Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Lexinton, Stephen de

LEXINTON or LESSINGTON, STEPHEN de (fl. 1250), abbot of Clairvaux, a younger son of Richard de Lexinton [see Lexinton, John de], studied both at Paris and Oxford, and was a disciple of Edmund (Rich) [q. v.], afterwards archbishop of Canterbury. In 1214 John granted him a prebend in the church of Southwell (Cal. Letters Patent, 16 John, p. 138). Moved by Edmund's exhortations, he determined to adopt a monastic life, and in 1221, or perhaps a little earlier, left Oxford with seven companions, and became a monk in the Cistercian abbey of Quarr in the Isle of Wight. He was a man of high character, wise, and learned. After a short residence at Quarr he was elected abbot of Stanley, in Wiltshire, where he received his former master, Edmund, and advised him to pay some attention to worldly concerns. Stephen was in 1228 appointed visitor of the Cistercians in Ireland; he deposed several abbots and replaced them by Englishmen, and sent many monks over to Cistercian houses in France. In 1229 he was elected abbot of Savigny, one of the greater abbeys of the order, situated in the south-west corner of Normandy (Manche department). There he quickened the religious life of the place, largely increased the number of monks, adorned the abbey with new buildings, and made a great translation of the relics of saints. By the command of Gregory IX, he, in 1238, reformed the monks of Redon, in Brittany (Morbihan department). In company with the abbots of Cîteaux and Clairvaux, and many other French prelates, he sailed from Nice to Genoa in 1241, and was thence carried by a Genoese fleet to attend the council which the pope proposed to hold at Rome. The fleet of King Enzio attacked the Genoese ships on 3 May, and Stephen would have fallen into the hands of the enemy had he not been saved by the valour of his brother, John de Lexinton [q. v.] On 6 Dec. 1243 he was elected abbot of Clairvaux. Desiring to remove the reproach which the friars were in the habit of casting on the Cistercians as lacking learning, and no doubt specially moved by the pretensions at that time advanced by the Dominicans in the university of Paris, he in 1244 obtained license from Innocent IV to found a house in Paris for scholars of his order. At first he placed his house close to the buildings of the convent of St. Victor, but to avoid the possibilities of quarrels with that community he moved his foundation to Chardonnet, a site of which the name still survives in the church of St. Nicolas du Chardonnet in the Rue des Bernardins. In 1250 he translated the body of Aletha, mother of St. Bernard, from St. Bénigne de Dijon, where she was buried, to Clairvaux. Alexander IV employed him in some secular business of importance in 1255. His house in Paris was then flourishing, and the scholars who resorted to it were more popular than the friars with the prelates and townsmen. Nevertheless Stephen was in this year deposed from his abbotship by a general chapter of the order, on the ground, it is said, that he had, contrary to the statutes, solicited from the pope a privilege that he should never be deposed. Matthew Paris, who was acquainted with Lexinton's brother John, denies the imputation. The real ground of his deposition was that he had neglected to obtain the sanction of the order for the foundation of his house in Paris. He must have known that an attack on him was impending, and very likely sought to engage the pope on his side; for Alexander IV at once ordered Guy, abbot of Cîteaux, to restore him. Guy pretended that he was about to obey, but did nothing. Alexander complained to Louis IX, who took the side of the order. Stephen had enemies who were jealous of the success of his foundation, and were busy at Rome, and in 1256 the matter dropped. This was according to his own wish, for he was afraid that, if he persisted in defending himself, the authority of the order might be weakened; he declared that he felt no regret at being relieved from the cares of office. He retired to the monastery of Orcamp, to the south-west of Noyon (Oise department), and there died on 21 March. The year is not known.

[Gallia Christ. iv. 806, xi. 443, 548; Du Boulay's [Bulæus] Historia Univ. Paris. iv. 184, 185; Ann. Wav. an. 1229, Ann. Dunst. ann. 1221, 1228 ap. Ann. Monast. ii. 309, iii. 67, 116 (Rolls Ser.); Matt. Paris, Chron. Maj. iv. 125, v. 529, 596, 651, 652 (Rolls Ser.); Chron. Savigniac. et Liber de Miraculis ap. Recueil des Historiens, xxiii. 584, 587; Cal. Litt. Patent. John, p. 138 (Record Publ.); for early notices see also under Edmund (Rich), archbishop, and Hook's Archbishops of Canterbury, iii. 145; Kington's Frederick II, ii. 245.]

W. H.