The Cistercian abbey church plan with a flat east end, the “Bernardine plan,” is one of the most distinctive, and most discussed, plans of medieval architecture. It has traditionally been seen as a direct result of views on monastic architecture held by Bernard of Clairvaux, our most important source for understanding medieval art and architecture. However, as Conrad Rudolph argues in Medieval Architectural Theory, the Sacred Economy, and the Public Presentation of Monastic Architecture: The Classic Cistercian Plan, this ignores the architecture of Bernard's own monastery and the architectural theory of his circle. By reading this plan in conjunction with the Cluniac apse-echelon plan and the well-known pilgrimage plan and considering it alongside the monastic sacred economy and issues of materials, craftsmanship, and public access, Rudolph shows that the “Bernardine plan” does not represent Bernard's conception at all. It is better thought of as the “classic Cistercian plan,” a compromise of lower spiritual standards aimed at broader institutional acceptance.

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