Monday, 14 September 2009

Cluny - La Lumière du Monde.

La Tuilerie Website

The name Cluny is synonymous with the spiritualism of the Middle Ages. The Cluny order exercised a considerable influence on the religious, intellectual, political and artistic lives in the whole of the western world at that time. Guillaume d’Aquitaine founded the Benedictine abbey in 910. The abbey’s growth in both size and power was very rapid. In the 12th century there were about 460 monks in the abbey and Cluny controlled 2500 other abbeys throughout the west.

The first church built on the site of the abbey was constructed in the Carolinian tradition. The second, built over the first in the 11th century was early Romanesque and the final church, Cluny III - built between 1085 and 1130, was a magnificent Romanesque basilica called the St Peter and St Paul Basilica. The church was 177m long, 32m high, it had 5 naves, 2 transepts, 7 towers of which 5 were bell towers and 301 windows. The complex around the church had 4 cloisters and numerous buildings to house the monks and all the other people necessary to maintain the order. St Peter and St Paul Basilica was the largest church is Christendom at that time and has since only be beaten in size by St Peter's Basilica in Rome, at 184m long, which was completed in 1626 some 500 years after Cluny III was finished. The Basilica and abbey buildings were built to impress and dominate. At the time of its building, Pope Urbain II said to the monks in Cluny “You are the light of the world”. Cluny was invincible and in charge.

However, the Cluny order were becoming too dominant, too important and too rich. There were many forces working against Cluny, most critics were after their power and wealth but others such as St Bernard of Clairvaux condemned the lifestyle of the monks. He in particular felt that the monks’ richness and luxurious lifestyle did not suit the spiritual life they were supposed to be living. It was this way of life that prompted him to found the Cistercian order, which promoted a return to an austere life of physical work, self sufficiency and contemplative spirituality. But it was not until the the 14th century that Cluny’s influence really started to wane and the wars of Religion in the 16th century were the last blow for the church. Between 1793 and 1823 the abbey was sold off literally piece by piece, the stones that once were the great Basilica were used around town and elsewhere in the area as building materials and today all that remains of the Basilica are two towers and a little chapel. The large cloister and some of the other buildings did survive and are now used by the National Stud and the Grande Ecole ENSAM.

Next year 2010 it is the 1100th anniversary of the foundation of this once great and influential abbey and this anniversary is being celebrated throughout Europe at various Clunisien sites. The start of the celebrations was “Ouvrez les portes” held last Sunday where the twelve ancient gates of Cluny were reconstructed. Each gate was given a different colour of the rainbow and these coloured segments were radiated out on a map of Europe symbolically showing Cluny as it was in ancient times as "La Lumière du Monde". Each village or town in the area was allocated to a gate according to which coloured segment they fell under. We in Cormatin were assigned the Porte de la Chanaise, which was the white gate, the most important gate, the one that included all the colours of the spectrum. We all had to dress in white and bring a picnic to share with our neighbours based on the theme of white. The street leading into town from the gate was decorated in white and was filled with tables ready for the picnic. There were opening speeches, an aperitif with white snacks during which time we all had to sign a letter to be sent out to the countries in our segment (Belgium, The Netherlands and Norway) inviting them to the closing party next September. Then we all walked through the gate symbolising the opening up of the gates to the city and thus opening the 2010 celebrations. Then on to more important and less symbolic things. Picnic time had arrived and all the Cormatinois sat together at the tables we had brought and we shared vast amounts of white food and white wine. After this enormous picnic, cavaliers arrived at each gate to collect our letters and take them out into the world. Then everyone from all the gates formed a multi-coloured human chain around the city. A helicopter zoomed overhead registering the event for posterity. The day went on with more speeches, music and dancing in the Abbey park, but we were too tired after a long day and we cycled home along the Voie Verte.


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