Cluny Abbey – Cathy Oakes

Cluny Abbey reminds me that I have not said or written much about romanesque art for a while, which is a shame. It was one of my favourite areas of historical architecture. I believe, also, that it was the monasteries and the romanesque building and sculptural programme which allowed Europeans to take the first tentative steps out of the Dark Ages.

Dr Catherine Oakes is an acknowledged expert in the field and we supported the Oxford Arts Festival recently to listen to her opening lecture; Worship, Wine and Song, on a very hot evening a fortnight ago. There was much information about the Cluniac’s organisation, administration and patronage of the arts.

Cluniac Oxford oakes Romanesque
Mural of Christ in Majesty, unknown artist, 11th century, Berzé-Le-Ville, France

Highlights for me is how such an organisation could be so inspired to construct the third Abbey at Cluny, in Burgandy, France. The Abbey, now mostly destroyed, since the French Revolution and mined for other buildings, stood as the largest construction in the world until St Peters in Rome in the sixteenth century. Painstakingly researched over many years we now only have models and images to reflect in its glory so you need imagination to see it fitting into the remote Burgandy countryside. The Abbey though became the exemplar for the successive cathedrals all over Europe and even their gothic successors. 

Oxford Romanesque Cathy oakes
Model of Cluny III Abbey, France, 11th century.

Romanesque architecture has a masculine force that the more feminine gothic replaced later. To have some feeling for this stand outside Durham Cathedral and feel the raw power.

The Bayeux tapestry shows an image of Old Westminster Abbey by way of example.

Westminster, Bayeux William the Conqueror
Bayeux Tapestry, 11th century. Section showing old Westminster Abbey

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