Saturday 3rd June 2023

Home » Frontpage » Currently Reading:

The Monastic Church Of Cluny . . . Building On An Epic Scale For The Glory Of God

May 25, 2023 Frontpage No Comments


When Our Lord was transfigured on Mount Tabor, St. Peter was so enraptured by the divine glory of Christ that he was filled with a desire to build for his Master a fitting habitation: “Lord, it is good for us to be here: If thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles, one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias” (Matt. 17:4 — Vulgate/Douay-Rheims trans.).
Across the centuries, it has been the burning desire of the human heart enraptured with the love of God to raise up for the Creator a house of glory, a dwelling place for the Almighty to set His throne on Earth, a fitting temple with which to fill His praises from the lips of His grateful creatures. This desire to build on an epic scale for God got underway in earnest with the construction of the Constantinian basilicas in the fourth century.
By the early twelfth century, this longing to aim high architecturally for the greater glory of God had wrought the completion of what was to be for over four centuries the largest church in all Christendom, the third monastic church of Cluny, known as “Cluny III.”
In the French town of Cluny, a bell tower atop a short section of a transept and the lower stonework of two western towers are about all that remains of what was in its day one of the great architectural wonders of medieval Europe. The story of the vast abbey church that once stood there begins in AD 910 with the founding of the monastic community of Cluny by the French nobleman Duke William of Aquitaine, who donated his hunting grounds for the monastic site and entrusted the direction of the new Benedictine community to St. Berno, who served as Cluny’s first abbot. It was Berno who built the monks’ first church of their own, “Cluny I,” begun in 915 and completed in 927. The monastery of Cluny became the motherhouse of a network of monasteries that by the end of the eleventh century had spread across Europe to as far west as Spain and England.
Around 955, St. Maiolus (Mayeul), who became abbot of Cluny in 954, undertook to replace the monastery’s fairly small original church with one on a larger scale, one better suited to the liturgical functions of a growing monastic community, “Cluny II” (955- ca. 1040), with a total length of over 140 feet.
It was in 1088 that St. Hugh I of Cluny, the monastery’s sixth abbot, undertook the greatest building project in monastic history, the construction of “Cluny III,” an abbey church that when completed would attain a length of over 614 feet, with vaults rising 97 feet within a high nave of eleven bays and 121 feet within the central crossing, and seven towers, the tallest of which reached a height of 175 feet.
So what was it that motivated Hugh and his brother monks to raise up a monastic church that was four times the size of their previous church? It began with a dream, a dream that one of the monks in the infirmary, named Gunzo, recounted to the abbot, in which the Apostles Saints Peter and Paul and the deacon St. Stephen all appeared, instructing the infirm monk that they wanted a new and larger church to be built for Cluny according to the specific measurements and proportions that they showed to him in the dream. Gunzo was told to memorize what they were showing him and to convey their message to the abbot Hugh; as a proof of the dream’s supernatural origin, Gunzo was instantaneously cured of his illness.
Acting upon what Gunzo told him, Hugh envisioned having a church large enough to accommodate within its walls all the monks of every Cluniac house then in existence across Europe. This however was only a symbolic motivation, as there was no plan to put all these monastic communities under one roof. What Hugh was really seeking was to give the utmost glory to God both by the sheer grandeur of the church itself and by the greater splendor and decorum of the sacred liturgical rites that could be celebrated in this decidedly more cosmic setting. Hugh was aiming high, reaching for the stars, as it were, pursuing the seemingly “impossible dream” of raising up a house of God truly worthy of its Divine Occupant.
Five centuries after its completion, Cluny III was still able to awe its visitors, as attested by the seventeenth-century Benedictine historian Dom Jean Mabillon (1632-1707): “If you see its grandeur a hundred times, every time you are astounded” (quoted in Carolyn Carty, “The Role of Gunzo’s Dream in the Building of Cluny III,” Gesta, volume 27, nn. 1-2, 1988, p. 113).
Moreover, this house of God was to be a house of prayer to rival any other in Christendom, with an almost continuous cascade of sacred offices prayed by the monks throughout the day and night. A detailed picture of Cluny’s rich liturgical life can be drawn from two eleventh century customaries of Cluny, the Liber Tramitis, dating from about 1043, and the Ordo Cluniacensis of the monk Bernard, dating from about 1075. The latter tells of a huge triangular lamp stand fitted with 120 lamps that was lit for the greater solemnities, including Easter. The virtually ceaseless oblation of divine praises offered by the Cluniac monks constituted the very essence of their vocation in the Church, as the Benedictine writer on Cluny Dom Joseph Warrilow explains:
“. . . for the monks of Cluny the choral Office, the daily round of prayer and praise, was the core of their life. It was the most important though by no means the only occupation of their busy days. It was carried out seven times a day and once at night. It was not only the basis of their spiritual life and the source of their strength, but the raison d’etre and the inspiration… of their wide artistic achievement in many media” (Joseph Warrilow, “Cluny: Silentia Claustri,” in David Hugh Farmer, ed., Benedict’s Disciples, Leominster, England, Gracewing, 2002, pp. 128-129).
Cluny’s “artistic achievement” found expression not only in the vast enterprise of building Cluny III but also in the music with which the monks of Cluny offered their almost ceaseless supplications, as the writer Edwin Mullins observes:
“From the earliest days under Abbot Odo music was always considered at Cluny to be something sacred, a projection of a divine spirituality capable of reaching the souls of those who practiced it as well as those who listened – hence its importance in the daily liturgy” (Edwin Mullin, Cluny: In Search of God’s Lost Empire, New York, Blue Bridge, 2006, p. 125).
The stones of Cluny III were built upon the foundation of a traditional monastic spirituality most perfectly articulated by their second abbot, Saint Odo of Cluny (ca. 878-942). He saw the Cluniac way of life as a spiritual return to the innocence of the Garden of Eden and as an anticipation of life in Heaven, of the blessed peace and quiet of Heaven, a sharing in the life of the angels. Expanding upon what Saint Odo had to say about monastic silence as a foretaste of the silence of Heaven, the Benedictine monastic scholar Dom Kassius Hallinger observes:
“To keep silence is to remain in the presence of the Son of Man… In the Apocalypse the opening of the seventh seal ushers in a permanent state. A great silence reigns, the silence of every creature before the Son of Man” (Dom Kassius Hallinger, OSB, “The Spiritual Life of Cluny in the Early Days,” in Noreen Hunt, ed., Cluniac Monasticism in the Central Middle Ages, Hamden, CT, Archon Books, 1971, pp. 39-40).
It is worth noting here that this perception of the purpose and value of silence can be applied to the question of silence in the sacred liturgy. The times of sacred silence, found in both the Novus Ordo and the Traditional Latin forms of the Roman Rite, albeit to a considerably greater extent in the latter, summon the worshipper to keep himself spiritually and mentally “in the presence of the Son of Man.”
The very intense liturgical life of Cluny has often been criticized as excessively demanding, seemingly giving the monks little time for private prayer or anything else. But the monastic scholar Dom Jean Leclercq, OSB clarified this issue by noting that the only way to interpret the liturgical directions of Cluny in a logical and realistic manner is to see the monks as having taken turns in this continual daily rhythm of liturgical prayer (“Prayer at Cluny,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion, volume 51, n. 4, December 1983, pp. 651-665).

The French Revolution

The French monastic historian Dom Mabillon whom we cited earlier could have scarcely imagined that little more than a century after he gazed with rapt wonder upon the majestic beauty of Cluny III, some of his own countrymen would undertake the hate-driven destruction of this awesome house of God. In October 1793 troops of the French Revolution’s rabidly anti-Catholic Jacobin regime were sent to Cluny to destroy whatever they could of the monastery and its church by means of fire and gun powder. The church edifice, however, was so massive and well-built that much of it withstood this initial assault.
But in 1798, the monastic grounds of Cluny, having been confiscated by the government, were sold to three rapacious opportunists, who spent the next two decades dismantling the church stone by stone to make a huge profit by selling the stones as building supplies. It was only after ninety percent of the great monastic church had been eviscerated in this manner that the French government acceded to protests against this criminal destruction and ordered the preservation of what was left — just one wing of Cluny III’s great transept with its southern tower, plus the bases of the church’s two western towers.
This physical annihilation of Cluny III did not succeed in annihilating the spiritual and cultural legacy of the abbey church. No enemy of the faith could destroy the many centuries of Masses and prayers that had been offered within its hallowed walls, nor the salutary influence it had exerted upon the architecture of other churches built in imitation of its beauty and grandeur.
Abbot Hugh’s “impossible dream” of building as glorious a house of God as he could and filling it with continual praises to the Almighty can serve to inspire us to do the same in our own everyday lives, to aim high by striving as best we can to direct all our daily words, thoughts, and actions to the greater glory of God.

Share Button

2019 The Wanderer Printing Co.

Twitter Feed

Unable to load Tweets

Vatican and USCCB leave transgender policy texts unpublished

While U.S. bishops have made headlines for releasing policies addressing gender identity and pastoral ministry, guidelines on the subject have been drafted but not published by both the U.S. bishops’ conference and the Vatican’s doctrinal office, leaving diocesan bishops to…Continue Reading

Biden says Pope Francis told him to continue receiving communion, amid scrutiny over pro-abortion policies

President Biden said that Pope Francis, during their meeting Friday in Vatican City, told him that he should continue to receive communion, amid heightened scrutiny of the Catholic president’s pro-abortion policies.  The president, following the approximately 90-minute-long meeting, a key…Continue Reading

Federal judge rules in favor of Gov. DeSantis’ mask mandate ban

MIAMI (LifeSiteNews) – A federal judge this week handed Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis another legal victory on his mask mandate ban for schools. On Wednesday, Judge K. Michael Moore of the Southern District of Florida denied a petition from…Continue Reading

The Eucharist should not be received unworthily, says Nigerian cardinal

Priests have a duty to remind Catholics not to receive the Eucharist in a state of serious sin and to make confession easily available, a Nigerian cardinal said at the International Eucharistic Congress on Thursday. “It is still the doctrine…Continue Reading

Donald Trump takes a swipe at Catholics and Jews who did not vote for him

Donald Trump complained about Catholics and Jews who did not vote for him in 2020. The former president made the comments in a conference call featuring religious leaders. The move could be seen to shore up his religious conservative base…Continue Reading

Y Gov. Kathy Hochul Admits Andrew Cuomo Covered Up COVID Deaths, 12,000 More Died Than Reported

When it comes to protecting people from COVID, Andrew Cuomo is already the worst governor in America. New York has the second highest death rate per capita, in part because he signed an executive order putting COVID patients in nursing…Continue Reading

Prayers For Cardinal Burke . . . U.S. Cardinal Burke says he has tested positive for COVID-19

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — U.S. Cardinal Raymond L. Burke said he has tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19. In an Aug. 10 tweet, he wrote: “Praised be Jesus Christ! I wish to inform you that I have recently…Continue Reading

Democrats Block Amendment Banning Late-Term Abortions, Stopping Abortions Up to Birth

Senate Democrats have blocked an amendment that would ban abortions on babies older than 20 weeks. During consideration of the multi-trillion spending package, pro-life Louisiana Senator John Kennedy filed an amendment to ban late-term abortions, but Democrats steadfastly support killing…Continue Reading

Transgender student wins as U.S. Supreme Court rebuffs bathroom appeal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday handed a victory to a transgender former public high school student who waged a six-year legal battle against a Virginia county school board that had barred him from using the bathroom corresponding…Continue Reading

New York priest accused by security guard of assault confirms charges have now been dropped

NEW YORK, June 17, 2021 (LifeSiteNews) — A New York priest has made his first public statement regarding the dismissal of charges against him.  Today Father George W. Rutler reached out to LifeSiteNews and other media today with the following…Continue Reading

21,000 sign petition protesting US Catholic bishops vote on Biden, abortion

More than 21,000 people have signed a letter calling for U.S. Catholic bishops to cancel a planned vote on whether President Biden should receive communion.  Biden, a Catholic, supports abortion rights and has long come under attack from some Catholics over that…Continue Reading

Bishop Gorman seeks candidates to fill two full time AP level teaching positions for the 2021-2022 school year in the subject areas of Calculus/Statistics and Physics

Bishop Thomas K. Gorman Regional Catholic School is a college preparatory school located in Tyler, Texas. It is an educational ministry of the Catholic Diocese of Tyler led by Bishop Joseph Strickland. The sixth through twelfth grade school provides a…Continue Reading

Untitled 5 Untitled 2

Attention Readers:

  Welcome to our website. Readers who are familiar with The Wanderer know we have been providing Catholic news and orthodox commentary for 150 years in our weekly print edition.

  Our daily version offers only some of what we publish weekly in print. To take advantage of everything The Wanderer publishes, we encourage you to su
bscribe to our flagship weekly print edition, which is mailed every Friday or, if you want to view it in its entirety online, you can subscribe to the E-edition, which is a replica of the print edition.
  Our daily edition includes: a selection of material from recent issues of our print edition, news stories updated daily from renowned news sources, access to archives from The Wanderer from the past 10 years, available at a minimum charge (this will be expanded as time goes on). Also: regularly updated features where we go back in time and highlight various columns and news items covered in The Wanderer over the past 150 years. And: a comments section in which your remarks are encouraged, both good and bad, including suggestions.
  We encourage you to become a daily visitor to our site. If you appreciate our site, tell your friends. As Catholics we must band together to rediscover our faith and share it with the world if we are to effectively counter a society whose moral culture seems to have no boundaries and a government whose rapidly extending reach threatens to extinguish the rights of people of faith to practice their religion (witness the HHS mandate). Now more than ever, vehicles like The Wanderer are needed for clarification and guidance on the issues of the day.

Catholic, conservative, orthodox, and loyal to the Magisterium have been this journal’s hallmarks for five generations. God willing, our message will continue well into this century and beyond.

Joseph Matt
President, The Wanderer Printing Co.

Untitled 1


Today . . .

Pontifical Academy for Life president calls medically assisted suicide ‘feasible’

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Apr 23, 2023 / 15:02 pm Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, has spoken in support of legalized medically assisted suicide, calling it “feasible” despite the clear teachings of the Catholic Church against it. “Personally, I would not practice suicide assistance, but I understand that legal mediation may be the greatest common good concretely possible under the conditions

Supreme Court Temporarily Blocks Lower Court Ruling Banning Mail-Order Abortions

The Supreme Court has temporarily blocked a lower court ruling banning mail-order abortions and putting safety measures in place to protect women who are currently being injured at high rates by the abortion pill. The high court made the decision to allow but sides in the legal battle the chance to provide additional information and to allow it to more fully consider the case next week. Also, another federa judge issued a contrasting ruling that…Continue Reading

A Call to Action for Parents . . . Minnesotans Wake UP! The Insanity in This State Continues!

">Cardinals Burke . . . SAME-SEX UNION BLESSINGS?

Longtime teacher fired after discussing God in classroom, challenging ‘evil’ LGBT school policy

(LifeSiteNews) — A longtime public school teacher in Idaho was let go earlier this month for being unafraid to mention God in the classroom and voicing his objections to a pro-LGBT policy designed to promote “transgender” ideologies among young people.  Ian O’Connell, a Catholic teacher who served as a substitute in the public institutions of Caldwell School District for over 20 years, spoke on February 13 about a proposed “gender identity and sexual orientation” policy that…Continue Reading

Feminist Professor Who Vandalized Pro-Life Table . . . Gets Fired After Holding Machete To Reporter’s Neck

By MICAIAH BILGER WASHINGTON, D.C. (LifeNews) — A New York City art professor accused of vandalizing a pro-life student display and later threatening two journalists with a machete has been fired from her job.Shellyne Rodriguez, of the Bronx, was an adjunct assistant professor of art at Hunter College, a public, taxpayer-funded school under the City…Continue Reading

A Symptom Of Urban Crime’s Toll On College Students

By ARMSTRONG WILLIAMS In recent years, there has been a surge in violent crime in our nation’s capital, and unfortunately, our college students have not been spared. This issue has become symptomatic of a larger problem that plagues urban cities across the nation, where college students are being robbed and carjacked, all at gunpoint. As…Continue Reading

San Quentin Prison And School Choice

By TERENCE P. JEFFREY When I was a boy, I spent some time inside San Quentin State Prison and got to know a few of the inmates there.The San Rafael Little League played its games in that prison and a group of inmates known as “trustees” umpired them.The grounds of San Quentin were considerably larger…Continue Reading

Stumbling Toward Heaven?… Will Biden Repent Of His Evils Before A Serious Fall Could Harm Him?

By DEXTER DUGGAN Does Joe Biden understand the generosity that God continues to extend to him and his allies who keep trying to drag nations into degeneracy and death?Even though Catholics have come to expect the promotion of awful immorality by some of the U.S.’s most powerful reputedly Catholic politicians — all of them left-wing…Continue Reading

As His Cause Moves Forward… Joseph Dutton’s 180th Birthday Celebrated

By PEGGY MOEN Bishop Larry Silva of Honolulu was invited to Stowe, Vt., to help celebrate the 180th birthday of Joseph Dutton, according to a report in The Hawaii Catholic Herald by Patrick Downes, editor. If canonized, Dutton will be the third saint honored for service at the Hansen’s disease settlement in Kalaupapa, Molokai, the…Continue Reading


Our Catholic Faith (Section B of print edition)

Catholic Replies

Q. Jesus said, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you do not have life within you.” When will Catholics be able to drink from the cup again? — D.L.H., Iowa.A. The practice of receiving Jesus under both the species of bread and wine was halted during…Continue Reading

In The End, Faith Alone Counts

By FR. KEVIN M. CUSICK Appearances can be deceiving. This overworn adage is so because, human nature being what it is, we must be often reminded of the foolishness, and sometimes the danger, of judging reality purely by what is palpable to our sense of sight. To our eyes, the seeming solidity of the Earth upon which we tread and…Continue Reading

Pondering A Forgotten Virtue: Vengeance

By MSGR. CHARLES POPE (Editor’s Note: Msgr. Pope posted this commentary May 22 on his website, and it is reprinted here with permission.) + + Most of us think that vengeance is merely a vice. And, given improper intentions, or excess or misguided application, it can indeed be a sin and a vice. However, as we read in Scripture, “Vengeance…Continue Reading

Minnesota Legislature Repeals . . . Protection For Born-Alive Infants, Support For Pregnant Women

ST. PAUL — The Minnesota legislature on May 22 approved an Omnibus health bill that repeals a bipartisan measure protecting newborns and a bipartisan program supporting pregnant women who want to carry their babies to term. It also rescinds a number of longstanding laws surrounding abortion. As of this writing, Gov. Tim Walz was expected to sign the wide-ranging bill,…Continue Reading

A Mystery To Ponder For All Eternity

By FR. ROBERT ALTIER Solemnity Of The Most Holy Trinity (YR A) Readings: Exodus 34:4b-6, 8-92 Cor. 13:11-13John 3:16-18 In the readings today, we hear about several attributes of God: grace, mercy, kind, faithful, slow to anger, fellowship, love, and peace. It is also important to note that whenever God is spoken of, it is clear that there is only…Continue Reading

The Devil And The Democrats

By FR. DENIS WILDE, OSA States such as Minnesota, California, Maryland, and others, in all cases with Democrat-controlled legislatures, are on a fast track to not only allow unborn babies to be murdered on demand as a woman’s “constitutional right” but also to allow infanticide.Our nation has gotten so used to the moral evil of killing in the womb that…Continue Reading

Crushed But Unbroken . . . The Martyrdom Of St. Margaret Clitherow

By RAY CAVANAUGH The late-1500s were a tough time for Catholics in England, where the Reformation was in full gear. A 1581 law prohibited Catholic religious ceremonies. And a 1584 Act of Parliament mandated that all Catholic priests leave the country or else face execution. Some chose to remain, however, so they could continue serving the faithful.Also taking huge risks…Continue Reading