Travel to Lyse Abbey Norway through the picturesque countryside of rolling farmlands just south of Bergen. The ruins of the abbey, also known as Lysekloster, are nearly 900-year-old.
In 1146, Lyse Abbey become home to the Catholic religious order of monks and nuns called the Order of Cistercians.
Who are the Cistercians?
The Cistercians are an offshoot of the Benedictines formed by St. Robert. The order was created in 1098 at Citeaux, near Dijon, France and followed the Rule of St. Benedict.
They drifted from the traditional black habit worn by the Benedictine Monks and instead wore white. Cistercians would often be referred to as the White Monks due to their clothing deviation.
The religious order grew in numbers and just before the start of the 13th century, Cistercians had established abbeys in many European countries.
The holy people of Lyse Abbey originally came from Fountains Abbey near York in England. Fountains Abbey is currently the largest historic monastic ruins in Britain and is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Lyse Abbey, Norway
Siguard, the Bishop of Bergen, provided some of his own farmland to build Lysekloster, Norway’s first Cistercian abbey.
This industrious community of Cistercian monks became very wealthy as their vow of poverty did not include income earned from farming. Their success led to the established of 50 more farms in the region.
The Lyse monks introduced fruit orchards, first cultivating apples. Hardanger is now a major source of fruit production in Norway. The area’s “Nordic champagne” ciders are award-winning.
The Lyse Abbey closed around 1537 during the time of the Protestant Reform which caused a major upheaval of much of Catholic Europe.
After the abbey’s closure, the stones were repurposed for use in the construction of several buildings. The Rosenkrantz Tower of the Bergenhus Fortress in Bergen and Denmark’s famous Kronberg Castle are two examples.
The pure and simple style of Cistercian architecture was established in the 12th-century between the Romanesque art and Gothic art period.
There were hundreds of Cistercian monasteries with around 700 monks built throughout Europe. All were established in isolated areas. The main buildings usually were constructed to form the symbol of a Latin Cross.
The abbey was made from steatite, also known as soapstone. The metamorphic rock came from the nearby quarry. The soapstone is easy to carve and heat resistant. The rock starts as a grey/green colour and oxidizes over the years darkening the stone.
Restoration of Lyse Abbey, also known as Lyse Kloster began with the site’s excavation between 1888 and 1889. Partial reconstruction of some of the walls occurred in the 1920s.
Other structures are still being found and unearthed in the surrounding area.
Read more about Cistercian architecture.
Learn more about Lyse Abbey by visiting the University of Bergen’s information page or see a full condition assessment of the site done in 2012.
The image below is a rendition created by Bernt Kristiansen of what Lsye Abby might have looked like based on the findings of other Cistercian sites around Europe.
How to get to Lyse Abbey
Lyse Abbey is short 34-minute drive south from Bergen following E39. The monastery is located in Os, in the Hordaland region.
Things to do in the Lyse area
- Explore the area with a food and drink tour from Bergen.
- Take a tour of three fruit farms on the fruit and cider route.
- Cruise along the Sørfjord on a cider boat cruise.
- Visit the Alvøen Hovedbygning museum, one of the oldest industrial communities in Norway.
Experience the Cistercian way of life with a retreat at Tautra Mariakloster. The monastery is run by 14 nuns and is located on the central coast of Norway in the Trondheim Fjord, on the Island of Tautra.
Abbeys such as this provided employment, medial care, and education to local people. They provided hospitality to travelers, and most importantly, they acted as powerhouses of prayer, said for the benefit of all. Their destruction during the Reformation was a travesty, and it was years before secular powers filled the social gap (in a practical sense) that was left by their absence. Reformation destruction in Scandinavia was less than that experienced in other areas like England, where some 90% of the English people’s religious heritage in the form of books, stained glass, carvings, sculptures, architecture, sacred vessels, funerary memorials, local customs, and more, were heaped onto the bonfire. Whatever their faults, abbeys such as Lyse embodied much that was good, and did not deserve the obliteration that the reformation engendered.
Thank you for adding this important historical information about the destruction of abbeys during the Reformation period.