1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Cluny

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CLUNY, or Clugny, a town of east central France, in the department of Saône-et-Loire, on the left bank of the Grosne, 14 m. N.W. of Mâcon by road. Pop. (1906) 3105. The interest of the town lies in its specimens of medieval architecture, which include, besides its celebrated abbey, the Gothic church of Notre-Dame, the church of St Marcel with its beautiful Romanesque spire, portions of the ancient fortifications, and a number of picturesque houses belonging to the Romanesque, Gothic and Renaissance periods. The chief remains of the abbey (see Abbey) are the ruins of the basilica of St Peter and the abbot’s palace. The church was a Romanesque building, completed early in the 12th century, and until the erection of St Peter at Rome was the largest ecclesiastical building in Europe. It was in great part demolished under the First Empire, but the south transept, a high octagonal tower, the chapel of Bourbon (15th century), and the ruins of the apse still remain. In 1750 the abbey buildings were largely 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, which belongs to the end of the 15th century, serves as hôtel-de-ville, library and museum. The town has quarries of limestone and building-stone, and manufactures pottery, leather and paper.

A mere village at the time when the abbey was founded (910), Cluny gradually increased in importance with the development of the religious fraternity, and in 1090 received a communal charter from the abbot St Hugh. In 1471 the town was taken by the troops of Louis XI. In 1529 the abbey was given “in commendam” to the family of Guise, four members of which held the office of abbot during the next hundred years. The town and abbey suffered during the Wars of Religion of the 16th century, and the abbey was closed in 1790. The residence erected in Paris at the end of the 15th century by the abbots Jean de Bourbon and Jacques d’Amboise, and known as the Hôtel de Cluny (see House, Plate I., fig. 6), is occupied by the du Sommerard collection; but the Collège de Cluny founded in 1269 by the abbot Yves de Vergy, as a theological school for the order, is no longer in existence.

The Order of Cluniac Benedictines.—The Monastery of Cluny was founded in 910 by William I. the Pious, count of Auvergne and duke of Guienne (Aquitaine). The first abbot was Berno, who had under his rule two monasteries in the neighbourhood. Before his death in 927 two or three more came under his control, so that he bequeathed to his successor the government of a little group of five or six houses, which became the nucleus of the order of Cluny. Berno’s successor was Odo: armed with papal privileges he set to work to make Cluny the centre of a revival and reform among the monasteries of France; he also journeyed to Italy, and induced some of the great Benedictine houses, and among them St Benedict’s own monasteries of Subiaco and Monte Cassino, to receive the reform and adopt the Cluny manner of life. The process of extension, partly by founding new houses, partly by incorporating old ones, went on under Odo’s successors, so that by the middle of the 12th century Cluny had become the centre and head of a great order embracing 314 monasteries—the number 2000, sometimes given, is an exaggeration—in all parts of Europe, in France, Italy, the Empire, Lorraine, Spain, England, Scotland, Poland, and even in the Holy Land. And the influence of Cluny extended far beyond the actual order: many monasteries besides Monte Cassino and Subiaco adopted its customs and manner of life without subjecting themselves to its sway; and of these, many in turn became the centres of reforms which extended Cluny ideas and influences over still wider circles: Fleury and Hirsau may be mentioned as conspicuous examples. The gradual stages in the growth of the Cluny sphere of influence is exhibited in a map [VI. C.] in Heussi and Mulert’s Handatlas zur Kirchengeschichte, 1905.

When we turn to the inner life of Cluny, we find that the decrees of Aix-la-Chapelle, which summed up the Carolingian movement for reform (see Benedictines), were taken as the basis of the observance. Field work and manual labour were given up; and in compensation the tendency initiated by Benedict of Aniane, to prolong and multiply the church services far beyond the canonical office contemplated by St Benedict, was carried to still greater extremes, so that the services came to occupy nearly the whole day. The lessons at the night office became so lengthy that, e.g., the Book of Genesis was read through in a week; and the daily psalmody, between canonical office and extra devotions, exceeded a hundred psalms (see Edm. Bishop, Origin of the Primer, Early English Text Soc., Original Series, No. 109).

If its influence on the subsequent history of monastic and religious life and organization be considered, the most noteworthy feature of the Cluny system was its external polity, which constituted it a veritable “order” in the modern sense of the word, the first that had existed since that of Pachomius (see Monasticism). All the houses that belonged, either by foundation or incorporation, to the Cluny system were absolutely subject to Cluny and its abbot, who was “general” in the same sense as the general of the Jesuits or Dominicans, the practically absolute ruler of the whole system. The superiors of all the subject houses (usually priors, not abbots) were his nominees; every member of the order was professed by his permission, and had to pass some of the early years of his monastic life at Cluny itself; the abbot of Cluny had entire control over every one of the monks—some 10,000, it is said; it even came about that he had the practical appointment of his successor. For a description and criticism of the system, see F. A. Gasquet, Sketch of Monastic Constitutional History, pp. xxxii-xxxv (the Introduction to 2nd ed. (1895) of the English trans. of the Monks of the West); here it must suffice to say that it is the very antithesis of the Benedictine polity (see Benedictines).

The greatness of Cluny is really the greatness of its early abbots. If the short reign of the unworthy Pontius be excepted, Cluny was ruled during a period of about 250 years (910–1157) by a succession of seven great abbots, who combined those high qualities of character, ability and religion that were necessary for so commanding a position; they were Berno, Odo, Aymard, Majolus (Maieul), Odilo, Hugh, Peter the Venerable. Sprung from noble families of the neighbourhood; educated to the highest level of the culture of those times; endowed with conspicuous ability and prudence in the conduct of affairs; enjoying the consideration and confidence of popes and sovereigns; employed again and again as papal legates and imperial ambassadors; taking part in all great movements of ecclesiastical and temporal politics; refusing the first sees in Western Christendom, the cardinalate, and the papacy itself: they ever remained true to their state as monks, without loss of piety or religion. Four of them, indeed, Odo, Maieul, Odilo and Hugh, are venerated as saints.

In the movement associated with the name of Hildebrand the influence of Cluny was thrown strongly on the side of religious and ecclesiastical reform, as in the suppression of simony and the enforcing of clerical celibacy; but in the struggle between the Papacy and the Empire the abbots of Cluny seem to have steered a middle course between Guelfs and Ghibellines, and to have exercised a moderating influence; St Hugh maintained relations with Henry IV. after his excommunication, and probably influenced him to go to Canossa. Hildebrand himself, though probably not a monk of Cluny, was a monk of a Cluniac monastery in Rome; his successor, Urban II., was actually a Cluny monk, as was Paschal II. It may safely be said that from the middle of the 10th century until the middle of the 12th, Cluny was the chief centre of religious influence throughout Western Europe, and the abbot of Cluny, next to the pope, the most important and powerful ecclesiastic in the Latin Church.

Everything at Cluny was on a scale worthy of so great a position. The basilica, begun 1089 and dedicated 1131, was, until the building of the present St Peter’s, the largest church in Christendom, and was both in structure and ornamentation of unparalleled magnificence. The monastic buildings were gigantic.

During the abbacy of Peter the Venerable (1122–1157) it became clear that, after a lapse of two centuries, a renewal of the framework of the life and a revival of its spirit had become necessary. Accordingly he summoned a great chapter of the whole order whereat the priors and representatives of the subject houses attended in such numbers that, along with the Cluny community, the assembly consisted of 1200 monks. This chapter drew up the 76 statutes associated with Peter’s name, regulating the whole range of claustral life, and solemnly promulgated as binding on the whole Cluniac obedience. But these measures did not succeed in saving Cluny from a rapid decline that set in immediately after Peter’s death. The monarchical status of the abbot was gradually curtailed by the holding of general chapters at fixed periods and the appointment of a board of definitors, elected by the chapter, as a permanent council for the abbot. Owing to these restrictions and still more to the fact that the later abbots were not of the same calibre as the early ones, their power and influence waned, until in 1528 (if not in 1456) the abbey fell into “commendam.” The rise of the Cistercians and the mendicant orders were contributory causes, and also the difficulties experienced in keeping houses in other countries subject to a French superior. And so the great system gradually became a mere congregation of French houses. Of the commendatory abbots the most remarkable were Cardinals Richelieu and Mazarin, who both initiated attempts to introduce reforms into the Cluny congregation, the former trying to amalgamate it with the reformed congregation of St Maur, but without effect. Martène tells us that in the early years of the 18th century in the monastery of Baume, one of Berno’s original group of Cluny houses—indeed the parent house of Cluny itself—no one was admitted as a monk who had not sixteen quarterings in his coat of arms. A reform movement took root in the Cluny congregation, and during the last century of its existence the monks were divided into two groups, the Reformed and the Unreformed, living according to different laws and rules, with different superiors, and sometimes independent, and even rival, general chapters. This most unhappy arrangement hopelessly impaired the vitality and work of the congregation, which was finally dissolved and suppressed in 1790, the church being deliberately destroyed.

Cluniac houses were introduced into England under the Conqueror. The first foundation was at Barnstaple; the second at Lewes by William de Warenne, in 1077, and it counted as one of the “Five Daughters of Cluny.” In quick succession followed Thetford, Montacute, Wenlock, Bermondsey, and in Scotland, Paisley; a number of lesser foundations were made, and offshoots from the English houses; so that the English Cluniac dependencies in the 13th century amounted to 40. It is said that in the reign of Edward III. they transmitted to Cluny annually the sum of £2000, equivalent to £60,000 of our money. Such a drain on the country was naturally looked on with disfavour, especially during the French wars; and so it came about that as “alien priories” they were frequently sequestered by the crown. As the communities came to be composed more and more of English subjects, they tended to grow impatient of their subjection to a foreign house, and began to petition parliament to be naturalized and to become denizen. In 1351 Lewes was actually naturalized, but a century later the prior of Lewes appears still as the abbot of Cluny’s vicar in England. Though the bonds with Cluny seem to have been much relaxed if not wholly broken, the Cluniac houses continued as a separate group up to the dissolution, never taking part in the chapters of the English Benedictines. At the end there were eight greater and nearly thirty lesser Cluniac houses: for list see Table in F. A. Gasquet’s English Monastic Life; and Catholic Dictionary, art. “Cluny.”

The history of Cluny up to the death of Peter the Venerable may be extracted out of Mabillon’s Annales by means of the Index; the story is told in Helyot, Hist. des ordres religieux (1792), v. cc. 18, 19. Abridged accounts, with references to the most recent literature, may be found in Max Heimbucher, Orden und Kongregationen (1896), i. § 20; Herzog-Hauck, Realencyklopädie (ed. 3), art. “Cluni” (Grutzmacher); and Wetzer und Welte, Kirchenlexikon (ed. 2), art. “Clugny” (Hefele). The best modern monograph is by E. Sackur, Die Cluniacenser (1891–1894). In English a good account is given in Maitland, Dark Ages, §§ xviii.-xxvi.; the Introduction to G. F. Duckett’s Charters and Records of Cluni (1890) contains, besides general information, a description of the church and the buildings, and a list of the chief Cluniac houses in all countries. The story of the English houses is briefly sketched in the second chapter of F. A. Gasquet’s Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries (the larger ed., 1886).  (E. C. B.)