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Category Archives: Monasticism

Ste-Quitterie-Monks-1Medieval pilgrimage and the monastic world went hand in hand. According to the tripartite feudal division of society only the clerics and monks could expect to enter Paradise on the Day of Judgment.

For the two other orders, those who fought and those who laboured, pilgrimage and Crusade held the potential to avoid the Leviathan’s Jaws and the portal to Hell.

The monasteries guarded the precious relics that pilgrims were ordained to venerate and they were also way stations providing alms and hospitality to pilgrims.

Ste-Quitterie-Monks-2The abbeys and priories which lined the pilgrimage road to Santiago de Compostela thrived in the eleventh and twelfth centuries.

Towards the end of the eleventh century a new monastic order began to assume an important role in the Compostelan pilgrimage. These were the Canons Regular of the Rule of Saint Augustine, ordained clerics who abided by the same strictures and practices as the Benedictine monks.

San-Pedro-de-las-Dueñas-3As the pilgrimage grew in importance during the course of the century, the Augustinians began to perform an important function in establishing infrastructure and providing relief for the travellers.

The abbot of Saint Pons de Thomières, Frotarius, a close ally of Pope Gregory VII was a keen proponent of the canonical life for priests which the Augustinian order embodied

Frotarius established the hospice at Santa Cristina where pilgrims to Compostela were cared for by canons on the Somport Pass over the Pyrenees.

San-Pedro-de-las-Dueñas-4Assigned as Papal Legate to Aragon and Navarre, Frotarius arranged for a certain Pierre d’Andouque to become bishop, first of the Aragonese town of Roda and then in 1082 archbishop of Pamplona.

Previously a novice of Conques and subsequently monk of Frotarius’ abbey at Thomières, Pierre d’Andouque, in his role as bishop of Pamplona became one of the most influential figures in Spanish affairs.

Through the influence of Pierre d’Andouque, the order of Canons Regular began to assume an increasingly active role in the pilgrimage to Compostela. They were installed at Saint Sernin at Toulouse and then in a number of key locations associated with the relics of the Carolingian past on the road to Compostela that passed through Pamplona.

Roncevaux-10-WPA concerted attempt was made to integrate the legends of Charlemagne, both into the Compostelan pilgrimage and the Crusader ethos of the Spanish Reconquista. The driving force behind this appears to have been Pierre d’Andouque and his entourage at Pamplona. The instrument for effecting this strategy was the Augustinian Order

At some point between 1101 and 1104, Pierre d’Andouque acquired an almshouse and a villa at Roncevaux, the location of the great battle between the Franks and Saracens culminating in the martyrdom of the hero Roland.

There he established an Augustinian priory and hospice which he donated to Conques.

This was a vital location, both mythologically and geographically, being just below the Cize Pass that led Compostelan pilgrims from France towards Pamplona.

Roncesvalles-WP-3A short distance from Roncevaux, a chapel dedicated to the Holy Saviour was renamed the Capella Carlomagni.

At Blaye on the Gironde estuary, the tomb of Roland at the abbey of Saint Romanus was served by a chapter of Augustinian canons.

The same was also true for the abbey of Saint Seurin at Bordeaux that held the celebrated Olifant, Roland’s ivory horn. The cemetery of the abbey contained the tombs of many of the fallen heroes of the battle of Roncevaux.

All of these sites were evoked in detail in the Pilgrim’s Guide as markers on the road to Saint James’ shrine. Even more, they were essential elements in the narrative of Turpin’s History that shows evident signs of being composed, in part at least by the circle around Pierre d’Andouque.

Historia-Turpini-1In the chronicle, a passage describes the Saracen leader, Aigolandus, visiting Charlemagne’s court. Aigolandus asks for an explanation of the different clerical and monastic orders he witness around the emperor.

Charlemagne himself explains that aside from the priests and bishops, there are two other orders, the monks in black who were the Benedictines and those wearing the white habit of the Augustinian canons whom he, significantly declares to be the most saintly of all.

The scene that Turpin describes is very much one that which would have been familiar at the courts and councils of the Christian kingdoms of northern Spain in the early twelfth century at the time of the composition of the History. Bishops and abbots both played a vital role in affairs which were then indistinguishable: the political and the spiritual.

Sources and Biblio: Les Origines Méridionales de la Chanson de Roland, Frédéric de Gournay, Cahiers de St-Michel de Cuxa, XXXII, 2001

Une Abbaye de Pelerinage: Sainte-Foy de Conques et ses rapports avec Saint-Jacques. Georges Gaillard Compostellanum Sección des Estudios Jacobeos, 1965

Etude sur les sculptures de Sainte-Foy de Conques et de Saint-Sernin de Toulouse et leurs relations avec celles de Saint-Isidore de Léon et de Saint-Jacques de Compostelle. Paul Deschamps

History of Charles the Great and Orlando Ascribed to Archbishop Turpin, Thomas Rodd, 1812

The Chronicle of Pseudo-Turpin, Kevin R. Poole, Italica Press New York 2014

André de Mandach Naissance et Origines de la chanson de geste en Europe Vol. 1 La Geste de Charlemagne et de Roland Genève, Droz, 1961

Bernard Gicquel La Légende de Compostelle Le Livre de Saint Jacques, Tallandier 2003

Les sépultures des Français morts à Roncevaux, André Moisan, Cahiers de civilisation médiévale, 1981 Volume 24 pp. 129-145

Les légendes épiques : recherches sur la formation des chansons de geste. Bédier, Joseph, 1914

Barton Sholod. Charlemagne in Spain: The Cultural Legacy of Roncevalles, Geneva Droz 1966

cluny-bw-reconIn 1088 construction began, at a small hamlet in the Burgundian countryside, of the largest church in Christendom. It was funded with gold from West Africa which had been extorted from the Moorish states of Andalusia by the rulers of Christian Spain. The new building was the abbey church of the monastery of Cluny.

In return for prayers to be said at Cluny for the redemption of their deceased souls, the emperors Fernando Ist and his son Alfonso VI of Leòn-Castile had granted the gift of a massive annual census which provided the necessary funds for the great enterprise.

This is perhaps the most extraordinary illustration of the power and influence of the great Burgundian abbey and of its impact in the affairs of Christian Spain.

The Pilgrim’s Guide ends with the attribution that it was written “mainly in Cluny”. Was the abbey of Cluny the architect of the great rise in popularity of the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela? The evidence that it was seems overwhelming.

la-celle-gv-1Along the pilgrimage roads to Santiago de Compostela were many monasteries which belonged to the Cluniac federation. Indeed many of the most important stations were closely affiliated to the great Burgundian abbey. On the Limoges road there was Vézelay, La Charité-sur-Loire and Saint Martial. On the Puy route the abbey of Moissac was the centre of Cluniac power and influence in the southwest of France and on the Toulouse route the important shrine of Saint Gilles. On the Tours road was the priory of Saint Eutrope.

In Spain, monks from Cluny were requested by the highest echelons of society to reform monasteries and particularly oversee the replacement of the Mozarabic rite by  the orthodox Catholic liturgy.

san-juan-1The Cluniacs were invited to take over the royal monastery of Aragon at San Juan de la Peña and after developing close ties with the emerging kingdom of Leòn-Castile, developed pilgrimage stations at Najèra, Burgos, Carriòn de los Condes and perhaps most notably at Sahagùn, the most important Cluniac monastery in Spain. When in 1085 the ancient Visigothic capital of Spain was reconquered from the Moors it was a Cluniac, Bernard of Auch who was appointed its archbishop over all Spain.

At the highest level were strong political ties between Burgundy and Compostela itself, in which the interests of Cluny were closely interwoven beginning with the marriage of Alfonso VI to the niece of Cluny’s abbot Hugh, Constance of Burgundy.

Alfonso’s bonds with Cluny were strengthened by his marriage to Constance of Burgundy, daughter of Cluny’s abbot Hugh and later his two daughters, Urraca and Teresa would marry the Burgundian counts Hugh and Raymond.

Ultimately, one needs to consider what was the driving motor of Cluny’s involvement in Spanish affairs and perhaps no greater reason existed than to promote Christian power to overcome what Cluny considered the “heresy” of Islam.

huesca-21The period between the beginning of the tenth century and the end of the twelfth was the great age of the monastery in European Christendom. During this time there was a development in monastic culture which saw a great increase in the foundation of new abbeys and the elevation of the monk to the highest rank of society.

Monks were of two main orders, the Augustinian who followed the Rule of Saint Augustine and the Benedictine who wore the black cowl. They followed the Rule of Saint Benedict of Nursia (480-547) which defined the role of the monks and their daily routine of prayer, labour and reading in equal proportions.

During the reign of Charlemagne and his successors, the Benedictine Order which had fallen into some decline was revived especially due to the efforts and influence of a leading reformer, the abbot Benedict of Aniane 747-821.

Increasingly it was understood that monks retired to the cloister not solely for their own spiritual benefit, but for that of the whole of mankind. Monasteries housed miraculous relics of saints which the monks guarded over. It was the quality of prayer, said before these relics which was valued.

aulnay-demons-tug-beard1The abbey of Cluny exemplified this process above all others. Any hope for humanity lay in the intercession of monks. Cluny had transformed the Rule of Saint Benedict accordingly, so that the liturgical provision made by its monks for prayer was developed to the exclusion of all else.

These developments in monastic culture were welcomed and promulgated by society at large. Donations from the wealthy, whose interest was for the wellbeing of their immortal soul, provided new foundations and gifts of lands.

Monasteries actively sought to join the the Cluniac reform and a network was established of Cluniac priories which looked to the mother house for direction. By the twelfth century the abbot of Cluny presided over a federation of around one thousand monasteries across western Europe.

However the days of Cluny’s prestige were numbered as some began to question the great wealth which it had accrued and its detachment from the world outside. By the middle of the twelfth century a new order, the Cistercian was becoming increasingly influential. The Cistercian movement valued the ideals of simplicity and labour.

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.

st-sernin-1-pc-7The story of the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man, from Luke’s Gospel is frequently repeated in the stone carved images of the churches on the pilgrimage roads and its theme that wealth and salvation are incompatible clearly troubled the medieval aristocracy.

Monastic establishments were founded and maintained by gifts from kings, queens, lords and ladies, often as they neared death themselves. The arrangement included the undertaking that the congregation of monks would pray for the souls of their benefactors. Monastic communities endowed with a powerful saintly relic were especially favoured thus.


According to the parable, Lazarus a poor leper, was denied crumbs from the table of the Rich Man. When each died, the Rich Man received the torments of hell and cried out to the leper he had refused in life to aid him now. Lazarus, already taken up into the Bosom of Abraham, was unable to hear his plea.

When Duke William of Aquitaine made his foundation for a monastery at Cluny he quoted the Book of Proverbs in his charter: “The riches of a man are the redemption of his soul”.

As society moved inexorably towards the End Times a mutually supporting division developed, a caste system imported from the East. This was the Tripartite division: those who prayed, those who fought and those who laboured. In other words, the monks, the knights and the feudal serfs. Each performed a vital service towards the greater good in a mutually interdependent structure whose sole purpose was the preparation of man for Judgment. These were the moral underpinnings of the feudal order.

Those who worked the land provided the necessary food, the knightly aristocracy protected the other two divisions and fought to defend Christendom. It was the monks and clerics however, who provided the most vital function: prayer.

melle-ls-church-l_s1For it was considered that humanity was too sinful to be redeemed without constant prayer and so around the relics of saints an ever more elaborate liturgical ritual evolved. And so the monasteries were reformed, they received great donations from kings and the wealthy aristocracy for the provision of foundations and endowments. By the eleventh century European Christendom contained a network of thousands of abbeys and priories.