From Academic Kids

Missing image
Cluny nowadays

The town of Cluny or Clugny lies in the modern-day département of Saône-et-Loire in the région of Bourgogne, in east-central France, near Mâcon.


Cluny and Monasticism

The Benedictine order was a keystone to the stability that European society achieved in the 11th century, and partly owing to the stricter adherence to a reformed Benedictine rule, the acknowledged leader of western monasticism from the later 10th century became the Abbey of Cluny and its constellation of dependencies. A sequence of highly competent abbots of Cluny were statesmen on an international stage. The monastery of Cluny itself became the grandest, most prestigious and best endowed monastic institution in Europe. The kind of religious life the Cluniac Order exemplified was at the heart of 11th-century piety. The height of Cluniac influence was from the second half of the 10th century through the early 12th.


William I the Pious, duke of Aquitaine and count of Auvergne, founded the Benedictine monastery of Cluny, the fatherhouse of the Congregation of Cluny, on a modest scale in A.D. 910. In donating his hunting preserve in the forests of Burgundy, William gave Cluny the remarkable privilege of releasing the house from all future obligation to him and his family other than prayer. Contemporary patrons normally retained a proprietary interest and expected to install their kinsmen as abbots. William appears to have made this arrangement with Berno, the first abbot, in order to free the new monastery from such secular entanglements.


The monastery of Cluny differed in two ways from other Benedictine houses and confederations: in its organizational structure and in its execution of the liturgy as its main form of work. While most Benedictine monasteries remained autonomous and associated with each other only informally, Cluny created a large, federated order in which the administrators of subsidiary houses served as deputies of the abbot of Cluny and answered to him. The Cluniac houses, being directly under the supervision of the abbot of Cluny, the autocrat of the Order, were styled priories, not abbeys. The priors, or chiefs of priories, met at Cluny once a year to deal with administrative issues and to make reports. Other Benedictine houses, even of earlier formation, came to regard Cluny as their guide. When in 1016 Pope Benedict VIII decreed that the privileges of Cluny also extended to subordinate houses, there was further incentive for Benedictine communities to insinuate themselves in the Cluniac order.

The customs of Cluny also represented a shift from the earlier ideal of a Benedictine monastery as an agriculturally self-sufficient unit similar to the contemporary villa that survived in the more Romanized parts of Europe and the manor of more feudal parts, in which each member did physical labor as well as offering prayer. St Benedict of Aniane, the "second Benedict", had acknowledged that the Black Monks no longer truly supported themselves simply with their physical labor, in the monastic constitutions he had drawn up in 817 to govern all the Carolingian monasteries, at the urging of Louis the Pious. Cluny's agreement to offer perpetual prayer (laus perennis, literally "perpetual praise") meant that specialization went a step further at Cluny.

Cluny and the Arts

At Cluny the central art was the liturgy itself, extensive and beautiful in inspiring surroundings, reflecting the new personally-felt wave of piety of the 11th century; monastic intercession appeared indispensable to achieving a state of grace, and lay rulers competed to be remembered in Cluny's endless prayers, inspiring the endowments in land and benefices that made other arts possible.

The fast-growing community at Cluny demanded buildings on a large scale. In building the third and final church at Cluny, the monastery constructed the largest building in Europe before the rebuilding of St. Peter's in Rome in the 16th century. The building campaign was financed by the annual census established by Ferdinand I of Leon, ruler of a united León-Castile, some time between 1053 and 1065. (It was re-established by Alfonso VI in 1077 and confirmed in 1090.) The sum was fixed at 1,000 golden aurei by Ferdinand, and doubled by Alfonso VI in 1090. For Cluny, the sum was simply the biggest annuity that the Order ever received from king or layman, and it was never surpassed. Henry I of England's annual grant of 100 marks of silver, not gold, from 1131 looks puny in comparison. The Alfonsine census enabled Abbot Hugh (died 1109) to undertake the huge third abbey church. When payments in the Islamic gold coin extorted by León-Castile later lapsed, it was a major factor in bringing about the financial crisis that crippled the Cluniacs during the abbacies of Pons (11091125) [1] ( and Peter the Venerable (11221156). At Cluny, the import of gold publicized the new-found riches of the Spanish Christians and drew central Spain for the first time into the larger European orbit.

Cluny's influence

In the fragmented and localized Europe of the 10th and 11th century, the Cluniac network extended its reforming influence far. Free of lay and episcopal interference, responsible only to the papacy, which was in a state of weakness and disorder, with rival popes supported by competing noble gangs, Cluniac spirit was felt revitalizing the Norman church, reorganizing the royal French monastery at Fleury and inspiring St Dunstan in England, though there were no official English Cluniac priories until that of Lewes, founded by the Anglo-Norman Earl of Warren, at Lewes, c 1077. The best preserved Cluniac houses in England are Castle Acre, Norfolk, and at Wenlock, Shropshire. Until the reign of Henry VI all Cluniac houses in England were French, governed by French priors and directly controlled from Cluny.

The early Cluniac establishments had offered refuges from a disordered world, but by the late 11th century Cluniac piety permeated society. This is the period that achieved the final Christianization of the heartland of Europe.

Well-born and educated Cluniac priors worked eagerly with local royal and aristocratic patrons of their houses, filled responsible positions in their chanceries and found themselves appointed to bishoprics. Cluny spread the custom of veneration of the king as patron and support of the Church, and in turn the spiritual outlook and conduct of 11th century kings underwent a change. In England Edward the Confessor was later canonized. In Germany, the penetration of Cluniac ideals was effected in concert with Henry III of the Salian dynasty, who had married a daughter of the duke of Aquitaine. Henry was infused with a sense of his sacramental role as delegate of Christ in the temporal sphere, which gave him a spiritual and intellectual grounding for his control over the German church, culminating in the pontificate of his kinsman, Pope Leo IX.

The new pious outlook of lay leaders enabled the enforcement of the Truce of God movement to curb aristocratic violence.

Within his Order, the Abbot of Cluny was free to assign any monk to any house, creating a fluid structure around a central authority that was to become a feature of the royal chanceries of England and of France, and the bureaucracy of the great independent dukes, such as Burgundy. Cluny's highly centralized hierarchy was also a natural training ground for Catholic prelates: four monks of Cluny became popes: Gregory VII, Urban II, Paschal II, and Urban V.

Cluny was guided by an orderly succession of able and educated abbots drawn from the highest aristocratic circles, two of whom were canonized: Saints Odo of Cluny, the second abbot (died 942) and Hugh of Cluny (died 1109). Odilo, the fifth abbot (died 1049), was a third great leader, who continued the work of reforming other monasteries, but he also encouraged tighter control of the far-flung priories by the the Abbot of Cluny.

Cluny and the Gregorian reforms

Cluny was not known for its severity or asceticism, nor for embracing apostolic poverty, but the abbots of Cluny supported the revival of the papacy and the reforms of Pope Gregory VII that led to unprecedented papal authority. The Cluniac establishment found itself closely identified with the Papacy, rich and dignified and worldly. In the early 12th century, the order lost momentum under poor government. It was subsequently revitalized under Abbot Peter the Venerable (died 1156), who brought lax priories back into line and returned to stricter discipline. Cluny reached its last days of power and influence under Peter, as its monks became bishops, legates, and cardinals throughout France and the Holy Roman Empire. But by the time Peter died, newer and more austere orders such as the Cictercians were generating the next wave of ecclesiastical reform. Outside monastic structures, the rise of English and French nationalism created a climate unfavourable to the existence of monasteries autocratically ruled by a head residing in Burgundy. The Papal Schism of 1378 to 1409 further divided loyalties: France recognizing a pope at Avignon and England one at Rome, interfered with the relations between Cluny and its dependent houses (Green, link). Under the strain, some English houses, such as Lenton Priory, Nottingham, were naturalized (Lenton in 1392) and no longer regarded as alien priories, weakening the Cluniac structure.

By the time of the French Revolution the monks were so thorougfhly identified with the Ancien Régime that the order was suppressed in France and the monastery at Cluny partly demolished.

Further Reading

Kenneth J. Conant, Cluny. Les églises et la maison du chef d'Ordre (1968).
H.E.J. Cowdrey, The Cluniacs and the Gregorian Reform (1970),
Joan Evans, Monastic Life at Cluny 910-1157 Oxford: Oxford University Press, (1968)
C. H. Lawrence, Medieval Monasticism (1984)
Barbara H. Rosenwein, Rhinoceros Bound: Cluny in the 10th Century (1982).

External links

de:Cluny fr:Cluny (Saône-et-Loire) fi:Cluny nl:Cluny pl:Cluny sv:Cluny


Academic Kids Menu

  • Art and Cultures
    • Art (
    • Architecture (
    • Cultures (
    • Music (
    • Musical Instruments (
  • Biographies (
  • Clipart (
  • Geography (
    • Countries of the World (
    • Maps (
    • Flags (
    • Continents (
  • History (
    • Ancient Civilizations (
    • Industrial Revolution (
    • Middle Ages (
    • Prehistory (
    • Renaissance (
    • Timelines (
    • United States (
    • Wars (
    • World History (
  • Human Body (
  • Mathematics (
  • Reference (
  • Science (
    • Animals (
    • Aviation (
    • Dinosaurs (
    • Earth (
    • Inventions (
    • Physical Science (
    • Plants (
    • Scientists (
  • Social Studies (
    • Anthropology (
    • Economics (
    • Government (
    • Religion (
    • Holidays (
  • Space and Astronomy
    • Solar System (
    • Planets (
  • Sports (
  • Timelines (
  • Weather (
  • US States (


  • Home Page (
  • Contact Us (

  • Clip Art (
Personal tools