St. Robert of Newmister
Feast day: January 26
1100 - 1159
Cistercian abbot. Born in Yorkshire, England, he entered the Benedictines at Whitby and soon joined the monks at Fountains Abbey who were adopting the harder rule which was gaining prominence at the time. This community embraced the Cistercian rule, and the monastery became one of the spearhead communities for the Cistercians in England. In 1137, Robert helped to found Newminster Abbey, in Northumberland, serving as its first abbot.
Saint Robert was born in the district of Craven, near Skipton in North Yorkshire, probably in the village of Gargrave. He studied at the University of Paris, where he is said to have composed a commentary - since lost - on the Psalms. He became a parish priest, returning to serve in his hometown of Gargrave, where he was made rector. He later became a Benedictine at Whitby, joining a band of monks from Saint Mary's Abbey in York. They established a monastery in winter of 1132 in a valley near Skeldale, on land given them by Archbishop Thurston. The first two years were difficult, and the monks struggled in extreme poverty. Initially they lived in a makeshift structure on the banks of the River Skell. But despite the hardships, the monks were known for their holiness, austerity, and dedication to the strict Benedictine way of life. Eventually, their fame brought a new novice, Hugh, Dean of York, who relinquished all his wealth to the community, and allowed for the building of more suitable facilities. Because of the many natural springs in the area, the monastery was called Fountains Abbey. St Robert was described as a devout, prayerful, and gentle man. While he is known for being merciful in his judgment of others, and a warm and considerate campanion, he was also very zealous toward his own vows of poverty.
Cistercian and abbot
St Robert received his abbot's permission to join the founders of the Cistercian monastery of Fountains. About 1138 he headed the first colony sent out from Fountains and established the Abbey of Newminster near the castle of Ralph de Merlay, at Morpeth in Northumberland. During his abbacy three colonies of monks were sent out to found new monasteries. The monasteries were established at Pipewell (1143), Roche (1147), and Sawley (1148).
Location of Relics and Miracles associated with Saint Robert
Saint Robert's relics are located in the church at Newminster, and miracles have been reported at his tomb. In one instance, a monk is said to have fallen unhurt from a ladder while working on one of the buildings. His tomb has become a center for pilgrimage. St Robert was a close spiritual friend of the hermit Saint Godric. On the night Robert died, St Godric is said to have seen a vision of Robert's soul, like a ball of fire, being lifted by angels on a pathway of light toward the gates of heaven. As they approached, Godric heard a voice saying, "Enter now my friends."
St Robert is often depicted in church art as an abbot holding a church. His feast day is celebrated on June 7, the day of his death.