. In September 1950 in the Congregation of Zirc there were 192 men who had taken their final vows and 45 who had taken temporary vows.
In 1945 the properties of the abbey of Zirc were expropriated without compensation, those properties, whose income until that time had served to maintain the grammar schools. In 1948 all the schools of the country had been taken over by the state, and in 1950 the totalitarian communist dictatorship prohibited the functioning of the order. The abbey of Zirc had to be handed over to the state. The abbot, Vendel Endrédy was arrested in 1950, tortured, and sentenced to 14 years. He was freed in 1956. The monks lost their home, their employment, most of them were not even allowed by the state to work as priests. Over a period of 40 years any recruitment of personnel was strictly forbidden and hindered. Between 1946 and 1949 eleven Hungarian Cistercians emigrated to America. Even more joined them later. In 1956 they took part in the foundation of the Catholic University of Dallas and they filled some of the departments. In 1964 they established a new abbey and opened a secondary school near the university. At home Lóránt `Sigmond novice master and "provisor" commissioned by the abbot, revived and kept alive the monastic vocation in some young people during the first decades of dispersal and suppresssion. However, in 1961 he was also arrested and convicted. Almost 40 members of the order suffered internment in concentration camps or loss of freedom in prisons for a longer or shorter period of time because they wanted to go abroad in order to continue their Cistercian way of life; because they educated the youth not according to Marxist ideology but in the spirit of Christianity, and wanted to train them for the monastic life.
1987-ben szentszéki kinevezés alapján Kerekes Károlyt a tiroli Stams-i apátságban zirci apáttá avatták. 1989-ben a Zirci Kongregáció ismét államilag elismert intézmény lett. Az első néhány szerzetes 1990 elején térhetett vissza Zircre. Nyugdíjas korú, idős rendtagokkal és néhány növendékkel kellett mindent újra kezdeni. 1993-ban a pécsi, 1994-ben a székesfehérvári, 1997-ben a budai és az egri gimnázium a rend tulajdonába és ciszterci irányítás alá került. Túlnyomórészt világi tanárok oktatnak. 1989-ben ugyan megindult az új noviciátus, de a rendi növendékek kiképzése 6-10 évet vesz igénybe, és ezért csak lassan tudnak bekapcsolódni az oktató és nevelő munkába. 1996-ban, majd ismét 2002-ben a rendtagok Zakar Polikárpot, aki korábban tíz évig az egész rend generális apátja volt, választották meg apátjuknak, illetve főapátnak. 2011-ben az 1990 óta belépett, fiatal ciszterci generáció közül választotta meg új apátját, Dékány Sixtust az apátság közössége. A magyarországi ciszterciek létszáma 2011 januárjában 29 örökfogadalmas, ebből tízennégy fiatal, 44 év alatti, a többi mind 75 feletti, a növendékek száma 3.