June 9th in Burgundy France Region

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As usual, we are off and running early. Our first visit was to  the Cluny Abbey.  William I, Duke of Aquitaine, gave this site (actually, it was his wife’s property) to the church.  The Abbey was founded in 910 and grew until it was the largest church in Christendom for 200 years and was an important training ground for monks following the rule of St Benedict.  The first two churches were eventually replaced by what is called Cluny III, consecrated in 1130.   Much of the funding came from conquered Spanish Muslims.  This Cluniac order, initially a reform movement, eventually suffered from corruption and excess, so a Cistercian movement formed as a breakaway group.  Sadly, not much of this important abbey is left, as it was taken over by the state during the French Revolution.  The state broke it into sections, which it sold to those who needed (and could afford to buy) stone and timber.  Thus, you will mostly see pictures of ruins.  Fortunately, one of the transepts remains, as the state could not find a buyer for this section.   Here one can catch a glimpse of how spectacular the main church must have been.  What a tragedy that we have lost so much of this important medieval abbey.

Our next destination was to Chapelle des Moines in Berne-la Ville.  This small chapel dates from the 11th century and was originally part of a Cluniac monastic priory.  It also served as the Abbot of Cluny’s private retreat.  Located in the beautiful Burgundy countryside, it is known for its Romanesque wall paintings.  As soon as one enters this small chapel, one can see the wonderfully preserved wall paintings filling the apse.  In the center is Christ in majesty, surrounded by a mandorla (a sort of body halo) with St Peter on one side and St Paul on the other.  From above, the hand of God the Father reaches down.  It is our good fortune that someone had whitewashed the wall paintings, as they remained covered and preserved until 1887. 

Our final destination was the Church of St Philibert in Tournus, right next to our hotel.  This church the the primary surviving building of a former Benedictine Abbey.  It was one of the older monastic centers in France and an influential 11th century monastery.  The building is a striking example of Romanesque architecture, with its groin vaults and massive pillars.  The outside of the pillars are made of stone, with the interior filled with rubble and mortar.  We went down to the crypt and the electric lights went out.  It actually made for a great atmosphere as we made our way around using our cell phones for light.