Saint Paul-Without-The-Walls, Rome. Author: Herbert Weber, Hildesheim. Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported Licence. Wikimedia Commons.

02 March 2021

Cluny Abbey.

English: The Coat-of-Arms of Cluny Abbey.
“Gules, two Keys In Saltire, the Wards upwards and outwards,
Or. Overall, a Sword In Pale, Argent”.
Français: De gueules, à deux clefs d'or en sautoir, traversées d'une épée en pal, à lame d'argent, la poignée d'or en pointe N.B. Certaines sources
donnent les clefs affrontées et non adossées.
Blazon reference:
English: Brian Timmas
Source Own work.
(Wikimedia Commons)

English: Abbey of Cluny, by Marc Tobias Wenzel, licensed under GFDL.
Deutsch: Ostflügel und Turm der Abtei von Cluny (Frankreich).
Private Aufnahme von einer Bekannten von Marc Tobias Wenzel.
Freigegeben unter GNUFDL.
This File: 16 March 2010.
User: Liesel
(Wikimedia Commons)

Text is from Wikipedia, the free encyclopædia.

Cluny Abbey is a Benedictine Monastery, in Cluny, Saône-et-Loire, France. It was built in The Romanesque Style, with three Churches built in succession from the 10th-Century to the Early-12th-Century.

Cluny was founded by William I, Duke of Aquitaine in 910 A.D. He nominated Berno as the first Abbot of Cluny, subject only to Pope Sergius III. The Abbey was notable for its stricter adherence to The Rule of Saint Benedict and the place where The Benedictine Order was Formed, whereby Cluny became acknowledged as the leader of Western Monasticism. The establishment of The Benedictine Order was a key-stone to the stability of European Society that was achieved in the 11th-Century. In 1790, during The French Revolution, the Abbey was Sacked and mostly destroyed. Only a small part of the original remains.

Dating around 1334, the Abbots of Cluny had a Town House in Paris known as The Hôtel de Cluny, what is now a Public Museum since 1833. Apart from the name, it no longer possesses anything originally connected with Cluny.

In 910 A.D., William I, Duke of Aquitaine “The Pious”, and Count of Auvergne, Founded The Benedictine Abbey of Cluny on a modest scale, as The Mother House of The Congregation of Cluny. In donating his Hunting Preserve in The Forests of Burgundy, William released The Cluny Abbey from all future obligation to him and his family, other than Prayer.

Abbey of Cluny.
Cathedral (reconstruction).
Date: 1887-1901.
English: This image is taken from Georg Dehio/Gustav von Bezold: Kirchliche Baukunst des Abendlandes. Stuttgart: Verlag der Cotta'schen Buchhandlung 1887-1901, Plate No. 212. Due to its age, it is to be used with care. It may not reflect the latest knowledge or the current state of the depicted structure.
Deutsch: Diese Abbildung stammt aus Georg Dehio/Gustav von Bezold: Kirchliche Baukunst des Abendlandes. Stuttgart: Verlag der Cotta'schen Buchhandlung 1887-1901, Tafel 212. Aufgrund ihres Alters ist sie mit Vorsicht zu benutzen. Sie entspricht nicht notwendigerweise dem neuesten Wissensstand oder dem aktuellen Zustand des abgebildeten Gebäudes. 
(Wikimedia Commons)

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, to free the new Monastery from such Secular entanglements and initiate The Cluniac Reforms.

The Abbots of Cluny were Statesmen on the International Stage, and the Monastery of Cluny was considered the grandest, most prestigious, and best-endowed, Monastic Institution in Europe. The height of Cluniac influence was from the second half of the 10th-Century through to the Early-12th-Century. The first female members were admitted to The Order during the 11th-Century.

The Monastery of Cluny differed in three ways from other Benedictine Houses and Confederations:

1. Organisational structure;

2. Prohibition on holding land by Feudal Service;

3. 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.

Cluny Abbey.
The Most Significant Monastery Of The Mediæval World.
Available on YouTube at

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. Many other Benedictine Houses, even those of earlier Formation, came to regard Cluny as their guide.

When, in 1016, Pope Benedict VIII decreed that The Privileges of Cluny be extended to Subordinate Houses, there was further incentive for Benedictine Communities to insinuate themselves into The Cluniac Order.

Partly, due to The Order's opulence, The Cluniac Nunneries were not seen as being particularly cost-effective. The Order did not have an interest in Founding many new Houses for women.

The customs of Cluny represented a shift from the earlier ideal of a Benedictine Monastery as an agriculturally self-sufficient unit. This was similar to the contemporary Villa of the more Romanised parts of Europe and The Manor of the more feudal parts, in which each member did physical labour, as well as offering Prayer.

Cluny Abbey.
Available on YouTube at

In 817 A.D., Saint Benedict of Aniane, “The Second Benedict”, developed Monastic Constitutions, at the urging of King Louis the Pious, to govern all The Carolingian Monasteries. He acknowledged that “The Black Monks” no longer supported themselves by physical labour. Cluny's agreement to offer Perpetual Prayer (Laus Perennis (literally “Perpetual Praise”)) meant that it had increased a specialisation in roles.

As perhaps the wealthiest Monastic House of The Western World, Cluny hired managers and workers to do the labour of Monks that other Orders insisted on. The Monks, at Cluny, devoted themselves to almost Constant Prayer, thus elevating their position into a profession.

English: The Monastery of Cluny, France - Entrance to the Abbey.
Deutsch: Das Kloster von Cluny - Eingang zur Abtei.
Engraving: Unknown date.
Photo: 1926-1933.
Source: Fritz-Milkau-Dia-Sammlung, erstellt in der Photographischen
Werkstatt der Preußischen Staatsbibliothek von 1926-1933.
Author: Émile Sagot (1805–1888).
(Wikimedia Commons)

Despite the Monastic ideal of a frugal life, the Abbey in Cluny commissioned Candelabras of Solid Silver, and Gold Chalices, made with Precious Gems, for use at the Abbey Masses. Instead of being limited to the Traditional fare of broth and porridge, the Monks ate very well, enjoying roasted chickens (a luxury in France) and wines from their vineyards, and cheeses made by their employees. The Monks wore the finest Linen Habits, and Silk Vestments at Mass. Artefacts, exemplifying the wealth of Cluny Abbey, are today on display at The Musée de Cluny in Paris.

Cluniac Houses in Britain.

All of the English and Scottish Cluniac Houses, which were larger than Cells, were known as Priories, symbolising their subordination to Cluny. Cluny's influence spread into The British Isles in the 11th-Century, first at Lewes, and, then, elsewhere. The Head of their Order was the Abbot at Cluny. All English and Scottish Cluniacs were bound to travel to France, to Cluny, to consult, or be consulted, unless the Abbot chose to come to Britain, which he did five times in the 13th-Century, and only twice in the 14th-Century.

Cluny Abbey.
Available on YouTube at

At Cluny, the central activity was The Liturgy: It was extensive and beautifully presented in inspiring surroundings, reflecting the new personally-felt wave of piety of the 11th-Century. Monastic intercession was believed indispensable to achieving a State of Grace, and Lay Rulers competed to be remembered in Cluny's endless Prayers; this inspired the endowments in Land and Benefices that made other Arts possible.

The fast-growing Community at Cluny required buildings on a large scale. The examples at Cluny profoundly affected architectural practice in Western Europe from the 10th-Century to the 12th-Century. The three successive Churches are conventionally called Cluny I, Cluny II, and Cluny III. In building the third, and final Church, at Cluny, the Monastery constructed what was the largest building in Europe before the 16th-Century, when Saint Peter's Basilica, Rome, was rebuilt. The construction of Cluny II, circa 955 A.D. - 981 A.D., begun after the destructive Hungarian raids of 953 A.D., led the tendency for Burgundian Churches to be Stone-Vaulted.

The building campaign was financed by the Annual Census established by King Ferdinand I of León, Ruler of a united León-Castile, some time between 1053 and 1065 (Alfonso VI re-established it in 1077, and confirmed it in 1090.) Ferdinand fixed the sum at 1,000 Golden Aurei, an amount which Alfonso VI doubled in 1090. This was the biggest annuity that The Order ever received from King or Layman, and it was never surpassed.

King Henry I of England's Annual Grant, from 1131, of 100 Marks of Silver, not Gold, seemed little by comparison. The Alfonsine Census enabled Abbot Hugh ( 1109) to undertake construction of the huge third Abbey Church. When payments in The Islamic Gold Coin later lapsed, The Cluniac Order suffered a financial crisis that crippled them during the Abbacies of Pons of Melgueil (1109 – 1125) and Peter the Venerable (1122 – 1156). The Spanish wealth donated to Cluny publicised the rise of the Spanish Christians, and drew Central Spain, for the first time, into the larger European orbit.

The Cluny Library was one of the richest and most important in France and Europe. It was a storehouse of numerous very valuable Manuscripts. During the Religious conflicts of 1562, The Huguenots Sacked the Abbey, destroying or dispersing many of the Manuscripts. Of those that were left, some were burned in 1790 by a rioting mob related to the excesses of The French Revolution. Others still were stored away in the Cluny Town Hall.

The French Government worked to relocate such treasures, including those that ended up in private hands. They are now held by The Bibliothèque nationale de France at Paris. The British Museum holds some sixty or so Charters originating from Cluny.

Model of the former Cluny Abbey
(Cluny III).
Photo: 15 August 2013.
Source: Own work.
Author: Hannes72
(Wikimedia Commons)

The Consecration of Cluny III by Pope Urban II,
Author: Odon de Cluny.
(Wikimedia Commons)

In the fragmented and localised Europe of the 10th-Century 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 Nobles, Cluniac spirit was felt revitalising The Norman Church, re-organising The Royal French Monastery, at Fleury, and inspiring Saint Dunstan, in England.

There were no official English Cluniac priories until that of Lewes in Sussex, founded by the Anglo-Norman earl William de Warenne c 1077. The best-preserved Cluniac houses in England are Castle Acre Priory, Norfolk, and Much Wenlock Priory, Shropshire. It is thought that there were only three Cluniac nunneries in England, one of them being Delapré Abbey at Northampton.

Until the Reign of King Henry VI, all Cluniac Houses in England were French, governed by French Priors and directly controlled from Cluny. Henry's Act of raising the English Priories to Independent Abbeys was a Political gesture, a mark of England's nascent National consciousness.

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 Christianisation of the heartland of Europe.

was Elected at The Papal Election, 1119, at Cluny Abbey.
From: The “Liber ad honorem Augusti” of Petrus of Ebulo, 1196.
This File: 3 September 2005.
User: GDK
(Wikimedia Commons)

Well-born and educated, Cluniac Priors worked eagerly with local Royal and aristocratic Patrons of their Houses, filled responsible positions in their Chanceries and were appointed to Bishoprics. Cluny spread the custom of Veneration of The King as Patron and support of The Church, and, in turn, the conduct of 11th-Century Kings, and their Spiritual outlook, appeared to undergo a change.

In England, Edward the Confessor was later Canonised. 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 a delegate of Christ in The Temporal sphere. He had a Spiritual and intellectual grounding for his leadership of The German Church, which culminated 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; he created a fluid structure around a central authority that was to become a feature of The Royal Chanceries of England and of France, and of the bureaucracy of the great independent Dukes, such as that of Burgundy. Cluny's highly centralised hierarchy was a training ground for Catholic Prelates: Four Monks of Cluny became Popes: Gregory VII; Urban II; Paschal II; Urban V.

An orderly succession of able and educated Abbots, drawn from the highest aristocratic circles, led Cluny, and three were Canonised: Saints Odo of Cluny, the second Abbot ( 942 A.D.); Hugh of Cluny, the sixth Abbot ( 1109); Odilo, the fifth Abbot ( 1049). Odilo continued to reform other Monasteries, but, as Abbot of Cluny, he also exercised tighter control of The Order's far-flung Abbeys and Priories.

The remnants of Cluny Abbey.
Photo: 16 July 2007.
Source: Own work.
Author: TL
(Wikimedia Commons)

Cluny was not known for its severity or asceticism, but the Abbots of Cluny supported The Revival of The Papacy and The Reforms of Pope Gregory VII. The Cluniac establishment found itself closely identified with the Papacy.

In the Early-12th-Century, The Order lost momentum under poor government. It was subsequently revitalized under Abbot Peter the Venerable ( 1156), who brought lax Priories back into line and returned to stricter discipline.

Cluny reached its apogee 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 Cistercians, 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 recognising a Pope at Avignon and England one at Rome, interfered with the relations between Cluny and its dependent Houses. Under the strain, some English Houses, such as Lenton Priory, Nottingham, were naturalised (Lenton in 1392) and no longer regarded as alien Priories, weakening The Cluniac structure.

English: The Cloisters of Cluny Abbey.
Français: Grand cloître de l'abbaye de Cluny.
Photo: 12 September 2017.
Source: Own work.
Author: Hadonos
(Wikimedia Commons)

By the time of The French Revolution, the Monks were so thoroughly identified with The Ancien Régime that The Order was suppressed in France in 1790 and the Monastery at Cluny almost totally demolished in 1810. Later, it was sold and used as a quarry until 1823. Today, little more than one of the original eight Towers remains of the whole Monastery.

Modern excavations of the Abbey began in 1927 under the direction of Kenneth John Conant, American architectural historian of Harvard University, and continued (although not continuously) until 1950.

English: The Chapel of Jean de Bourbon, Cluny Abbey.
Français: Chapelle Jean de Bourbon of Abbaye de Cluny.
Photo: 12 September 2017.
Source: Own work.
Author: Hadonos
(Wikimedia Commons)

Starting from the 12th-Century, Cluny had serious financial problems, caused mainly by the construction of the third Abbey. Charity given to The Poor increased the expenditure. The influence of the Abbey weakened gradually as other Religious Orders rose (Cistercians in the 12th-Century, then Mendicants in the 13th-Century).

Bad management of the grounds, and unwillingness of the subsidiary Companies to pay the annual taxable quota, helped to lessen Cluny's revenue. Cluny raised loans and ended up being involved in debt to its creditors, who were merchants of Cluny or Jews of Mâcon.

The conflicts with the Priories multiplied and the authority of the Pope became heavier. To the 14th-Century, the Pope frequently named the Abbots. The crises at the end of The Middle Ages. and The Wars of Religion in the 16th-Century, weakened the Abbey a little more.

English: Cluny Abbey.
Français : Abbaye de Cluny.
Photo: 12 September 2017.
Source: Own work.
Author: Hadonos
(Wikimedia Commons)

The Monks lived in luxury and there were not more than about sixty Monks in the middle of the 15th-Century. With The Concordat of Bologna, in 1516, overseen by Antoine Duprat, the King gained the power to appoint the Abbot of Cluny.

The years following The French Revolution were fatal to all the Monastic buildings and its Church. In 1793, its Archives were burned and the Church was delivered to plundering. The Abbey estate was sold in 1798 for 2,140,000 Francs. Until 1813, the Abbey was used as a stone quarry to build houses in the Town.

Today, there remain only the buildings built under The Old Mode, as well as a small portion of Cluny III. Only The Southern Transept and its Bell-Tower still exist. The remaining structure represents less than 10% of the floor area of Cluny III, which was the largest Church of Christendom, until the construction of Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome, five Centuries later.

In 1928, the site was excavated and recognised by the American archaeologist Kenneth J. Conant with the backing of The Medieval Academy of America.


  1. Thank you, Zephyrinus:

    An absolutely fascinating history of a great monastery which did so much good, despite inevitable imperfections, for so many, many years.

    Of course a shame that the great church and much of the abbey was destroyed in the French Revolution—no real surprise there. But that act of senseless destruction can’t erase the great legacy of the many centuries of good that Cluny achieved.


    1. Dear Dante Peregrinus. As always, Thank You for your welcome Comment. Pleased that your found this particular Post, on Cluny Abbey, of great interest. I agree with your sentiments on The French Revolution: Diabolical Acts take many forms.

      Reference France: I, too, am delighted to note that, during Lent, the “Hit Rate” on this Blog rises tremendously, with hundreds of new “visits”, all from France !!! The love of the Traditional Liturgy in The Catholic Church still smoulders within “La Belle France”, and Thank God for that.

      In addition, reference our recent discourse on the new Benedictine Monastery at Brignoles, France (, I shall shortly send you some new information on their progress.

      in Domino

    2. That information (re. the monastery at Brignoles) will be equally of great interest when available. Thank you, Dom Zephyrinus.

      I was re-reading this long and storied history of the Abbey at Cluny; and I only must wistfully marvel at what must’ve been contained in the Abbey’s Great Library and archives that were so senselessly burned in 1793 during the French Revolution. Can you
      imagine what treasurers they must have contained?
      Umberto Eco’s “The Name of the Rose” hints at their glory, from the miraculous remnants that have survived—-somehow—in other abbeys.

      And we can only pipe dream how magnificent and stunning the full size of the great Abbey church of Cluny once was!

      And once again, the Revolutionaries’ efforts to erase history and tradition, no matter how thorough, always fail.

    3. Thank You, Dante Peregrinus, for your latest Comment. I, too, often wonder at the treasures that were destroyed (for what purpose ?) in The French Revolution. The only crumb of comfort that I manage (rightly or wrongly) is that, come The End Of The World, “all will be revealed”. Hopefully, that will include the former contents of Cluny Abbey !!!

      in Domino


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