Saturday, 9 March 2013

Cluny Abbey Revealed

The Paschal Lamb from the Abbey
Cluny Abbey has undergone some dramatic restoration over the last five years and as regular visitors, we have watched every stage of the way.  On the first Sunday in February the Administrator of the Abbey gave a guided tour of the latest changes. Unfortunately we had already paid for our St Vincent lunch when we found out, so sadly, we missed out on that one. On talking to some friends who had gone, they said that the Administrator had agreed to do another tour in March and that was last Sunday.

About 100 people turned up for the tour and we were taken around all the work that has been done, not only in the last year, but in the last five years, some open to the public, some almost open to the public and some that you will only be able to see by special permission. His objective with the tour was not only to let us see the work (something we could have done on our own) but to put the work in context. He explained not only what we were seeing but why these works had been chosen over things and the ongoing hopes for the future.

View from the dortoir
Because of the desire of the authorities to totally destroy the abbey after the revolution, different parts of the original footprint have been built on. The Engineering School ENSAM owns most of the 18th century parts of the abbey and the National Stud has its stables over a large part of the church itself. This of course makes renovation or reconstructing parts of the mediaeval church and monastery very difficult indeed. Not only do you have to demolish buildings to get access to the ancient foundations, but there have to be negotiations between a number of different parties, all with their own agendas and requirements.

The tour started at half past two and we would still be going now if our guide had had his way, but as the abbey closes to the public at five o’clock in winter, he had to let us go. It was two and a half hours of incredibly interesting historical, archaeological and architectural details interspersed with anecdotes and personal reflections. Boy could this guy talk and he could project his voice so that all hundred of us could hear him clearly as well.

The highlights? Seeing the abbey from inside the church. That sounds strange, but because of the way the National Stud has been built, up until recently (when one of their buildings was demolished) the only “internal” parts of the church that could be visited were a small chapel on the short transept and half of the long transept. Now you can stand in amongst the reconstructed pillar bases actually inside the main body of the church which gives an incredible view of just how enormous it all was.

The farinier restored
The Farinier (flour store) was an unexpected highlight. We have seen this building many times, but it has now been cleared of all the broken stones that were kept in there, cleaned up, restored and given a new entrance.

Another highlight was seeing the mediaeval pillars of the chapter house, which were found by accident when restoring the walls of the 18th century chapter house. Seeing the altar base stone from Cluny II, the only visible remains of that church, was also something special. We were surprisingly treated to a visit into the, as yet un-restored, area where the monks’ cells were, which was very interesting. I had expected the 18th century ablutions to be one of the highlights, but it didn’t look too different to any other 18th century sink to me, although the visit outside that part of the building, to look at the St Anne chapel, was an unexpected bonus.

All in all a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon, I only wish we had had more time.

For our holiday accommodation near Cluny click here.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...