St Odilo’s Monastery

  • Jacques Hourlier
Part of the Readings in European History book series (SEURH)


If we are trying to understand a particular form of monastic life it is very helpful to know the setting in which it was lived, the site, the kind of enclosure and the buildings with their dimensions, appearance and layout. Some knowledge of the ground-plan of the buildings, of whether they were humanly impressive and of how they were appointed, will give us a better appreciation of the prescriptions of the customaries, enabling us to follow the monk’s daily life in an environment that is vivid to us. Such knowledge may even be the key to the souls of the men who lived there and reveal some facets of their spirituality. William of St Thierry relates that his friend Bernard after spending a year in the novitiate at Cîteaux still did not know whether the dormitory was vaulted or not or how many windows there were in the apse of the church.2 Along with the biographer we may be edified by such complete mortification of the curiosity, but to recapture the soul of Clairvaux we shall derive greater profit from a visit to Fontenay, the best example still visible today of a monastery built by St Bernard.


Eleventh Century Daily Round Fourth Side Visible Today Monastic Community 
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  1. 1.
    [Jacques Hourlier from Le Monastère de Saint Odilon (‘Studia Anselmiana’, L, Rome, 1962) pp. 5–21. Ed.]Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    The romantic theme deserves a study of its own, like the one concerning Trappists: P. Anselme Dimier, La sombre Trappe (St Wandrille, 1946). Some elementary references may be found in Chateaubriand, especially in his Vie de Rancé, or in Vigny, Le Trappiste.Google Scholar
  3. Evidence can also be found in visual art: e.g. the illustration of the abbey of Port-du-Salut in B. Messager, La Mayenne pittoresque (Laval, 1845) pl. 18.Google Scholar
  4. 1.
    The English seem to interest themselves more easily in the problem of placing the monastic life in its setting. One recalls the little book by D. H. S. Cranage, The Home of the Monk (Cambridge, 1926).Google Scholar
  5. A fine work, which provides a series of very illuminating plates concerned solely with the physical setting of the monastic life, is David Knowles and J. K. Joseph, Monastic Sites from the Air (Cambridge, 1952).Google Scholar
  6. See also F. H. Crossley, The English Abbey, 2nd ed. (London, 1942).Google Scholar
  7. Of the studies made of the connection between spirituality and monastic architecture, mention may be made, in spite of its inaccuracies, of F. Cali, Le plus grande aventure du monde. L’Architecture mystique de Cîteaux (Paris, 1956).Google Scholar
  8. 2.
    I have already summarised the reasons for concluding that this description is in fact a description of Cluny: ‘Saint Odilon bâtisseur’, in RM 51 (1961) 313. In the same article I have sought to establish the date of the document and suggested that this description belongs approximately to the years 1033–5. It deals both with the already existing buildings and those still to be constructed.Google Scholar
  9. 3.
    Professor K. J. Conant has been directing archaeological excavations at Cluny since 1927 and has published his researches in Speculum. For our subject, see especially Speculum, 29 (1954) 1 ff.: ‘Mediaeval Academy excavations at Cluny, VIII: Final Stages of the Project’. The conclusions were [first] summarised in K. J. Conant, Carolingian and Romanesque Architecture, 800–1200 (Harmondsworth, 1959) and in Bulletin de la Société nationale des antiquaires de France, 1960 (Paris, 1962) pp. 88–91.Google Scholar
  10. A and I. Talobre, La Construction de l’Abbaye de Cluny (Mâcon, 1936), made great use of the customaries but their historical and archaeological interpretations are not always correct. [The complete report of the Mediaeval Academy of America’s excavations has since been presented in a magnificent volume: K. J. Conant, Ciuny. Les Églises et la Maison du Chef d’Ordre, published by the Mediaeval Academy of America (Mâcon, 1968). See also below, pp. 77 ff. Ed.]Google Scholar
  11. 1.
    MS. Vatican, lat. 6808. Dom Réginald Grégoire, monk of Clervaux, kindly agreed to collate this manuscript with B. Albers’ edition in Consuetudines monasticae (Stuttgart, 1900) 1 137.Google Scholar
  12. The collation is on MS. Vat. lat. 6808. Dom M. Herrgott drew from the same manuscript for his Vetus disciplina monastica (Paris, 1726) p. 87. For the Consuetudines Farfensis he mostly used a manuscript belonging to St Paul’s without the Walls, but as this omitted the description of the monastery he was obliged to have recourse to the other manuscript, known to the Maurists (Mabillon, Annales OSB ad. an. ioog).Google Scholar
  13. 2.
    Professor Conant has a twofold basis for this conclusion: (I) two soundings (one at the eastern extremity of the cloister, the other in line with its west side); (2) the superimposing of St Odilo’s plan on St Hugh’s, known from a plan of c. 1710 (see J. Virey, ‘Un ancien plan de l’abbaye de Cluny’, in Millénaire de Cluny (Mâcon, 1910) 11 230.Google Scholar
  14. 1.
    On bath fittings, though for a period much later than St Odilo’s, see G. Duhem, ‘Deux étuves du Moyen Âge conservées en France’, in Bulletin monumental, 88 (1929) 479.Google Scholar
  15. 1.
    See, for example, H. Reinhardt, Der karolingische Klosterplan von St Gallen (St Gall, 1952). Professor K. J. Conant, in Congrès, pp. 37 ff., indicates some comparisons, especially for the church. Charlieu, even today, gives quite a good idea of what the chapter-house at Cluny must have been like. It would be particularly interesting to compare the plan of St Odilo’s monastery with Cistercian plans.Google Scholar
  16. 2.
    Dom A. Wilmart, ‘Le couvent et la bibliothèque de Cluny vers le milieu du XIe siècle’, in RM 11 (1921) 89.Google Scholar
  17. 2.
    Professor Conant has underlined more than once the care taken by the Cluniac architects to respect certain proportions: see particularly ‘New Results in the Study of Cluny Monastery’, in Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, XVI (Oct. 1957). [See below, pp. 77 ff. Ed.]Google Scholar

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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1971

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  • Jacques Hourlier

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