Speculum. A journal of medieval studies
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. , 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, EmeritusVoir l'ouvrage