Towards the end of the ninth century, monastic life had sunk very low in France, partly because the monasteries had grown wealthy and were badly governed, and partly on account of the uncertainty which prevailed in all public life. Duke William of Aquitania, called the Pious, thought to save monasticism by reforming it. In 910 he founded a new monastery at Clugny, Cluniacum in Burgundy, endowed it well, and placed at its head Berno, a descendant of the ruling family of Burgundy, and Abbot of Beaume in the diocese of Dijon. Berno enforced the strictest observance of the rules of St. Benedict; and this severity struck a rich vein of sympathy in the time. The monastery immediately filled up with monks. Under his successor Odo (927-941) seventeen other monasteries joined the congregation of Clugny; and the success of the establishment continued increasing under Aymardus (941-948), Mayolus (948-994), and Odilo (994-1048). Clugny became the reformer, not only of the order of St. Benedict, but of monastic life in general. Its rules, Consuetudines Cluniacenses, first collected in the beginning of the eleventh century by the monk Bernard (HERRGOTT: Vetus Disciplina Monastica, Paris, 1726), then in 1070 by the monk Ulric (DACHERY: Spicilegium, T. I.), and finally by Petrus Venerabilis (Biblioth. Cluniacen., p. 1353), were generally adopted; while the popes vied with each other in conferring new privileges on the establishment. Its abbots bore the title of archiabbates. Alexander II. decreed that no bishop or other prelate could lay the ban upon the place. Urban II. gave the abbot episcopal emblems, and exempted the monastery and its estates from the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Mâcon. Towards the end of the eleventh century three popes Gregory VII., Urban II., and Paschalis II. issued from the congregation. The monastery itself was the largest in Christendom. In 1245 it received at one time Pope Innocent IV. and the French king, with their whole retinue. Its church was one of the most magnificent built during the middle ages, ornamented with wall and glass pictures, and embroidered tapestries, and stocked with furniture of gold and bronze.
In the beginning of the twelfth century the discipline slackened; and the establishment was impoverished during the incompetent rule of Pontius. He finally abdicated, and went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land; but on his return he fell upon the monastery, and sacked it. Under Petrus Venerabilis it rose again. The number of monks increased from two hundred to four hundred and sixty; and three hundred and fourteen abbeys belonged to the congregation; but the improvement was only temporary. The further history of Clugny is a steady decline. The abbot lost his power. In order to defend itself against the counts of Châlons, Clugny invoked the protection of the French king, and the monastery - was surrounded with walls, and transformed into a fortress. Both the popes and the French kings interfered in the election of abbots. In the beginning of the sixteenth century the office became a commendam in the House of Guise. In 1744 a royal ordinance placed the establishment under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Mâcon. The internal decay, however, was still worse. In vain Abbot Yvo of Vergy (1269) founded the College de Clugny at Paris in order to encourage studies and literary pursuits among the monks. In vain several abbots tried to introduce reforms, or at least to better the discipline. The whole result was a split in the order between the old Cluniacenses and the Reformates, which gave rise to much haggling, and even scandal. The whole organization was in a state of dissolution when the Constituent Assembly (1790) confiscated the property, and sold the church and the buildings to the city. The church was broken down. The last abbot, Cardinal Dominique de la Rochefoucauld, whose rare visits to Clugny had been marked by drinking-bouts arid lascivious festivities, died in 1800.
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