St. Stephen Harding is regarded as the founder of the Cistercian monasteries. He was born in Dorset, England, and educated at Sherborne Abbey.
After studying in Paris and Rome, he visited the monastery of Molesme. Impressed by its holy abbot, Robert of Molesme, and the prior, Alberic (both of which were later canonized), Stephen joined the community.
After a few years, the three men, along with 20 other monks, established a more austere monastery in Citeaux. Eventually Robert was called back to his position of abbot at Molesme(1099), and Alberic, who became the new abbot of Citeaux, died in 1110. Following Alberic's death, Stephen was elected as abbot.
Stephen drew up the famous "Charter of Charity," which became the basis for Cistercian monasticism. However, very few men were joining the community and the monastery was suffering from hunger and sickness. It seemed for awhile as if thier new order was destined to die out. However, in1112 the man who was to be known as St. Bernard of Clairvaux, joined the community along with 30 other companions, including almost his entire family. The very next year Stephen founded his first colony at La Ferté.
Before his death in 1134, Stephen had established 13 monasteries. By the end of the 12th century there were 500 in Europe.