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Southern Burgundy Romanesque ChurchesAbbaye de Cluny

The church of the Abbey in Cluny was once the biggest in the world. It steeples towered over the surrounding landscape like a giant. Not only was Cluny big in size but also in influence over the Catholic Church, becoming at one time almost as powerful as the Pope.

The Abbey was founded in September 909 by William I and was a part of the Benedictine order. Cluny was for a time the leader of western monasticism and a very important location in the history of Christendom. As Cluny was for a time directly answerable only to the Pope, a situation that Cluny thrived in. As the Pope had relatively little power, Cluny’s influence was felt far and wide and given that the papacy was weak during the 10th and 11th century Cluny it could be argued was just as powerful, if not more so. Thanks to its organization built around the Abbot of Cluny, who was free to assign monks as he saw fit. Cluny had an influence that not many religious orders could dream of.

During the 12th century the influence of Cluny started to diminish. This was mostly due to its attachment to worldly possessions and the good life. As tastes changed, Cluny was overtaken by more strict orders like the Cistercians, who were not interested in worldly possessions. By the time of the French revolution Cluny had become so associated with wealth and the powers to be that it was destroyed and its stones used as material to construct other buildings.

What is seen today is what rests of Cluny III. That is the third church built at Cluny and by far the largest. The main structure of Cluny III was built between 1085 and 1120, meaning it’s a Romanesque Church. Around 1145 and stopping about 1225 a narthex was added. This brought Cluny III to a total length of over 613 feet! The height was over 131 feet.

Cluny III was destroyed in 1790 during the French revolution and what remains today is just a shell of it former self. Nevertheless if you are in southern Burgundy Cluny is worth a visit. Cluny is located not far from the A6 Autoroute - exit Macon sud direction Cluny.

Cluny is about an hour and a half drive from Lyon and about a four hour drive from Paris. There is also TVG (fast train) service from Paris to Macon. The Abbey is easy to find in the town just look for signs marked ‘Abbaye’.

Most of what you see today is the remains of the church but other Abbey buildings can still be seen. There is an information point, where tickets are purchased. Next explains the history of Cluny and also offers guided tours and documentation. There is limited viewing of the Abbey for those that decide not to purchase tickets. You can observe what was the entrance to Cluny III for free. There is an observation table with a map explaining the layout of Cluny III.

The Abbey can be visited in a little over an hour. After you visit it’s worthwhile to walk around the town. Local products can be bought, including wine. The weekly market, not far from the Abbey is on Saturday morning and not to be missed. There is also a horse center – Les Haras Nationaux in Cluny.

Former First Lady Danielle Mitterrand is buried in Cluny.

Cluny Abbey Photos


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