Almost a week in Cluny had passed and although I was having a wonderful time studying wine and cheese, a pressing question itched at the back of my brain: Where exactly is this abbey everyone keeps talking about?! I knew that our hostel had once been the candle-making factory for the religious establishment and many buildings in the town of Cluny certainly looked very old, but I was starting to doubt the existence of a church that rivaled Rome in power. Thankfully, the second half of our class today took place at the museum in downtown Cluny with an expert on this topic and soon all my questions were answered.
Plot Twist: It turns out that the Abbey isn’t really there anymore.
Back in 910 A.D., when the Cluny Abbey was founded, this Benedictine monastery was home to the largest basilica in the world (until the construction of St. Peter’s in Rome). However, during the French Revolution, the property was transitioned from the hands of the church to the hands of the government. Two masons bought the property and used the famous church as a quarry, dismantling it and selling it piece by piece. Only about an eighth of the Cluny Abbey still exists today, although still magnificent. Like a phoenix, the town of Cluny has risen from its ashes (or rubble).
How is this relevant to microbiology, though? It turns out that the Benedictine Monks that lived in the Cluny Abbey began producing wine for religious sacraments, gifts for important guests, and for themselves, since moderate consumption was permitted by their code. And as we walked amongst the ruins of the basilica, Dr. Haggblom pointed out the lichens deteriorating the stone remains. I joked that the real name of this course should be the “Microbiology and Culture of Cheese, Wine,- and Churches”!
Today, models of the Cluny Abbey are like an art-form in this historic town. Many use different colors or shades of wood to depict the difference between the original abbey’s architecture and what is left today. When we climbed the Cheese Tower to get an aerial perspective of Cluny, we used an iPad to contrast the contemporary and historical birds-eye views of them town. I found the following video from the Equestrian Center to be the easiest to understand: