THE CLUNY ABBEY

The Cluny Abbey was founded in 910 and was built on a forested hunting preserve donated by William I the Pious, duke of Aquitaine and count of Auvergne. He relieved the monks of Cluny of all obligations to him except for their prayers for his soul but it was much more common for patrons to retain some proprietary interest in the abbey and they usually expected to install their relatives as abbots.

Unlike most monastic patrons, William relieved the monks of Cluny of all obligations to him except for their prayers for his soul. It was much more common for patrons to retain some proprietary interest in the abbey and they usually expected to install their relatives as abbots.

Thus Cluny was able to avoid the secular entanglements that plagued many other monasteries. Cluny answered to the Pope alone, and would come to develop very close ties with the papacy. The Abbey of Cluny was founded by Benedictine monks who wished to observe closer adherence to the Benedictine rule. One distinction was their commitment to offer perpetual prayer, emphasizing liturgy and spiritual pursuits over labor and other monastic activities.

Most of the great Abbey of Cluny stands in ruins, but it still suggest the size and glory of the abbey at its zenith, and imagining it as it once was is part of the attraction. The Porte d’Honneur is the best place to start, which is the entrance to the abbey from the village. The pilasters and Corinthian columns of the Clocher de l’Eau-Bénite that is a majestic bell tower, reflects its classical architecture.

A national horse-breeding center on one side of the transept was founded by Napoleon in 1806 and constructed with materials from the destroyed abbey. The other side is an elegant pavilion built as monastic cloisters in the 18th century. Once ago the gardens contained an ancient lime tree which was destroyed by a storm around 1982, named Abelard as the controversial French philosopher who sheltered at the abbey in 1142. The 13th century flour store is on the right, with its fine oak and chestnut roof and collection of exquisite Romanesque capitals from the vanished choir. The Musée Ochier contains masterpieces of Romanesque sculptures. Remains of both the abbey and the village constructed around it are conserved here, as well as part of the Monk’s Library.

Today the abbey is a ghost of the past and only one tenth of the gigantic cathedral remains. One of the architectural tragedies of history was the damage done during the French Revolution with the burning of the Church furnishings and the wracking of the tombs. It was in great part demolished under the First Empire but a high octagonal tower, the chapel of Bourbon and the ruins of the apse still remain. Around 1750 the abbey buildings were rebuilt and now contain a technical school. Part of the site of the church is given up to the stabling of a government stud. The abbot’s palace serves as hotel-de-ville, library and museum.

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~ by ferry1984 on July 12, 2011.

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