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Cluny Abbey | ⛪ 🕌 🛕 🕍 The Benedictine monastery in Cluny

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The Cluny Abbey was founded in the homonymous village of Saône-et-Loire on 2 September 909 by the Duke of Aquitaine and Count of Auvergne, William I, the Pious, probably Dhuoda ‘s abiotic grandson. He placed it under the direct authority of Pope Sergius III. The abbey and its constellation of dependencies soon came to exemplify the type of religious life at the heart of  11th-century piety.

The Order of St. Benedict was one of the milestones of the social structure that European society achieved in the 11th century. So much so, thanks partly to faithful adherence to a renewed Benedictine Rule. Therefore, Cluny became the enlightened guide of Western monasticism starting from the late 10th century.

Several of the abbots who followed one another in Cluny, many of them immensely learned, also became politicians known internationally. Cluny Monastery became Europe’s most famous, prestigious, and subsidized monastic institution. The most significant Cluniac occurred from the second half of the 10th century to the early 12th century.

History of Cluny Abbey

Cluny Abbey was founded in September 910 by Duke William of Aquitaine, known as “il Pio.” hTe solemn deed of foundation specified that the Duke, “for God’s sake.” Donated his hunting lodge in Cluny to the Holy Apostles, Peter, and Paul. The building was soon enlarged and refurbished. Abbot Bernon undertook the construction of the first church, which was still relatively modest. (Cluny I), which was consecrated in 926.

His successor, Sant’Odeon, finished it before being consecrated again in 967. From 948, however, Aymard started a bigger and more beautiful one, continued by Maiolo and consecrated in 981 (Cluny II).

The new church became the largest in all of Christendom. It was 187 m long, and its height was 30 m. under the vault. With its four central bell towers and two façade towers, the church surpassed in beauty and perfection the largest pilgrimage churches, such as Saint-Sernin of Toulouse and the cathedral of Compostella.

Representation of Cluny Abbey

cluny abbey

Source: travelpast50.com

Organization

The Cluny Monastery differed in two ways from other Benedictine centers and confederations: its organizational structure and the execution of the liturgy as its primary form of work. While most of the Benedictine monasteries remained autonomous and associated with the others informally, Cluny created a large federation in which the administrators of smaller offices served as deputies of the abbot of Cluny and were accountable for everything. 

The heads of the Cluniac monasteries, under the direct supervision of the abbot of the mother house, the autocrat of the order, were there, not abbots but priors. These also called heads of the monastery, met in Cluny once a year to discuss administrative matters and make reports. The other Benedictine structures, even those of older formation, recognized Cluny as their guide. When in 1016, Pope Benedict VIII decreed that the privileges of Cluny extended to its minor seats, there was a further incentive for the Benedictine communities to become part of the Cluniac order. 

The guest monks of Cluny also represented a re-evaluation of the original ideal of Benedictine monasticism, understood as a productive and self-sufficient entity, similar to the contemporary villas of the areas where the influence of the Roman Empire was still predominant and the manifestation of manors of feudalism.

Design development of Cluny Abbey

  • The antinavata had three naves
  • Two towers, the Barabans, framed the facade
  • It had five naves and two transepts: the larger one with two apses for each arm. While the smaller one with an apsidiole on each arm
  • The apse had five radial chapels
  • At the intersection between the large transept and the nave stood a 40 m lantern. high
  • At the intersection between the large transept and the nave rose a lantern of 40 m. in height
  • The buildings within the walls were the Giovanni di Borbone palace, the palace of Giacomo d’Amboise, and the stables of Santiago
  • The monastic buildings included the abbey, the gardens, the grain depot, the stables, and the dorms.

Cluny Abbey today

Today, Cluny Abbey is in ruins and is revealed to us by excavations and studies, especially by the American Conant. Of this set, only remain:

  • The two Barabans towers, whose upper parts have disappeared.
  • The south wall of the front nave.
  • Arm of the most south large transept with the bell tower of the blessed water to the north and the clock tower to the south.
  • The chapel of Giovanni di Borbone.

The rest of the church disappeared along with the Revolution. Therefore, only a tenth of the original church remains sufficient to testify to its greatness and nobility.

You might also want to know.

1. What is an abbey or monastery?

Abbeys and monasteries are the places where monks lived in common under the guidance of their spiritual father, the abbot, or prior. Monks usually followed the rule of St. Benedict because it was balanced and moderate.

2. What is the difference between a monastery and an abbey?

The difference between a monastery and an abbey can be found in the abbey, a large monastery with legal autonomy under the direction of an abbot or abbess. In comparison, the monastery is just a small church that leads a religious community to live in the abbey and guides them on the path of the Christian faith.

3. Who built the Abbey of Cluny?

Abbey of Cluny is a religious congregation built by St. Bernon William the Pious, Duke of Aquitaine, of the counts of Burgundy (year 910), in which the first reform of the Benedictine order was accomplished.

Conclusion

Cluny Abbey was not known for austerity, asceticism, or for adopting apostolic poverty. Still, Cluny’s abbot supported the papal revival and the reforms of Pope Gregory VII, which led to unprecedented papal authority. Cluniac structures are closely related to the rich, recognized, and the universal papacy. The order lost influence by the early 12th century due to administrative inefficiencies.

However, it was later restored under the Venerable Peter’s abbot (who died in 1156)—bringing the weaker monastery back online and restoring strict discipline. Cluny reached the final days of his power with Peter when his monks became bishops. Envoys and cardinals of France and the Holy Roman Empire. By Peter’s death, new and stricter orders emerged. Such as the Cistercian order, which produced a new wave of church reforms.

Thus, outside the ecclesiastical structure, the growing nationalism of France and England created a climate that was not conducive to the existence of absolutist monasteries that corresponded to the monolithic Burgundian landscape. The Western schism of 1378-1409 further divided loyalty: France recognized Avignon Pope and Empire, and Italian states recognized Rome. And England recognized Rome, splitting and confusing relations.