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The Ranting Clunologist

Bernhard_von_Clairvaux_(Initiale-B)A number of factors make me think that I would have got along OK as a Cluniac friar in the early second millennium.

Monks were supposed to lead a life of toil and deprivation, but apparently this was not exactly the case in Cluny. Various sources that I read about the abbey report that its inmates “didn’t need to work and could spend all day praying or pursuing the arts” (no contest for me there — obscene limericks are an art form, right?) and that “the monks ate very well, enjoying roasted chickens — a luxury in France then — wines from their vineyards and cheeses.” So far, so good.

More importantly, women were admitted to the order starting in the 11th century, a fact that I can’t help but consider in light of the comment that “contemporaries criticized Cluny for not following [their order’s] basic qualities of poverty, CHASTITY, and obedience” (caps mine). Now we’re talkin’.

Or are we? From the displays in the museum, I learned that the boys in the hoods were expected to “maintain silence and be humble.” At first glance this seemed to be a deal-breaker for me, since the only thing I love more than lust (gluttony, sloth, etc.) is shooting my mouth off.

But apparently I would have had an opportunity to do that too, because, as I learned from another display panel, the Cluny clerics were essentially an early lobbying group: the local lay population paid the monks to celebrate dedicated masses for them, their families and their pet causes. And, for all I know, their pets.

Not only was this the main source of the abbey’s income, but it was accomplished “to the detriment of the manual work” required by the order’s rulebook. So, if I played it right, I could have begged off latrine duty and taken the pulpit a few times a day to rattle off the old Kyrie and so forth.

“Another factor makes me suspect that I might not have been such a productive, valuable member of the community after all: I would have had to spend about half of every day in the confessional.”

I imagine myself pushing the envelope — or rather first inventing the envelope and then pushing it — of the liturgy by inserting a sermon on the spiritual benefits of toil and deprivation. If you count fork-lifting as ‘toil’ and not being able to give your snoring roommate a wedgie as ‘deprivation’.

Best of all, the Cluniacs were Benedictines, so I could have helped them develop the famous mood-elevating concoction that bears their name today: Jägermeister.

Or was it Benzedrine? Chartreuse? In any case, I could have made myself a key member of the R&D team. By volunteering to be the taster.

Then again, another factor makes me suspect that I might not have been such a productive, valuable member of the community after all: I would have had to spend about half of every day in the confessional.

Have you ever imagined yourself living in medieval France? What would your life have been like? Share your thoughts in the comments box below…

1. My life as a monk in Medieval France

2. The jewel of French culture & scrapheap of French history

3. The Ranting Clunologist

Image: Bernard von Clairvaux, via Wikipedia.


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2 Comments




  1. Gerard Lewis-Fitzgerald
    9 years ago

    David,
    bien rigolo de vous lire.
    Est-ce que je me suis jamais imaginé à l’époque moyenâgeuse en France? Je pense que non. Normalement, je ne suis pas d’accord avec ceux qui disent: “Oh, ce que ce serait hallucinant de pouvoir voyager dans le temps,” avec un engouement d’une certaine époque historique. Côté moyen âge, moi, je ne peux m’empêcher de penser aux rues ornées d’excrément humain et à la nécessité de me frayer un chemin à travers, rien que pour me rendre à la blanchisserie communale en trimbalant un panier de linge sale. (Quant à cela, étant un homme à cette époque, je me serais fait punir pour avoir fait le linge – tâche féminine, traditionnellement.)
    En tout cas, je suis d’accord avec vous en ce qui concerne la bouffe (poulet rôti, etc.) et les séances de lecture pendant son temps libre. N’oublions pas l’admission des femmes à partir du début de l’onzième siècle – Cluny avait assurément devancé les autres établissements ecclésiastiques sur ce plan-là. Bien que j’apprécie la vie des Cathars, censée avoir été à l’instar des premiers chrétiens, on soupçonne que cette idée brillante d’avoir des gonzesses dans les rangs soit foutu en l’air plus tard par les Cathars, eux qui ne croyaient pas, si je ne me trompe pas, aux actes sexuels procréateurs.
    Ah, écrire des limericks sur un air grégorien, voilà un défi. Mais je vais essayer le coup.
    Le vieil archévêque de Cluny
    n’était pas tellement ‘démuni’:
    car sous sa soutane,
    y’était pendu comme un âne
    Le Bon Dieu l’a vraiment puni.


    • David Jaggard
      9 years ago

      Like I said – an art form!