Memorial of Abbots of Cluny
Today we celebrate the holiness of five Benedictine abbots from Cluny: Odo, Majolus, Odilo, Hugh and Peter the Venerable. What was their secret? One historian writes that these saintly and richly gifted abbots all preached a single form of monastic life, that of St. Benedict’s Rule interpreted with human sympathy and a liturgical bias. It was at a time when monastic life was regarded as a sure means of salvation and as an essential element in the life of the Church.1 The combined tenure of two of these saintly abbots was 115 years: St Odilo was abbot for 55 years, and St. Hugh followed him for 60 years.
What happened to Cluny which was only 64 miles south of Citeaux? A thousand years ago nearly fifteen hundred monastic communities were subject to Cluny and for five hundred years its abbey church was the largest in Christendom, taking second place only when St. Peter’s was built in Rome. During the first two hundred years these five holy abbots were as influential as any president or statesman of our own times.2 So, what happened to Cluny? The French Revolution destroyed it and all the other religious communities in France. Then why did the monks of Citeaux survive the great destruction? Because of another holy abbot, Dom Augustin de Lestrange. But that’s another story.
- Concilium, Sept/Oct. 1974, The Future of Religious Life, McGraw-Hill, p. 24.
- Edwin Mullins, Cluny: In Search of God’s Lost Empire, Blue Bridge Books, NY, 2006, p. 1.