Founded in 910 by William the Pious, ruler of Aquitaine, Cluny Abbey was (unusually for the era) under direct papal control. The abbey’s independence and emphasis on the Benedictine values of silence, humility and care for the poor made it a leader of western monasticism. Initially, the Abbey was a simple barn-like building, but soon a small village grew around it. Over the following decades, it became more elaborate, with improvements in the Romanesque style. By 1160, it was the largest Christian structure in Europe, rivalling St Peter’s in Rome, while the village area had expanded to include an infirmary and hospice. The abbey buildings were made of brick and stone, while the church had a large basilica, two transepts, bayed arches, a narthex (the lobby area opposite the altar) and a dome 98 feet (30 m) high. At its height the abbey drew congregations of 1,000 people, but its devout authority was not to last. Not only had the monks become greedy, but its building works had caused serious financial problems, marking the beginning of Cluny’s spiritual and material decline.
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