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The Abbey of Cluny


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Burgundy      Centre      South



The first of the major monastic reform movements, Cluny (to the West of Macon in Burgundy) was established by Duke William the Pious in 910 and placed under the direct protection of the Pope.  The Abbey exerted huge influence in the ten hundreds, particularly through the Abbots Odilo and Hugh,  and several of its Abbots became Popes.  It was rebuilt twice to accommodate more monks - Cluny II in 981 and Cluny III - said to cover a bigger area than the present day Pentagon -  between 1088 and 1130.  The illustration below (reproduced from "The Papacy" by Paul Johnson) shows the French Clunaic Pope Urban II (1042 - 1088 - 1099 (57)) consecrating something at Cluny III.  It was Urban who launched the First Crusade in 1095.



Sadly, hardly any of the old Cluny buildings remain today. 


At its height the Abbey had over 1,000 dependencies scattered over Europe.  These were mostly called Priories rather than Abbeys.  Each Priory was run by a Prior appointed by Head Office in Cluny, and all monks had to pledge allegiance to the Abbot of Cluny, not their own Prior.  Other administrative procedures were equally centralist and authoritarian, and it is easy to see how the more participative governance systems set up by the Cistercians (like monks electing their own abbots and pledging allegiance to them) proved more attractive and robust, particularly when Cluny fell into the incompetent hands of Abbot Pons between 1109 and 1122. 


Whilst the Cistercians and then the mendicant orders took over the religious running, Cluny steamed on as an abbey and movement under the momentum of its huge endowments.  In fact it had almost completed another major rebuild in the seventeen hundreds when the French Revolution led to its being sold and dismantled ..... with just one end of the huge abbey transept and the (not that old and not that attractive) cloisters and dormitory buildings eventually saved for posterity.




Above:  A reconstruction of the medieval monastery and abbey - for centuries the largest church in the world.


Right:  All that is left of the abbey - looking down (5) the line of the old narthex / nave to the south transept tower (13) (this is the rightermost of the four towers shown in the above reconstruction).


Abbey of Cluny, Burgundy
Plan of Abbey of Cluny, Burgundy


Plan of the abbey showing what is still there and what has gone.  The numbers under the photos on this page approximate to those on the plan.


Abbey of Cluny, Burgundy
Cloister of the Abbey of Cluny, Burgundy Cloister of the Abbey of Cluny, Burgundy


The 1750s cloisters (10), which replaced Romanesque ones, do not warrant inclusion in any cloister visit list.  At one stage after the abbey was closed and demolished the area became the town square of Cluny - no doubt giving it more interest and life than today's barren nothingness.


Abbey of Cluny, Burgundy


Believe it or not, this was to be the monk's dormitory, but it was completed only just before the monastery was closed in 1790 and the monks never got in.  The courtyard (15) was originally planted with boxwood and apple trees.


Abbey of Cluny, Burgundy

Flour Store, Abbey of Cluny, Burgundy


The restored wooden roof frame of the flour store (16), one of the only remaining buildings from the 1200s.  Its larger than life size gives a hint of the scale of the stuff that is no longer there - everything Clunaic was larger than life!  The huge space is used to good advantage to exhibit a group of capitals which were rescued from the rubble left by the wreckers (photo below).



Capitals, Abbey of Cluny, Burgundy

Photo Holly Hayes, Sacred Destinations



Capitals rescued from the rubble of the choir of the abbey church.  The eight faces of two of the rescued capitals represent each of the tones or modes of the Gregorian Chant.  There were two tones or modes for each of the characteristic notes re, mi, fa and sol.  In Gregory's day there were only limited ways of "writing music" and there was no way of defining a particular note so that it could be replicated.  A full system of musical notation was another 400 years away - it was invented by the Tuscan Guido d'Arezzo around 990.  The nearby Cathedral of St-Lazare in Autun has a capital illustrating "the fourth tone" being played.



Photo Holly Hayes, Sacred Destinations



Photo Holly Hayes, Sacred Destinations



Trees & Rivers of Paradise, Abbey of Cluny, Burgundy


Trees and rivers of paradise.


Isaac is saved - Abbey of Cluny, Burgundy


Isaac is chairbound (literally) but Abraham (out of view) is stopped by an angel from terminating him.


Tour Fabry, Abbey of Cluny, Burgundy


The Tour Fabry (21) was built in the 1300s to guard the northern approach to the abbey.


Hotel et Restaurant de Bourgogne, Cluny


The Abbey of Cluny was closed in 1790 and sold to a breaker in 1798.  Demolition and clearing, driven by dislike and profit,  was swift and effective, witness the fact that the Hotel et Restaurant de Bourgogne (***) (above right) was built in 1817 on a site (12) that was in the old abbey nave.  The hotel, which has a private car park, is an attractive base for a good dinner, sleep and morning walk around the "abbey circuit".  It and the restaurant are closed during the months of December and January,  and at other times the restaurant is closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.


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Link to Paradoxplace Pages about the History, Art and Architecture of the Medieval Christian Church




Link to Wikipedia Abbey of Cluny Page


In Search of Cluny - Edwin Mullins


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