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Cluny and Monasticism
William I the Pious, count of Auvergne and duke of Aquitaine, founded the Benedictine monastery of Cluny, the fatherhouse of the Congregation of Cluny (sometimes referred to as the Cluniac Order), in A.D. 910. William gave Cluny the remarkable privilege of releasing the house from all future obligation to him and his family other than prayer. He appears to have made this arrangement with Berno, the first abbot, in order to free the new monastery from secular entanglements.
The monastery of Cluny differed in two ways from other Benedictine houses and confederations: in its organizational structure and in its execution of the liturgy as its main form of work. While most Benedictine monasteries remain autonomous and associate with each other only voluntarily, Cluny created a large, federated order in which the administrators of subsidiary houses served as deputies of the abbot of Cluny and answered to him. These priors, or chiefs of priories, met at Cluny once a year to deal with administrative issues and to make reports.
The customs of Cluny also represented a shift from the earlier ideal of a Benedictine monastery as an agriculturally self-sufficient unit in which each member did physical labor as well as offering prayer. Cluny's agreement to offer perpetual prayer (laus perennis, literally "perpetual praise") meant that specialization went further at Cluny.
Cluny and the Arts
The fast-growing community at Cluny demanded buildings on a large scale. In building the third and final church at Cluny, the monastery constructed the largest building in Europe before the rebuilding of St. Peter's in Rome in the 16th century. The building campaign was financed by the annual census established by Ferdinand I of Leon, ruler of a united León-Castile, some time between 1053 and 1065. (It was re-established by Alfonso VI in 1077 and confirmed in 1090.) The sum was fixed at 1,000 golden aurei by Ferdinand, and doubled by Alfonso VI in 1090. For Cluny, the sum was simply the biggest annuity that the Order ever received from king or layman, and it was never surpassed. Henry I of England's annual grant of 100 marks of silver, not gold, from 1131 looks puny in comparison. The Alfonsine census enabled Abbot Hugh (died 1109) to undertake the huge third abbey church. When payments in the Islamic gold coin extorted by León-Castile later lapsed, it was a major factor in bringing about the financial crisis that crippled the Cluniacs during the abbacies of Pons (dates) and Peter the Venerable (1122 - 1156). At Cluny, the import of gold publicized the new-found riches of the Spanish Christians and drew central Spain for the first time into the larger European orbit.
- Kenneth J. Conant, Cluny. Les églises et la maison du chef d'Ordre (1968).
- Barbara H. Rosenwein, Rhinoceros Bound: Cluny in the 10th Century (1982).
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