Hello, and welcome to one of the biggest and most powerful monasteries of the Middle Ages! Cistercians may get all the attention, but the Cluniacs paved the way centuries before Bernard of Clairvaux stepped onto the scene.
Cluny was founded in 909/910 when Duke William of Aquitaine donated a tiny hunting lodge in the Burgundy region of France for use as a monastery. The first few abbots, Berno, Odo, and Aymer, helped establish and grow the monastery, and by the end of the 10th century, their presence and power in the region had expanded. The next three abbots, Maiolus, Odilio, and Hugh, would reign for a combined 145 years, which helped solidify the institution's reputation and connections. (This of how many favors you can call in a century and a half!)
By the end of the 11th century, the monks at Cluny were engaged in building a brand new church that could hold thousands of people (in addition to the more than 400 monks living at the monastery). Finished during the first half of the 12th century, this structure was the largest in Christendom until the construction of St. Peter's basilica nearly four centuries later.
One of the conditions that helped Cluny rise to power was a special dispensation by the pope which freed the monks from the rule of the local lords and bishops. As a result of the dispensation, Cluniacs answered only to the pope. This put them on the international stage, and the abbot of Cluny was often called on as an arbiter in disputes between secular leaders and church officials. As it grew, the order gained many wealthy patrons, including the kings of Aragon and the Holy Roman Emperors. Under their patronage, the arts flourished in Cluniac monasteries. They are many gorgeous examples of architecture, sculpture, and illustrated manuscripts that have survived a thousand years and can still be seen today in Burgundy.
Intrigued? Want to know more about the Cluniacs? Stay tuned for more Burgundian monasticism this week!