12th Century
Bernard of Cluny

Early 12th Century, Morlaix, Bretagne, France.

Little is known of Bernard’s early life. Of English descent, he entered Cluny Abbey, whose head then was Peter the Venerable. It is thought Bernard spent the rest of his life at the abbey. At that time, the Abbey of Cluny was at the zenith of its wealth and fame. Its buildings, especially its church; the services, renowned for their elaborate order of ritual; and its community, the largest of any similar institution. The abbey thus had a position and influence perhaps unequalled since. Everything about it was splendid, almost luxurious.

It was amid such surroundings that Bernard spent his leisure hours composing that wondrous satire against the vices and follies of his age, which has supplied some of the mostly widely known and admired hymns of the modern Church. His poem De Contemptu Mundi remains a monument to an author of which we know little other than his name. The poem consists of about 3,000 lines in a meter known as Leonini Cristati Trilices Dactylici (dactylic hexameter). John Neale wrote:

As a contrast to the misery and pollution of earth, this poem opens with a description of the peace and glory of heaven, of such rare beauty as not easily to be matched by any medieval composers on the same subject.

  1. O bona patria
  2. Urbs Sion aurea
  3. Hora novissima, tempora pessima sunt, vigilemus