08/07/2021 - Speculum parle de Cluny


The study of Cluny’s architecture has long been dominated by the evocative reconstruction drawings of the abbey created by Kenneth J. Conant and published in 1968. Recent archaeological work sponsored by the Service régional d’archéologie de Bourgogne and directed by Anne Baud and Christian Sapin, however, has revolutionized our interpretation of the abbey’s site and architecture. Baud’s previous book, Cluny: Un grand chantier médiéval au cour de l’Europe (2003) presented the results of excavations in the area of the maior ecclesia (Cluny III, in Conant’s terminology) as well as archaeological analysis of the standing remains. Results up to the 2010 season were also presented by both authors in an important article that formed part of the anniversary symposium for the abbey in that year (Anne Baud and Christian Sapin, “Les fouilles de Cluny: État des recherches récentes sur les débuts du monastère et ses églises, Cluny I et Cluny II,” in Cluny: Les moines et la société au premier âge féodal, ed. Dominique Iogna-Prat et al. [2013], 497–514). The present volume, edited (and largely co-authored) by Baud and Sapin, presents remarkable new information on the early phases of Cluny resulting from the archaeological campaigns of 2006 through 2013. The book is, in effect, an archaeological report, but the authors take great care to credit past work by Conant and others, and to situate their discoveries within the larger context of historical analysis and art historical discourse. The first chapter, written by the two editors, traces in very clear fashion the textual and iconographic sources for our understanding of the early years of the site. The authors survey the earliest charters and pay particular attention to the Liber tramitis of Odilon (composed between 1027 and 1033), the 1623 dénombrement of buildings, and the anonymous plan of the site made c. 1700. The second chapter, by the late Walter Berry, reevaluates Conant’s work, placing him within the larger context of early twentieth-century archaeology. Berry notes that Conant was conscious of the importance of stratigraphy, having trained on Mesoamerican sites to become versed in the newest approaches. The fact that he relied principally on the then-dominant “metric” system of excavation by arbitrary horizontal levels did not preclude his careful recording of stratigraphic sections. Berry illustrates a number of Conant’s drawings and “daybook” pages, and describes the current effort to create an archaeological register for the site, correlating Conant’s thousands of daily descriptions, drawings and measurements with recent archaeological work in order to create a precise reference of stratigraphy and structures for the site and its buildings. The third and fourth chapters, both by the editors, reconsider the origins of the site, detailing new information on topography and on the limited evidence for ancient occupation. Newly revealed in excavation is the eighth-century villa, which included an aula and a chapel with semi-circular apse. Evidence for Carolingian residential architecture is rare, so that this discovery is not only notable for its relevance to the history of Cluny but also contributes an important example to our understanding of Carolingian elite architecture. The villa saw three phases of reconstruction from the eighth to the tenth centuries, and was then adapted by the first monks, with its chapel serving as the first abbey church, dedicated in 927. Also remarkable is the rediscovery of an ancient sarcophagus, seen but not opened by Conant, that was reused for the burial of Ada, sister of Cluny’s founder. Chapter 5, by Sapin and Fabrice Henrion, treats the construction of the second church at Cluny (Cluny II), proposing four phases of building, from a church with a hypothetical flat chevet through to a structure that had an increasingly complex eastern termination. The chapter also provides a reconstruction of the altar and ciborium, as well as an analysis of the early chapter room and claustral arrangement. Chapter 6, by Baud and Anne Flammin, returns to the site of the Carolingian villa chapel. This small church dedicated to the Virgin, traces of which were excavated by Conant in 1932, became an important chapel after having served as the first monastic church. It was linked to the infirmary and used especially by brothers who were sick or dying. This chapter treats the complex phases of rebuilding for this church of Sainte-Marie and details its liturgical functions. Chapter 7, by Baud and Sapin, provides new interpretations for the layout of the abbey in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, surveying the chapter room and claustral buildings, as well as the beginning of construction on the church of Cluny III. Seven appendices conclude the volume, treating the construction materials used at the site, ceramic and floor tiles recovered in excavation, as well as fragments of wall painting, excavated sculptural elements and coinage. A final appendix presents a chart of dates provided by radiocarbon testing at the site. The book is beautifully produced, with full-color illustrations, including phased plans and reconstructions, as well as illuminating details of the structures, foundation walls of lost buildings, and associated material culture. Stratigraphic sections are usefully included with keyed top plans situating them, although these keys are very small and sometimes difficult to decipher. The rich textual history of Cluny is carefully rehearsed for the general reader as well as the specialist. Departures from long-held hypotheses are signaled and footnoted, and the comparanda from Carolingian and Romanesque architecture are detailed to support interpretations of the excavated walls. Equally important, remaining lacunae in evidence are underscored and possibilities for future work suggested. The book presents a wealth of new information and opens the site and its history to fresh interpretations. Sheila Bonde, Brown University Clark Maines, Wesleyan University, Emeritus