In the distance stands all that remains now of Cluny III – the third Benedictine Abbey to be built on the old site in the Burgundy village of the same name.
Until the building of St Peter’s massive church in Rome, Cluny was the biggest church building in what was then called Christendom. The footprint of the abbey, although all that remains of the buildings is the tall tower in the picture, is truly astonishing – probably about twice the size of the ruined cathedral in St Andrews, Fife.
I visited Cluny this past week and found a return to the great abbey to be inspiring of a personal Lenten challenge.
When construction began in 1088, I guess the builders thought that Cluny III would stand far longer than its two predecessors (less than 300 years between them). And they were correct. But it still didn’t last forever. By the middle of the 1830’s it was destroyed and the land sold off to the local secular authorities.
The fall of Cluny strikes me as all the more tragic because it was at the zenith of its existence so large, powerful and affluent. The splendour of it must have seemed as if it would never die. But all over the northern hemisphere today (and probably in the southern too) are former church buildings now in use as nightclubs, carpet warehouses and even themed pubs.
It is the same, I think, with the nurturing of the inner life of the Christian person. The inner life may burn strong for a time, but at other times we become acutely conscious of being a shell, walking the road of faith, when in fact everything inside ourselves is cold and barren.
At such times a desperate and death-defying reliance on the God whom we scarcely knew may see us through. But sometimes even that, as we learn from Cluny III, is not enough.