Cioffi, Paul L., 1928-2004
All that remains relatively intact of the third and final Abbey Church of Cluny is of the south arm of the longer, west transept with its two towers (shown here). It dates from the 12th C. The octagonal tower (swathed in scaffolding) is known as Clocher de l'Eau-Bénité (Holy Water Belfry); the smaller square tower with the (presumably 19th C.) onion-shaped roof is the Tour d'Horloge (clock tower). The cloister in the foreground (enclosing a central, open space) was built ca. 1750 on the same site as the Romanesque one. In the neighborhood, there are other fragments of what had been an enormous monastic complex. Although we are left with only a very small remnant of Cluny III, the governance of Cluny's monastery and the architecture of its church building were so influential in Western Europe that it is important to evoke its once-grand context. The Abbey of Cluny was founded in 910 by a group of Benedictine monks led by Berno of Beaume. William I (the Pious) of Aquitaine gave them a tract of forested game-preserve near the present-day village of Cluny and, quite unlike most arrangements founded on such donations, asked only the monks' prayers for his soul. This left the community free to elect an abbot from among their own ranks, to pursue their communal monastic vision, and to have only the Pope as their temporal authority. They aimed to reinvigorate their monastic life through closer adherence to the Rule of Benedict, an emphasis on beautiful celebration of liturgy (the Church's official prayer), a preference for spiritual pursuits over labor and other sorts of monastic preoccupations, and unceasing prayer. Cluny also developed a distinctive method of organization. As membership grew, new houses founded from Cluny were not independent monasteries (as was typical) but daughter houses, led by a prior and under the direction and protection of the abbot of Cluny. (Even established monasteries sought to become daughter houses of Cluny.) During the 12th C., at the zenith of its power, more than 1,000 Cluniac houses claimed 10,000 members. For nearly three centuries, Cluny set the standard for the practice of monastic life and for architecture built to shelter it. Construction on Cluny III, dedicated to Saints Peter and Paul, began around 1088 when Hugues (Hugh) de Semur was abbot of Cluny (1049-1109) and completed around 1130. Until St. Peter's Basilica was built in Rome (16th C), Cluny's abbey church was the largest building in Christendom (187 meters long x 200 meters high). It had two massive towers at its west end, flanking the entrance. It had two transepts (west transept: 65 meters long; east transept: 37.5 meters long). Each arm of the west transept had two towers and the crossing of each transept was capped with a tower. The church terminated with a semi-circular apse facing east, which was wrapped in an ambulatory that gave access to five semi-circular radiating chapels. But Cluny's broad influence weakened and waned with political changes that made a single, central power in Burgundy increasingly untenable. The Avignon papacy further divided loyalties. Too, the rise and growth of other religious foundations captured the public's imagination. Nevertheless, it was only during the French Revolution (1789-1799) that the Order was suppressed. Its property was sold to the state; Cluny III was quarried for stone until 1823. ca. August 1981
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