Order of Cluny
The Monastic foundation of the Order of Cluny cannot be omitted if we want to fully understand the history of Christian monasticism. It is here, at Cluny, which is located in south-central France, that one of the largest reforms of Western monasticism took place.
First established in 910 by William the Pious, the Cluny Abbey immediately set out to revive the Benedictine Rule. Their first abbot, Berno of Baume (910-927), brought the lives of the monks into greater balance by reducing manual labor and placing a greater emphasis on prayer and worship, especially the choir office.
As the fame and influence of the monastery grew, Cluny’s second abbot, Saint Odo, helped extend the authority of the abbey to other houses while seeking to also change their discipline and organization. In the years that followed, the abbey continued to be blessed with a succession of remarkable leaders since more monasteries throughout France and Italy requested to be placed under their jurisdiction. This dependence not only helped reform many of the monasteries, but it also revitalized them. In fact, Cluny was so successful that it quickly received papal approval to reach out into Spain, Germany, and England. Many members of the order also earned widespread attention for their expertise in religion and other academic matters, serving as advisors and theologians to kings and popes. As one voice, Cluny spoke out against the evils of the time: lay investiture, simony, and clerical lack of self-restraint.
Although Cluny enjoyed unmitigated success for almost three centuries, by the twelfth century, much of its prestige and influence began to wane. This was due, in large part, to the changing social and political climate, but also to the new reforms launched in the Church elsewhere, especially those of the Cistercians. The fact remained, however, they had a great impact on monasticism, as well as on all of Western Christendom. At the height of its glory, Cluny boasted more than a thousand houses, contributing four popes to the Church.