It is beginning to feel as if summer is drawing to a close this week. The weather has been cold and damp with only the occasional glimmer of sunshine. The grape picking is finished. Woodsmoke is curling out of the chimneys. The autumn classes have begun.
The special exhibitions for Cluny 2010 are drawing to a close this week so it was our last chance to visit Cluny, apogée de l’art roman – Cluny, the peak of Romanesque Art. This exhibition was co-ordinated by the chief curator of the British Museum and it brings together works of art from many museums and private collections.
Many of the sculptures are from various Clunaic sites including Lewes in southern England, and they show the evolution and influence of Cluniac art throughout Europe. The many remnants from the cloisters that were built about 1115 show the artistic wealth of Cluny Abbey at that time.
Amongst the sculptures was perhaps the most famous of them all, the Paschal lamb, the Christian symbol that has been used in Cluny to mark out the tourist trail around the town.
After the French Revolution much of the Abbey was destroyed and sold off for its stone. So many old houses incorporate decorated carvings. At that time fancy carving was right out of fashion so many of the stones were used with just the flat side showing. So until a house is demolished it is difficult to find these pieces. A particularly fine one was discovered in a house in our village.
We went to the floor above in this ancient mill to marvel at the illuminated manuscripts which were written in the scriptorium of Cluny Abbey in the 11th and 12th centuries. The colours of the illustrations remain fresh and vivid. There were not just scriptures from the Bible but biographies such as The Life of Blessed Gerald of Aurillac by St Odo of Cluny. A book that especially interested me was one showing full page paintings of musicians. They wore bright tunics with embroidered edges and woolly tights. Some wore three-quarter length trousers that wouldn’t look out of place today. But none seemed to wear shoes. So life in the 12th century was probably merrier than I would have thought but imagine the chilblains.
We had visited the exhibition with our neighbours and on our way through the Abbey we had stopped to look at a new exhibit, a sarcophagus which had been discovered recently in the excavations at the south side of the Abbey. It had been found by archeologists who were staying in our neighbours’ gîte. Despite not having lived here very long, the more we learn about Cluny, the Abbey and the surrounding area, the more ‘connected’ we feel.