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Amongst the lush green grazing pasture of Burgundy, by the banks of a winding river lie the ruins of what was once the largest church in Christendom, that of the abbey of Cluny.

urban-launches-cluny-iii-br2The Benedictine abbey of Cluny was founded in 909 on the grounds of a hunting lodge donated by Duke William I of Aquitaine in the remote countryside  of eastern France. In his foundation charter William declared that “There the monks shall congregate and live according to the rule of St. Benedict.”

In his foundation, Duke William’s expressly put Cluny under direct Papal authority absolving it from any obligation to himself or his family.

This was unusual, for although the aristocracy were keen for the monks to pray on their behalf, there was also a wish to avoid handing over too much power. Monasteries would often be subject to the donor family or the local bishop who would also often be connected to the lay interests.

Thus the Duke’s charter read: “Through God and all his saints, and by the awful day of judgment, I warn and abjure that no one of the secular princes, no count, no bishop whatever, not the pontiff of the aforesaid Roman see, shall invade the property of these servants of God, or alienate it, or diminish it, or exchange it, or give it as a benefice to any one, or constitute any prelate over them against their will.”

le-puy-clpsd19Although this was not entirely unprecedented, a succession of four long-lived and brilliant abbots: Odo 926-944, Mayeul 944-994, Odilo 994-1048 and Hugh 1049-1109. These men used this autonomy to transform Cluny over the course of a hundred and forty years into an institution that wielded immense power and wealth and huge influence over its time. Odilo and Hugh were both canonised and Cluny produced four Popes from among its congregation of monks.

It was one of these, Urban II who called for the First Crusade and the Cluniac ideal of a powerful and militant Church was at the heart of the medieval world.

11 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] the Reconquista into a contest for the whole of the Spanish peninsula and the visit of the abbot of Cluny, Peter the Venerable who had begun the institution of an ideological war against Islam. Possibly […]

  2. […] wrote Radulfus Glaber, Benedictine monk of the abbey of Cluny in his account of his own time in the mid eleventh century, observing an increase in travel to holy […]

  3. […] 1037 a new abbot was elected at Vézelay abbey in Burgundy. Abbot Geoffroy brought with him the Cluniac reform of the Benedictine order and the cult of Mary Magdalene. Miracles began to take place and […]

  4. […] these predictions seemed to be passed on to the Franks. Around the year 950, Adso the abbot of the Cluniac monastery at Montier-en-Der wrote a text in the form of a letter to the Frankish queen Gerberga on […]

  5. […] this small crypt actually contained Mary Magdalene’s relics. On 6th March 1058 abbot Hugh of Cluny declared recognition of the authenticity of the relics and at the same time, bringing Vézelay into […]

  6. […] the great Romanesque edifice of the late eleventh century which was begun when it was taken over by Cluny in […]

  7. […] a difficult journey, pilgrims would have been drawn there by its reputation as the major  Cluniac centre of the region and the presence of the relics of San […]

  8. By Samson « The Joining of Heaven & Earth on 30 Sep 2010 at 10:00 am

    […] medieval imagination especially, as indicated by the frequency with which it is represented. At the Cluniac abbey of Saint-Pierre de Moissac by the banks of the Tarn river it is shown on a capital in the […]

  9. […] abbey of Cluny exemplified this process above all others. Any hope for humanity lay in the intercession of monks. […]

  10. […] tympanum sculpture of the Transfiguration at the Cluniac priory church of Notre-Dame de la Charité-sur-Loire in Burgundy ranks as one of the masterpieces […]

  11. […] a semi-derelict eighth century monastery had been donated to Cluny in 1059. The new priory was established with the primary intention of being a major halt on the […]

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