Majolus of Cluny

Saint Majolus of Cluny
Bornc. 906
Avignon (sometimes stated as Valensole)
DiedMay 11, 994[citation needed]
Venerated inRoman Catholic Church
FeastMay 11

Saint Majolus of Cluny (Maieul, Mayeul, Mayeule) (c. 906 – May 11, 994[citation needed]) was an abbot of Cluny.

Statue of Majolus, Souvigny

Early life[]

Majolus' father was from a wealthy provincial family of Avignon and his name was Fulcher. His mother was named Raimodis. They had two sons, named Majolus and Cynricus. It is not known for sure which was the older, but traditionally the younger sons of noble families were given to the church and the elder sons were made the heirs to the father's estate, hence because Majolus became a monk, it is sometimes assumed he is the younger.[1]

As a youth Majolus fled his family's estates near Rietz to stay with relatives at Mâcon due to the Muslim invasions. Both of his parents died while he was young.

Lyons and Mâcon[]

Majolus studied the liberal arts at Lyon and later became archdeacon of Mâcon; his ordination to the priesthood was in Mâcon. While in Mâcon he gave classes to a large body of clerks for free, because he wished that the talents God had given him would not go to waste.[1]

He loved to spend time in mation and solitude, and so he built a small oratory on the opposite side of the river from the town where he would retire for silent prayer. In personal habits he was always kind, never telling lies, detraction or flattery, and he was severe against sinners, if it was necessary to call them to repent. He gained a reputation among the local people as a kind of holy person and so when Besançon needed a new bishop, many people, including princes and priests, called on him to become bishop, but he refused.

He rather decided to go to the famous monastery of Cluny in order to become a monk there. He had visited Cluny before his decision to join the monks there and had been impressed with them.

Monk at Cluny[]

He became a monk at Cluny when Aymard of Cluny was Abbot. Aymard trusted him greatly and put him in charge of the treasury as well as the offerings of the faithful to the monastery. He was later made librarian of Cluny. He had read the poems of Virgil and he considered that monks should not read these works, but that the Bible alone was enough for them. He was very harsh in the discipline he applied to new monks.[1]

He rose up to become a leader among the monks.

He was sent with a fellow monk from Cluny to Rome, on one occasion, and on the return journey his companion became sick. Majolus waited by the suffering monk for three days with much anxiety, and on the third night he dreamed that he saw a white-haired old man who said 'Why art thou cast down in idle grief? Hast thou forgotten what my brother James orders for the sick?' He then woke up and realized that it was referring to the sacrament of extreme unction mentioned in the letter of James (5:14-15). He then anointed his brother-monk with the holy oil and the sick monk then started to recover from his illness. This miracle was then told at Cluny, and the monks held Majolus in veneration.[1]

Election to Abbot of Cluny[]

Abbot Aymard became blind before he died, and he resigned his abbacy before death as a result. He called on the monks to elect a new abbot and suggested they choose Majolus. They all then elected Majolus as their abbot, but he refused. Even when all the monks, the local people of the area and the lords of the region all came to Cluny to beg Majolus to become abbot, he still refused.

However, Majolus had another dream when he saw St Benedict appear and hold out a book to him. Benedict told him to accept the responsibility of the office and that this book would be his guide. The next day when the monks held their daily reading of a chapter of Benedict's Rule, Majolus threw himself onto the ground and acknowledged that he had sinned by refusing to become abbot. He then addressed the monks and said, 'Oh, father and brothers, do not judge from my contumacy that through obstinacy of soul I refused to obey your command. Indeed, I longed to accept the greatness of the office, the governance of souls, but I was yet conscious of my weakness, and felt myself most unfit for the task. Hence my hesitation in obeying you, for I feared to be hurled to destruction under the weight of so great a responsibility. None knows another as himself, and if you but knew me as I know myself, you would not compel me to undertake this office. But as you urge and command me, I dare not say you nay. Now in Him who is able to smooth over rough places, to raise up heavy burdens, and to overthrow the adversary, I place my hope, and submit myself to your unchanged command.[1]

Aymard then announced that Majolus was abbot.

Majolus became coadjutor with Aymard in 954 and full abbot in 956.

Majolus' role in contemporary politics[]

The Holy Roman Emperor Otto I had a very good relationship with Majolus. His wife Adelheid of Burgundy deeply venerated Majolus as a saint. Majolus visited the imperial court in Pavia at the Emperor's request, and the Emperor shared many secrets with Majolus. Many people who dealt with the Emperor tried to seek out Majolus as an intermediary to help them in their relationship with him. Otto I appointed Majolus as abbot of St Apollinare near Ravenna and gave gifts to Majolus.

He supposedly predicted the Emperor's death, when he had a dream seeing a lion in a cage that burst through its chains, and he said that it was a sign that the Emperor would die that year. Not long after he had this dream, the Emperor died.[1]

Adelheid wanted to make Majolus into the next Pope. When her husband died and her son became Holy Roman Emperor Otto II, they summoned him to Italy to ask him to accept becoming Pope (at this time the Holy Roman Emperors enjoyed the right of nomination and approval in the selection of new Popes). Majolus, however, refused and insisted he needed to only be abbot of Cluny. Great pressure was put on him to become Pope, but resisted and felt like he needed to follow Christ's humility and could not accept such a high dignity.

Otto II married a Greek woman who was disliked by his mother Adelheid. Adelheid was accused of being a menace to her son, and was banished from the kingdom. She went to Burgundy where she was lived with her brother, Conrad of Burgundy. Most of her friends deserted her, but Majolus stood by her and comforted her. He went to the imperial court at Pavia to speak with her son Otto II. He arrived at the imperial court and rebuked the Emperor for having forgotten the example of Christ who subjected Himself to His own mother and who commanded men to honour their parents. He also threatened the Emperor and said that God could take everything away from him, in the same way as he had raised him up to be Emperor. Otto II listened to Majolus and repented; he sought out his mother and threw himself at her feet, respecting her as his mother and all charges against her were dropped.[1]

This episode and other convinced contemporaries of the influence that Majolus and Cluny had over the Holy Roman Emperor. He advised the Emperor against his Italian campaign in 983, telling him that he would die if he went on it, and the Emperor died in that year.[1]

Reforms of Monasteries[]

A huge number of men left the world to become monks at Cluniac monasteries in his reign as abbot of Cluny. Many monasteries were reformed by his actions, and he brought many monasteries back to observing the Rule of St Benedict. Many monasteries in the Holy Roman Empire were reformed by him at the request of Otto the Great.

The Cluniac reform movement had already begun with Berno of Cluny at the beginning of the 10th century, but the monasteries reformed by the monks of Cluny during the reigns of Odo and Aymard (2nd and 3rd abbots of Cluny) were still independent monasteries of Cluny; this meant that after they were reformed, the authority that the Abbot of Cluny had over these monasteries also thereby ended. However, when Majolus was abbot this changed and a network of monasteries that were dependent houses under Cluny's leadership began to take shape and would continue to develop under Majolus' successors Odilo and Hugh.

At the start of Majolus' reign only five monasteries were under Cluny's jurisdiction (not counting Cluny itself), which were Romainmoutier, Carus Locus, Sauxillanges and two monasteries in Macon. During Majolus' reign, other monasteries added to Cluny's authority included: St Amand's (in Burgundy), St Paul-Trois-Chateaux (in Burgundy), Peterlingen (in Germany), St Saviour's (in Pavia), another house in Pavia, St Apollinare (in Classe Ravenna), St Andrew's (in Rosans), Paray, Mons Rompons, and Lerins.[1]

Among places that Cluny reformed or gave support to during this period include St Paul's (the major basilica in Rome), St Benigne's (in Dijon), St Maur des Fosses, and Maior Monasterium.[1]

Many people gave gifts of land, churches, and possessions to Cluny in this time. Cluny's wealth and property grew larger and larger. Many of these contributions were made by people who wanted the prayers of the monks to get to heaven, and they believed that they needed to give these gifts to the monasteries so that they could have salvation.

However, as Cluny's property grew larger and larger, this inevitably gave rise to disputes between Cluny and feudal lords who coveted Cluny's possessions.

The Popes in this time period were strongly supportive to Cluny and they placed the harsh penalty of excommunication upon anyone who disturbed or usurped Cluny's rights over its own property or monks. Cluny was put under the direct supervision of the Papal See and was made independent of the authority of any bishop. The reason the Popes were so supportive was because Cluny was heading a reform movement to bring monasteries back to the Rule of St Benedict, which had been abandoned and corrupted by many monasteries throughout Europe. Monasteries were often seen as like the spiritual heart of the church in this time period and the institution that the rest of society was based upon, hence, the work of reforming the monasteries to make them holy and not to fall away into worldly ways, was seen as a paramount work for the church.[1]

Therefore, to prevent any local bishop from interfering in the reform movement the Popes therefore treated Cluny in a special way and freed it from all authority to local bishops, applying a sentence of excommunication on any person (including bishops) who tried to interfere with the work of reform.[1]

The relics of Peter and Paul were taken from Rome to Cluny during Majolus' abbacy. During his abbacy the replacement abbey church of Cluny (Cluny II) was consecrated in 981.

An incident involving the monastery of Fleury and Cluny occurred in Majolus' abbacy. The monastery at Fleury was important because it housed the relics of St Benedict for a period in the Middle Ages, however, in the late 10th century an abuse occurred there that shocked many monks in France. The abbot of a monastery, according to the Rule of St Benedict, was supposed to be elected by the monks of the monastery, but Lothair, King of the Franks, made his own decision to appoint a man named Oilbold as abbot of Fleury.

Many abbots of other monasteries were very angry at this and Gerbert, abbot of Bobbio, tried to unite many monasteries together to condemn the action and force Oilbold to leave. He wanted Majolus, as head of the monastery of Cluny and all its affiliated monasteries, to take leadership in this. However, while Majolus condemned the action, he was prepared to passively accept what the King had done, believing that it had no relation with Cluny and was not even in the same country as him (Burgundy was not part of France at that time). He did not intervene more than this, although his opinion helped sway other abbots into also condemning Oilbold. Oilbold only lived two years longer before he died, and the dispute thus ended [1]


A number of miracles were attributed to Majolus in his lifetime and he was very greatly revered in his own time as a holy man. He spent much time in prayer and solitude, he rebuked sinners, he disliked public praise and high honours, but he would do much good in secret away from the eyes of the public. Whenever he travelled to Rome, he would stop at every wayside shrine and shed tears as he prayed to the saints to free him from this world and bring him to heaven. Whenever he went on a journey he would have an open book in his hand, which could be either a spiritual or philosophical work, which he would read as he rode. He had great knowledge of the scriptures and other subjects, but would never show off his knowledge to anyone, and would only speak when asked his opinion on something. He always spoke very briefly.

He was not extreme in asceticism, whenever he sat down at table with the rich or powerful, he would eat the same things they would; he wore decent clothes that were neither too shabby nor too expensive. He drank a little wine. He taught other monks to try to never offend people and to try to be all things to all people, as Paul taught. He helped beggars. He was said to be a very gentle and kind person.[1]

Majolus was said to have cured the sick miraculously, restored sight to the blind, he healed those bitten by serpent, dogs or wolves, he also miraculously rescued people from death by drowning or fire. Among the stories of miracles attributed to him, the following are here related:

The first miracle in his life occurred when he was still in Macon. There was a famine there at the time and Majolus prayed to God for help to the poor that were begging for food. One day as he prayed seven solidi (gold coins) appeared in front of him. He was afraid that this was a trick from the devil or that the money was lost, and he wouldn't touch it. But when he discovered the money was real and no one claimed it, he then used it to buy food for the poor that were starving.[1]

One time when Majolus was on a journey, he was riding on his horse through a forest and was in deep mation. He fell asleep and his horse continued on but stopped at a place where a huge tree branch stood which would have hurt Majolus had the horse continued. Majolus dreamed of seeing a beautiful boy holding the horse's bridle. When he woke up he thanked God with tears for saving him from sudden death.[1]

One time Majolus called on a particular monk to become prior of the monks at St Paul's (the major basilica) in Rome. This monk, however, gave many excuses and refused to go. Majolus then decided to go without him, but after he left, this monk was sorry for his refusal and chased after Majolus. When he caught up to Majolus, Majolus was on the other side of a river. The monk begged for Majolus' pardon, and Majolus sent a boat to fetch him. When the monk came to the other side, Majolus asked him if he would do penance, and when the monk said 'yes', Majolus told him to a kiss a leper who was standing with them whose face was covered with sores. The monk then obeyed and kissed the leper, and the leprosy disappeared.[1]

One time when Majolus was returning from a visit to a monastery in Aquitaine, he decided to visit a monastery along the way and sent a messenger ahead of him to say he was coming. The monks of this monastery were happy that he was coming, but the purveyor of the monastery felt bad because they had run out of fish (monks under the Benedictine rule were not allowed to eat flesh-meat throughout the year, but they could eat fish). However, the purveyor of the monastery told the monks to go down to the river and call on the name of Majolus, and when they did, they caught an enormously large salmon, even though salmon had never before been found in that river.[1]

When Majolus was in Pavia, his every movement was always watched, because he had so much influence over the imperial court (the Holy Roman Emperors held court in Pavia in this time as it was the capital of the empire's Italian kingdom). Because he didn't want his good deeds to be seen by others, he would only go to church at night in Pavia. However, one time when he was travelling at night to the church his candle went out and Majolus prayed, and the candle started burning again.[1]

The water that Majolus used to wash his hands in was said to have healing powers. One time when Majolus was in Vallavaense a band of mendicants ran to him who themselves lived on the morsels that fell from others. One of them was blind and was convinced that if he washed his eyes with water that touched Majolus' hands, then he would be cured of his blindness. Majolus rebuked him and refused, but the man persisted and tried to get such water from Majolus' servants, who did not give him anything. The man persisted and caught hold of Majolus' horse's bridle when Majolus was leaving the town and begged Majolus to bless water he had taken with him in a jar. Majolus was moved by this show of faith and so he blessed the water. The beggar then washed his eyes with the water and received his sight. The same thing happened to a blind boy who received water from Majolus' servants who had taken the water after he washed his hands in them. When Majolus was told about this, however, he ordered that all such water should in the future be poured out and not given to others.[1]

An old woman who drank holy water blessed by him recovered from her illness.

One time a monk on a journey was dangerously ill and was burning with fever. He was feeling so cold it seemed impossible to warm him. Majolus took off his coat and covered him, and he immediately fell asleep and when he woke up the fever was entirely gone.[1]

Miracles were also said to have occurred at his time after he died. A paralytic was driven in a cart to Majolus' tomb, but along the way each day, his paralysis little by little disappeared. When he was almost finished the journey he arrived at a church dedicated to Majolus, and he gave the cart and the horse to the church as a gift and continued on foot (he could walk then) with the oxen being driven in front of him. When he got to Majolus' tomb, he was completely healed and so he gave the oxen and a serf to the service of the tomb.[1]

An ignorant old peasant woman once cursed the rays of the sun on a hot day, and she was struck blind as a result. She was healed when she visited Majolus' tomb.

Another old woman was told in a vision to give her son to Majolus' service, but she ignored this and thought it impossible that an angel would visit her. However, the boy became sick and so she took him to monks and offered him to them, and the boy recovered.[1]

One time several pilgrims returning from his tomb reached the Loire river and they could not cross it because the boat was on the other side, and the boatman refused to come over for them. They called on the name of Majolus, and the boat crossed over by itself to them, waited for them to enter, and when they got in, it took them without being rowed to the other side of the river.[1]

One time a woman refused to stop weaving to celebrate the festival of the saint, and the iron instrument she was weaving with then stuck to her hand and couldn't be taken away. Only after she fervently prayed to Majolus could she detach it.[1]

The greatest of such miracles involved a woman who brought her dead child to Majolus' tomb in Souvigny. She put the body of her child in front of the altar, where it remained the whole night. At nine o'clock in the morning the eyes of the boy opened and the boy called for his mother, who ran to him. All the people and the monks rejoiced at the sight of this.[1]


In the year 972 when Majolus visited the Imperial Court in Pavia, he returned through the alps by way of the Saint Bernard Pass [2] in Provence. A number of monks and others accompanied him on the journey, but as they were travelling the Arabs of Fraxinet arrived and captured the ones who failed to escape. Majolus refused to part from his companions even though he could have gotten away on his own, and hence he was captured. The Muslims called on him to convert to Islam, but he refused and so they took him to a cave where he was bound in chains.

The Muslims asked him if he had enough money to pay for his own ransom, and he replied he did not possess worldly wealth nor did he desire it, but that there were many under him who could pay the ransom. They ordered him to write to Cluny and he did so. His message was, 'Lords and brothers of Cluny, the roaring bulls of Belial surround me, and the jaws of death yawn for me. Therefore, send if it please thee the amount of the ransom our captors require.' [1]

Majolus' presence among the Muslims led to some of them converting to Christianity. The monks of Cluny, when they heard the news of what happened, were greatly grieved and they got all their resources together as well as funds from their supporters and patrons, and delivered a huge ransom of a thousand pounds of silver to Majolus' captors.[3] Majolus was then released and he returned to Cluny to celebrate the feast of the Assumption.

This outrage upon the greatest monk in the Christian West was followed by the extermination of Fraxinet by the lords of Provence in 975. The captors of Majolus fled to a rocky height where they were cut off from fleeing and could only surrender. They instead chose to die by suicide by hurling their bodies onto the rocks.[1]


Majolus lived to the old age of 84. Two years before he died, he gave up the abbacy and made Odilo his coadjutor, just as Aymard had done with him many years earlier. He retired to one of the smaller Cluniac houses where he devoted time to serving the brothers there by instruction, correction and inspiration. He continued to work even into his old age, and he died on his way to reform Saint-Denis in Paris. He did not get far and stopped at Souvigny Priory, where he died and was buried.

His last words were "Lord, Lord, I have loved thy house", which he repeated over and over again as he signed himself with the cross. After he died, the monks at Cluny wanted to bring him to Cluny, but the monks at Sovigny protested and insisted that he remain there.[1]


In 1793 his relics, together with those of Odilo, were burned by the revolutionaries "on the altar of the fatherland".[This quote needs a citation]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac Smith, Lucy Margaret (1920). The Early History of the Monastery of Cluny. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 7 October 2018.
  2. ^ "The Italian Cities and the Arabs before 1095", Hilmar C. Krueger, A History of the Crusades: The First Hundred Years, Vol.I, ed. Kenneth Meyer Setton, Marshall W. Baldwin, (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1955), 51.
  3. ^ Saint Patrick's Church: Saints of May 11

External links[]

Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Aymard of Cluny
Abbot of Cluny
Succeeded by