Wishing to return to the primitive monastic tradition, some Cistercians founded the so-called "strict observance" movement.
In the 16th and 17th centuries, there came a certain relaxation and gradual abandonment of the contemplative character that the Cistercian Order had at its origins. The social and societal upheavals that had occurred over the centuries resulted in the weakening of the Order and the rigor of its observances. A reform movement in the Cistercian order was born at the Abbey of Charmoye. Its abbot, Octave Arnolfini, won over to his project other abbeys of the Order. It was the beginning of internal quarrels of observance which gradually led to the creation of two Cistercian observances, one mitigated, the other more rigorous known as "strict observance."
Among the supporters of a return to primitive observances, Father Armand Jean Le Bouthillier de Rancé (1626-1700) was a staunch supporter of a return to basics and the application of a strict ascetic life.
Rancé had an ideal closer to that of the Desert Fathers than to that of Cîteaux. A commendatory abbot of the abbey of La Trappe in Soligny in the Orne since 1636, he encountered significant resistance from other Cistercian abbeys in his wish to return to the roots.
He developed within his monastery a very austere rule of life, interpreting the rule of Saint Benedict from the primitive monastic tradition. The community of La Trappe (the "Trappists") remained united and fervent. A little later, Dom Augustin de Lestrange integrated the abbey of La Trappe, and his action served to strengthen and safeguard the community during the French Revolution. Again, quarrels of observance arose within the movement and there were, from 1847, three Trappist congregations.
At the end of the 19th century, the various congregations ended up uniting. The Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance, commonly called "Trappists," was canonically created on December 8, 1892.