The Foundation of Cluny
The Abbey of Cluny was founded in 910 by Duke William the Pious of Aquitaine who donated his hunting preserve in the Burgundian forests to the church. The original monks were sent from Baume Abbey in Baume-les-Messieurs, Jura – a distance of about 100 km..
The newly founded order introduced reform in a period of general monastic laxity, returning to a strict observance of the Benedictine Rule.
The abbey was subject to no authority but that of the pope and developed a centralization previously unknown in the Benedictine.
All Cluniac houses were priories and remained subject to the mother abbey. The surrounding town of Cluny prospered from the prominence of the abbey and received a communal charter in 1090 from the abbot St. Hugh.
Both town and abbey suffered during the religious wars of the 16th century, and the abbey was suppressed during the French Revolution and closed in 1790.
Cluny I, II, and III
The three phases of Cluny Abbey relate to its successive churches, known as Cluny I, Cluny II, and Cluny III. It is likely that the chapel of Duke William’s hunting lodge was used pro tem, and nothing is really known of Cluny 1. As the order expanded, it was enlarged with the building of Cluny II c. 955-981.
Construction of the massive church, Cluny III, was begun in 1088 under abbot Hugh of Semur. It was built principally between 1088 and 1130, and was the largest church in the world until the erection of St. Peter’s in Rome.
Cluny III was in great part demolished in the early 19th century, but the ruins of the main southern transept, dominated by a great belfry tower, testify to its former glory.
Left: The surviving bases of the west towers.
Right:The remains of the narthex.
images – David Beard