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Cluniacs were Benedictine monks from the monastery of Cluny (Burgundy) founded by William, duke of Aquitaine, in 909. Cluny was a centre of reformed observance, laying great stress on the rule, the liturgy, and freedom from lay (and, indeed, episcopal) control. Under the leadership of its early abbots, especially Odo (927–42), Odilo (994–1048), and Hugh (1049–1109), Cluny enjoyed considerable prosperity, and exercised a wide influence on monastic reform elsewhere in Europe, while an increasing number of monasteries were taken under Cluniac control, or adopted Cluniac observances. The order was extremely centralized, Cluny's abbot possessed autocratic powers within the order, and other Cluniac foundations or ‘priories’ were subordinate to Cluny, where their monks made profession. The Cluniacs were closely involved with the papal reform movement of the late 11th cent. and Pope Urban II (1088–99) was himself a Cluniac. Under Hugh's abbacy, Cluny reached the height of its prestige as a spiritual and cultural centre, famous for its music and rebuilt abbey church, which, when consecrated in 1131–2, was perhaps the grandest in western Europe. The first English Cluniac priory was founded by William de Warenne in 1077 near his castle at Lewes. His, the largest community, was joined by some 30 more, most being founded in the late 11th and 12th cents. Though initially subject to Cluny's authority and hence regarded as ‘alien priories’ and liable to sequestration during the Anglo-French wars, most purchased national identity as ‘denizens’.

Brian Golding