Association of Art & Science



Cecile Boisson





The monks were important actors of the Middle-age, with many essential functions (office). Their first mission was to pray: for their relatives (parents), for the laymen and for their benafactors. The monks served as intermediaries between the heavenly world and the ground life. From the IXth  in the Xth century, the monastic institutions had suffered the invasions. In the XIth century, all the monastic orders, sets up Cluny. On September 1107, Guillaume, nicknamed Pickets, duke   Aquitaine bases Cluny. He imposes two constraints to the first abbot Bernon: observed the rules of Sanctimonious saint and after Bernon's death the monks can choose freely their abbot. This brief article proposes a parallel enters Cluny III's architecture and history of order.


The life of the monks, the life dedicated to the prayer.

Prayer and architecture


Importance of the church in the plan.


The accommodation facilities are considerable: among Cluny II and Cluny III, it passes from 200 to 1316 monks. The monk of Cluny lives in this architectural frame which is familiar to him: a sober solid and functional, stony frame. A house was adapted to the prayer, their main activity. The architectural ambition expresses the ideal monk of Cluny. The churches are intended to celebrate the masses by a luxurious and ostentatious liturgy. One celebrates there the religious holidays and the memory of the deaths. On the liturgical plan, Cluny innovated little. They opt for the manners of the Empire (of Xth century in the first half of the XIth century) and of the Holy seat (2nde half of the XIth century). The liturgy contains a very long preparatory part with hymns, lessons, prayers, purificatoires acts, then a second more silent part. Several prayers punctuate the day with the monks: offices of the night-( 1h30 / 3h ), "matines" ( 3h30 / 5h ), "vespers" ( 16h / 18h ) and "complies" in the bedtime(sunset), as well as the offices of premium, third, sexte, none all its 3 a hours. All this ends in an in a sense perpetual prayer which is the first mark deliberately wanted by Clluny. The office grows longer and "clunisiens" sings up to 215 psalms a day while the rule Benedictine prescribed it only 40.

The reproduction of chapels.

Besides the extraordinary dimension of Cluny III, the reproduction of chapels contributes to the immoderation this building. Cluny II counted 2 directed chapels and a head sorting conch. Cluny III counts on the whole 15 chapels. This explains himself partially by the function(office) of the monks which was to pray for the deaths.

Place of the monks within the convent.

This building is adapted to the monastic life and to the hierarchy of Cluny. There is a different convent for the monks and for the novices, as well as the other various buildings for these 2 categories. They are all gathered only at the single moment: the mass.

Place of the laymen..

The laymen in the clunisienne liturgy.

The monks of Cluny prayed for the deaths at request of the laymen, in return of donations. However it is difficult to know of which manners the laymen perceive this mass. Clunisiens had a taste for the grand ceremony but the laymen had no place in the liturgy. All the rites come true without they are really invited to the prayer and to the consideration. The monks take practically care never of the pastoral of the laymen. Nave is at first conceived to welcome the pilgrims in the daytime of solemnity.

The hospitality.

Against the nave is situated the house of the hosts or hotel business. The hospitality is one of the monastic virtues, one practises it so to Cluny. The hotelkeeper is in charge of welcoming and of treating the leading hosts and the on horseback paying pilgrims while the modest clerks, the pilgrims on foot and the deprived are confided to the chaplain. The hotel business forms to Cluny a specific building of about 50 metres long on 10 metres wide in which is fitted out a dormitory for the men, woman having similar premises in another part.

The infirmary.

Under Odilon, the infirmary consists to Cluny of 6 rooms. The male nurse has a specific, at the same moment material, moral and religious task which gives it a relatively eminent place. He assures the administrative and financial responsibility of the service under the control of the "cellérier" and the "chambrier". Besides he assists spiritually the patients. He officiates for them in a special chapel generally dedicated to the Virgo.


Cluny's brilliance.

French brilliance and at the beginning the expansion clunisienne.


Fin XIth century, Cluny III's basilica was a work where comes true the Romanic art. Cluny is a major creation which directed the Burgundy experiments. We possess indirect testimonies, proposed by Romanic churches of Burgundy, having imitated in their structures or their decoration certain peculiarities of Cluny III's abbey church: "Paray le Monial"; "la Charité sur Loire", "Saint Lazare d' Autun". Cluny was thought according to the French experiences : ambulatory with radiant chapels as everywhere in France, double transept as to Sanctimonious Saint on the Loire, doubles low sides as Toulouse and in "la Charité sur Loire". The plan of piles consists of 4 engaged elements as in most of the French churches. It is a vaulting in cradle. There is nothing which feels the establishment. Cluny is implanted on the French territory and his architectural party feels the effects of it. There is no equivalent in West, only the Holy basilica Sophie of Constantinople gets closer to it at the level of the dimensions but the plan is totally different ( centred plan) more she is situated in East.

Expansion of Cluny through the  girls of Cluny

Thanks to the boldness and to saint Mayeul's authority one sees the establishment of the order on the territory of Burgundy and the next territories. Cluny hesitated for a long time to spread the network of its possessions too much far from the head office and outside France of the South which constituted its natural environment. In 994-1048, before Cluny III, Cluny's possessions formed 3 groups: Burgundian, Provencal and "poitevin-saintongeais". At the architectural level, Cluny, even in the highlight of its power never tried to impose a particular type of church on the establishments which had embraced the customs. In most of the monastic networks, the solutions adapted in abbey are more often inspired local models. Then clunisiens goes out of their first domain, they "conquer" the southwest of France, Spain, settles down in the North of the Loire, reaches England and Italy. The abbey mother watches her subsidiaries, abbeys which she tries to distribute systematically in the realm and beyond in all the West.

 International brilliance

The abbot of Cluny is one of the most important persons of the West.

The financing

It is "international". One knows that king Ferdinand of Castile as well as order he even participated. The progress of the construction is vague one notes some slowing down, notably around 1100 in 1120 : several texts show that there is a slowing down can be due to the financing. Abbots thanks to the wealth of the order participate in the financing also.

Some figures

Fin XIth century, Cluny controlled 1000 abbey in Europe is 200 monks. Environment(middle) xiith century, this figure passed to 1500 French, Spanish and Germanic convents.


Roma's Importance

Cluny is under the patronage of holy Pierre and holy Paul so from its inscription it is implicitly placed under authority of the Pope. Abbey integrated in church is included in the diocese of "Macon". Eminent owners of Cluny, in the name of saint Pierre and saint Paul, the popes are going to be too called to act because Clunisiens seeks them to confirm them possessions and properties which increase considerably. Somewhere else, Cluny possesses a political and diplomatic force which allows IT to intervene in the "investiture quarrel". Cluny take naturally position for the Pope. But Cluny shines ofEmpire until Roma, what makes possible such an intervention.

Cluny's wealth

In 972, Cluny is already one rich abbey. Three factors add up to make this accumulation of wealth possible.

-         the multiplication of donations to an order which pray for the deaths.

-         the immunity of the possessions registers in the charter of foundation

-         finally the protection of Rome.

Cluny III's company is a proof of it. The power and the dynamism of the order confer it an indisputable influence on all those which are in connection with him. Cluny marks certain sectors of the West. As regards the spiritual domain, its houses shine as much in connections established with the nobility as those with the peasant world.



The decline of Cluny



Cluny directs the Burgundian experiences but does not influence them. Later one will resume its architectural structures such as the clunisien head (hierarchical organization of the volumes). Cluny III is only a prototype, in spite of the European reach of his order, in spite of his extraordinary dimensions, in spite of the dimension of this building, one will not see multiplying " small Cluny " in all Europe.

Why? The wish of a building in the important dimensions (the vault rose as high as 30 metres) implies exploit and technical innovations at the level of the construction, which will not be enough mastered to be to re-use in the other buildings. Indeed, the bosses of work act in precursors when they employ of the big device (instead of the small device). The use of the big device allows to reach more important heights and better distribution of the pushes. Anne Baud (professor of archaeology in university of Lyon) defines Cluny, certainly with caution as the " Gothic prematurely ". But the bosses of works did not still master the size of the big device. Cluny stays so an isolated case.


Neglect in the rule

Normally the monks sleep in dormitories but very fast appear abnormalities, they have small single rooms which they can lock. Although meats are prohibited, qualities of the dishes is remarkable, and the guests are amazed to see fishes in sauce, far from characterizing the austerity so waited. It's the same for their clothes which should observe a strict sobriety and they should have nothing of comfortable. But the monks give fast evidence of clothing coquetry, appear lively complexions, tissues of better qualities, leather bootees, sticked in winter.

The last starts and at the end of the clunisien empire

Some of abbots are going to try to put back(hand) Cluny in the right(straight) road.

 Odilon (994-1049) adapts Cluny to the feudal society, as Odon he remains very attached(fastened) to the liturgical prayer, and insists on the necessity of the poverty. Pierre le Venerable and Hughes v act too against the abuses. In the 1050's, the clunisien order found its prestige, after the crisis of 1120 and meets in all the circles a real respect. This balance is maintained up to the xiii definitively to fall.


The irreparable end

In saint Mayeul's ( 994 ) death, Cluny's order was really born and installed. But since Oton's death Big (973), the monastic building crumbles off in the Peninsula. Cluny's political role is in factor of its brilliance and cause of its decline. In the South of the Loire, when there is no more solid authority, distribution of the violence and the insecurity, looter, professional men at arms, warrior ravage campaign and set themselves it especially in churches and in convents badly forbidden by the official defenders. It will not be not the first cause of the end of the order clunisien but it proves the weakness. From 1157 till 1319 one sees succeeding one another 22 abbots (over 162 years) while for the previous 248 years only 9 abbots "steered" Cluny. The average duration of an "abbatiat" passed so from 27 years and 6 months to 7 years and 10 months. If Cluny owes its brilliance has strong men: Mayeul, Odilon, powerful Odon, abbot's absence in the long abbatiat destabilizes and weakened the order. Cluny gets out of breath. Opposite Cistercian, Carthusian monk, "Prémontrés" bring on the contrary a spiritual renewal and a generous heat. At the end of the xii the strength of its orders is superior to that of Cluny. In 1210/1220, Dominique and François d' Assise base the begging orders which have " the advantage " to be with the poor men. Their establishment was especially in suburbs, rapidly expanding. These orders adapt themselves easily to this new urban and social context.


The reasons of Cluny's brilliance are going fast to be the cause of its decline: its claim, its pride were against the first purpose wanted by Guillaume d' Aquitaine and the abbot Bernon. When Cluny loses his(her) defenders the abbey loses its force. If Cluny iii is the symbol of the highlight of the order it(he) lets guess the fall of a "empire".


Please follow the links or contact us for further information.


Back to previous page

Copyright Ó  sistema - technology™