The Cluniac Reforms (also called Clunian Reforms) were a series of changes within medieval monasticism of West focused on restoring the traditional monastic life, encouraging art, and caring for the poor. The movement was founded at Cluny in 910 by Duke William I (875-918), where it started within the Benedictine order. The reforms were largely carried out by Saint Odo (c. 878 – 942) and spread throughout France (Burgundy, Provence, Auvergne, Poitou), into England, and through much of Italy and Spain.
The impetus for the reforms was corruption within the church, particularly simony and concubinage. These abuses were thought to be a result of secular interference in the monasteries and of the Church's tight integration with the feudal and manorial systems. At the same time, the Papacy wished to reassert control of all clergy and to stop the investiture of bishops by secular rulers. Since a Benedictine monastery required land, it needed the patronage of a local lord. However, the lord would often demand rights and assert prerogatives that interfered with the operation of the monastery. The Cluny reform was an attempt to remedy these practices in the hope that a more independent abbot would better enforce the Rule of Saint Benedict.
William the Pious, Duke of Aquitaine formed the first Cluny monastery in 910. He placed with the novel stipulation that the monastery would report directly to the pope rather than to a local lord. This meant the monastery would be essentially independent. Further, the Abbot of Cluny retained authority over the daughter houses his order founded. By the twelfth century the Congregation of Cluny included more than a thousand monasteries.
Among the most notable supporters of the Cluniac reforms were Pope Urban II, Lambert of Hersfeld, and Richard of Verdun. The reforms encouraged the Church in the West to be more attentive to business and gave wish to papacy to attempt to assert control over the Eastern Church.
During its height (c. 950–c.1130), the Cluniac movement was one of the largest religious forces in Europe. At least as significantly as their political consequences, the reforms demanded greater religious devotion. The Cluniacs supported the Peace of God, and promoted pilgrimages to the Holy Lands. An increasingly rich liturgy stimulated demand for altar vessels of gold, fine tapestries and fabrics, stained glass, and polyphonic choral music to fill the Romanesque churches.
In 1075 Robert de Molesme, a Benedict monk from Cluny Abbey, had obtained the permission of Pope Gregory VII to found a monastery at Molesme in Burgundy. At Molesme Robert tried to restore monastery practice to the simple and severe character of the original Rule of Saint Benedict, called "Strict Observance". Being only partly successful in this at Molesme, Robert in 1098 led a band of 21 monks from their abbey at Molesme to establish a new monastery at Citeaux. The monks acquired a plot of marsh land just south of Dijon called Cîteaux (Latin: "Cistercium"), started to build a new monastery there which became Citeaux Abbey, the mother Abbey of the newly founded Cistercian order.
- R. W. Southern, Western Society and the Church in the Middle Ages, London: Penguin Books, 1970.