Girolamo Marchesi, St Bruno
Today is the Feast of St Bruno (ca. 1030 - 1101), the founder of the Carthusian Order, the most complete of the contemplative communities. The Carthusians are hermits living in community; the order has never been reformed because it has never needed reformation. Books they publish are signed not with an author's name or even a monastic pseudonym but "A Carthusian". Bruno may be the only saint never officially canonised because a Carthusian would never accept such an individualising honour. The original monastery, which in an expanded form still exists, is in one of the world's more beautiful places, the valley of the Grande Chartreuse in the French Alps:
The Grande Chartreuse, the mother house of the Order
When a German film director Peter Gröning, asked if he could make a documentary of their life, he was told, "No, we're not quite ready. Come back in 15 years." Fifteen years later, he asked again, and was given permission as long as he came by himself with only a handheld camera. The result was the stunning Into Great Silence, of which the New York Times film critic said, "I would not call it the best film of the year: rather, the antidote to all the others." It is a film of surpassing beauty, in both the aesthetic and the spiritual sense.
Carthusians live completely apart from the world and do not admit visitors, which is sometimes frustrating for those in the world who are attracted by them. But one can read their writings, some of which are published by Gracewing, including the superb The Wound of Love; and there are international virtual communities of Carthusian-inspired lay people, such as the International Fellowship of St Bruno (IFSB) and, more recently and most interestingly, Quies.
There are male and female Carthusian communities; they are divided into full religious (in the male communities Fathers, usually priests), who spend their entire life in contemplation, prayer and study, and Brothers (or Sisters), who perform the community's practical maintenance but share in the liturgical and prayer life. And one of the few activities which touch the world is the making of Chartreuse liqueur, flavoured with herbs, a drink of extraordinary depth and subtlety.
The Carthusians are those who have gone all the way. They have given up everything to live close to God. One Carthusian wrote, "How does a Carthusian die? Very simply. You go to sleep, as on any night; you wake up somewhere else." It is, as T.S. Eliot wrote, "A condition of complete simplicity / Costing not less than everything." They are well worth getting to know.
A Carthusian praying in cell - from Into Great Silence