Odo of Cluny — November 18

Odo Cluny-11.jpg
11th Century miniature

Bible connection

The wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure and full of quiet gentleness. Then it is peace-loving and courteous…It is wholehearted and straightforward and sincere. And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of goodness.—James 3:17-18

All about Odo of Cluny (c. 880-942)

Odo  was the abbot of the Benedictine Monastery of Cluny, which started a huge program of monastic and clerical reform. He began his religious life at nineteen as a “canon” (a church leader living with other leaders) of the Church of St. Martin, in Tours, to whom he always had a deep devotion.

When Odo read The Rule of St. Benedict for himself as part of his studies, he was stunned. Judging that his Christian life did not measure up to Benedict’s standard, he determined to become a monk. In 909, Odo went to Beaume, a monastery (unlike many) where the rule was strictly observed, and Abbot Berno received him into the community.

That same year Berno started a new monastery at Cluny in Burgundy. He established it on the pattern of Beaume, insisting on a rigorous application of the Benedictine rule. In 927, St. Odo succeeded Berno as Cluny’s abbot and spread its influence to monasteries all over Europe. He encouraged lax monasteries to return to the original pattern of the Benedictine rule of prayer, manual labor, and community life under the direction of a spiritual father. Under his influence, monasteries chose more worthy abbots, cultivated a more committed spiritual life in the monks, and restored the solemnity of daily worship. Thus Odo helped lay the foundation for a renewal movement that in two centuries reformed more than a thousand monastic communities and transformed the religious and political life of Europe.

In the following passage, John of Salerno, Odo’s biographer, says he combined his power with wry humor to compel members of his entourage to behave charitably:

The blind and the lame, Odo said, would be the doorkeepers of heaven. Therefore no one ought to drive them away from his house, so that in the future they should not shut the doors of heaven against him. So if one of our servants, not being able to put up with their shameless begging, replied sharply to them or denied them access to the door of our tent, Odo at once rebuked him with threats. Then in the servant’s presence he used to call the poor man and command him, saying, “When this man comes to the gate of heaven, pay him back in the same way.” He said this to frighten the servants, so that they should not act in this way again, and that he might teach them to love charity.

When Odo arrived at Monte Cassino (the original Benedictine monastery) to institute his reforms there and enforce the rule, he was met by armed monks ready to resist the unwanted interference. John of Salerno writes that he gained entry anyway with the disarming words: “I come peacefully—to hurt no one, injure no one, but that I may correct those who are not living according to rule.” [More here]

One of Odo’s achievements that is less known is his important role in the history of Western music. The Dialogue on Music attributed to him contains the first systematic use of seven letters for pitches and the first clear discussion and illustration of organum. The whole book is much more specific than any earlier work on music, and it shows how musical theory moved away from philosophy and beganning to practically consider musical production.

At the pope’s request, Odo traveled to Rome three times to pacify relations between Hugh, king of Italy and Alberic, called the Patrician of the Romans. On each of these trips Odo took the opportunity to introduce the Cluniac reform to monasteries en route. On returning from Rome in 942, he became sick and stopped at the monastery of St. Julian in Tours for the celebration of the feast day of St. Martin. He took part in the celebrations on November 11 and after a lingering illness died on November 18. During his last illness, he composed a hymn in honor of Martin.


The Abbey of Cluny is ten minutes from the Taize Community. 

Brief history of the Abbey.

Poem of Odo. Hymn to St. Martin.

This prayer guide from Bangalore/Bengaluru, India is fascinating.

The Odo Ensemble, based at Cluny.

What do we do with this?

Admiration for a saint can lead to saintliness. Odo of Cluny was deeply devoted to St. Martin of Tours and as a young student imitated Martin in his love of beggars. He always kept the example of Martin as his guide. Do you have any guides?

Perhaps the poor we refuse to care for, or people we snub will be our greeters after death. Imagine the person meeting us at heaven’s gate will be the person we have offended most, now empowered to welcome or to reject us. That thought might make us hurry to be reconciled with anyone we have hurt.

The church in the United States has a “lax rule” and is embroiled in corrupt politics and many scandals. Will you desert Jesus as a result? Or will you refocus on a true “rule” and transform the society?

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