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Carthusian Order
Carthusian coat of arms-2006 11 30 murraybuckley.svg
MottoStat crux dum volvitur orbis(in Latin)
English: The Cross is steady while the world is turning.
Formation15 August 1084;935 years ago (1084-08-15)
Type Catholic religious order
Headquarters Grande Chartreuse (Mother House)
Key people
Bruno of Cologne, founder
Painting by Sebastiano Ricci (1659-1734) depicting the founder of the Carthusians, Bruno of Cologne (c1030-1101), revering Mary, mother of Jesus and adoring the Christ Child, with Hugh of Lincoln (1135-1200) looking on in the background. Sebastiano Ricci 024.jpg
Painting by Sebastiano Ricci (1659–1734) depicting the founder of the Carthusians, Bruno of Cologne (c1030-1101), revering Mary, mother of Jesus and adoring the Christ Child, with Hugh of Lincoln (1135–1200) looking on in the background.

The Carthusian Order (Latin : Ordo Cartusiensis), also called the Order of Saint Bruno, is a Catholic religious order of enclosed monastics. The order was founded by Bruno of Cologne in 1084 and includes both monks and nuns. The order has its own Rule, called the Statutes, rather than the Rule of Saint Benedict, and combines eremitical and cenobitic monasticism. The motto of the Carthusians is Stat crux dum volvitur orbis, Latin for "The Cross is steady while the world is turning."


The name Carthusian is derived from the Chartreuse Mountains in the French Alps: Saint Bruno built his first hermitage in a valley of these mountains. These names were adapted to the English charterhouse , meaning a Carthusian monastery. [1] Today, there are 23 charterhouses, 18 for monks and 5 for nuns. The alcoholic cordial Chartreuse has been produced by the monks of Grande Chartreuse since 1737, which gave rise to the name of the colour.


In 1084 Bishop Hugh of Grenoble offered Bruno, the former Chancellor of the Diocese of Reims, a solitary site in the mountains of his diocese, in the valley of Chartreuse. There Bruno and six companions built a hermitage, consisting of a few log cabins opening towards a gallery that allowed them access to the communal areas, the church, refectory, and chapter room without having to suffer too much from inclement conditions. [2]

Six years later, Bruno's former pupil, Pope Urban II requested his services. He would only live in Rome for a few short months however, before leaving to establish a new hermitage in the forests of Calabria, in the south of Italy, with a few new companions. He died there on 6 October 1101. [2]

In 1132, an avalanche destroyed the first hermitage, killing 7 monks under the snow. The fifth prior of Chartreuse, Guiges, rebuilt the hermitage. [2]

Carthusians in Britain

There were ten Carthusian monasteries in the British Isles before the Reformation, with one in Scotland and nine in England. The first was founded by Henry II of England in 1181 at Witham Friary, Somerset as penance for the murder of St. Thomas Becket. St. Hugh of Lincoln was its first prior. [3] The third Charterhouse built in Britain was Beauvale Priory, remains of which can still be seen in Beauvale, Greasley, Nottinghamshire.

The Carthusians, as with all Catholic religious orders, were variously persecuted and banned during the Reformation. The abolition of their priories, which were sources of charity in England, particularly reduced their numbers. [4] This was followed by the French Revolution which had a similar effect in France. [5]

A few fragments remain of the Charterhouse in Coventry, mostly dating from the 15th century, and consisting of a sandstone building that was probably the prior's house. The area, about a mile from the centre of the city, is a conservation area, but the buildings are in use as part of a local college. Inside the building is a medieval wall painting, alongside many carvings and wooden beams. Nearby is the river Sherbourne that runs underneath the centre of the city.

The best preserved remains of a medieval Charterhouse in the UK are at Mount Grace Priory near Osmotherley, North Yorkshire. One of the cells has been reconstructed to illustrate how different the lay-out is from monasteries of most other Christian orders, which are normally designed with communal living in mind.

The London Charterhouse gave its name to Charterhouse Square and several streets in the City of London, as well as to the Charterhouse School which used part of its site before moving out to Godalming, Surrey. Nothing remains at Hull or Sheen, although Hull Charterhouse is an alms house which shared the site of the monastery. Axholme, Hinton, and Witham have slight remains.

Perth Charterhouse, the single Carthusian Priory founded in Scotland during the Middle Ages, was located in Perth. It stood just west of the medieval town and was founded by James I (1406–1437) in the early 15th century. James I and Joan Beaufort, Queen of Scots (died 1445) were both buried in the priory church, as was Queen Margaret Tudor (died 1541), widow of James IV of Scotland. The Priory, said to have been a building of 'wondrous cost and greatness' was sacked during the Scottish Reformation in 1559, and swiftly fell into decay. No remains survive above ground, though a Victorian monument marks the site. The Perth names Charterhouse Lane and Pomarium Flats (built on the site of the Priory's orchard) recall its existence.

St Hugh's Charterhouse, Parkminster, West Sussex has cells around a square cloister approximately 400 m (one quarter mile) on a side, making it the largest cloister in Europe. It was built to accommodate two communities which were expelled from the continent. [6]


The monastery is generally a small community of hermits based on the model of the 4th century Lauras of Palestine. A Carthusian monastery consists of a number of individual cells built around a cloister. The individual cells are organised so that the door of each cell comes off a large corridor.

The focus of Carthusian life is contemplation. To this end there is an emphasis on solitude and silence. [7] Carthusians do not have abbots — instead, each charterhouse is headed by a prior and is populated by two types of monks: the choir monks, referred to as hermits, and the lay brothers. This reflects a division of labor in providing for the material needs of the monastery and the monks. For the most part, the number of brothers in the Order has remained the same for centuries, as it is now: seven or eight brothers for every ten fathers. [8] Humility is a characteristic of Carthusian spirituality. The Carthusian identity is one of shared solitude. [9]


Carthusian monk depicted in Petrus Christus's painting Portrait of a Carthusian. Christus carthusian.jpg
Carthusian monk depicted in Petrus Christus's painting Portrait of a Carthusian .

Each hermit, a monk who is or who will be a priest, has his own living space, called a cell, usually consisting of a small dwelling. Traditionally there is a one-room lower floor for the storage of wood for a stove and a workshop as all monks engage in some manual labour. A second floor consists of a small entryway with an image of the Virgin Mary as a place of prayer and a larger room containing a bed, a table for eating meals, a desk for study, a choir stall, and a kneeler for prayer. Each cell has a high walled garden wherein the monk may meditate as well as grow flowers for himself and/or vegetables for the common good of the community, as a form of physical exercise. [9]

A typical Carthusian plan: Clermont, drawn by Eugene Viollet-le-Duc, 1856. Plan.chartreuse.Clermont.png
A typical Carthusian plan: Clermont, drawn by Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, 1856.

Next to the door is a small revolving compartment, called a "turn", so that meals and other items may be passed in and out of the cell without the hermit having to meet the bearer. Most meals are provided in this manner, which the hermit then eats in the solitude of his cell. There are two meals provided for much of the year: lunch and supper. During seasons or days of fasting, just one meal is provided. The hermit makes his needs known to the lay brother by means of a note, requesting items such as a fresh loaf of bread, which will be kept in the cell for eating with several meals. Carthusians observe a perpetual abstinence from meat. [7]

The hermit spends most of his day in the cell: he meditates, prays the minor hours of the Liturgy of the Hours on his own, eats, studies and writes, and works in his garden or at some manual trade. Unless required by other duties, the Carthusian hermit leaves his cell daily only for three prayer services in the monastery chapel, including the community Mass, and occasionally for conferences with his superior. Additionally, once a week, the community members take a long walk in the countryside during which they may speak. On Sundays and solemn feast days a community meal is taken in silence. [3] Twice a year there is a day-long community recreation, and the monk may receive an annual visit from immediate family members.[ citation needed ]

Lay brothers

There always have been brothers in the charterhouse. When Saint Bruno retired to the Chartreuse, two of his companions were secular ones: Andrew and Guerin. They also live a life of solitary prayer and join in the communal prayer and Mass in the chapel. However, the lay brothers are monks under slightly different types of vows and spend less time in contemplative prayer and more time in manual labour. The lay brothers provide material assistance to the choir monks: cooking meals, doing laundry, undertaking physical repairs, providing the choir monks with books from the library and managing supplies. The life of the brothers complements that of the choir monks, and makes the fathers' lives of seclusion possible. [9]

During the brothers' seven-year formation period, some time is given each day to the study of the Bible, Theology, Liturgy, and Spirituality. They can continue their studies throughout their lives. All of the monks live lives of silence.

The Carthusians do not engage in work of a pastoral or missionary nature. Unlike most monasteries, they do not have retreatants, and those who visit for a prolonged period are people who are contemplating entering the monastery. [7] As far as possible, the monks have no contact with the outside world.

Carthusian nuns live a life similar to the monks, but with some differences. Choir nuns tend to lead somewhat less eremitical lives, while still maintaining a strong commitment to solitude and silence.

Modern Carthusians

The Grande Chartreuse is the head monastery of the Carthusian order. La Grande Chartreuse.JPG
The Grande Chartreuse is the head monastery of the Carthusian order.

Today, the monastery of the Grande Chartreuse is still the Motherhouse of the Order. There is a museum illustrating the history of the Carthusian order next to Grande Chartreuse; the monks of that monastery are also involved in producing Chartreuse liqueur. Visits are not possible into the Grande Chartreuse itself, but the 2005 documentary Into Great Silence gave unprecedented views of life within the hermitage.

Today, Carthusians live very much as they originally did, without any relaxing of their rules. Generally, those wishing to enter must be between the ages of twenty-one and forty-five. Nowadays, medical examinations are considered necessary before the Novitiate and Profession. [8] The Carthusian novice is introduced to the "Lectio divina" method of prayer.

In the 21st century, the Sélignac Charterhouse was converted into a house in which lay people could come and experience Carthusian retreats, living the Carthusian life for shorter periods (an eight-day retreat being fixed as the absolute minimum, in order to enter at least somewhat into the silent rhythm of the charterhouse).[ citation needed ]


Painting from the Carthusian cloister of Nuestra Senora de las Cuevas in Seville by Francisco de Zurbaran. The scene depicts Hugh of Grenoble in a Carthusian monastery. San Hugo en el Refectorio.jpg
Painting from the Carthusian cloister of Nuestra Señora de las Cuevas in Seville by Francisco de Zurbarán. The scene depicts Hugh of Grenoble in a Carthusian monastery.

Before the Council of Trent in the 16th century, the Catholic Church in Western Europe had a wide variety of rituals for the celebration of Mass. Although the essentials were the same, there were variations in prayers and practices from region to region or among the various religious orders.

When Pope Pius V made the Roman Missal mandatory for all Catholics of the Latin Church, he permitted the continuance of other forms of celebrating Mass that had an antiquity of at least two centuries. The rite used by the Carthusians was one of these, and still continues in use in a version revised in 1981. Apart from the new elements in this revision, it is substantially the rite of Grenoble in the 12th century, with some admixture from other sources. [5] According to current Catholic legislation, priests can celebrate the traditional rites of their order without further authorization.

A feature unique to Carthusian liturgical practice is that the bishop bestows on Carthusian nuns, in the ceremony of their profession, a stole and a maniple. This may be a vestigial remnant of ordination of deaconesses in antiquity. [10] The nun is also invested with a crown and a ring. The nun wears these ornaments again only on the day of her monastic jubilee and on her bier after her death. At Matins, if no priest or deacon is present, a nun assumes the stole and reads the Gospel; and although in the time of the Tridentine Mass the chanting of the Epistle was reserved to an ordained subdeacon, a consecrated nun sang the Epistle at the conventual Mass, though without wearing the maniple. For centuries Carthusian nuns retained this rite, administered by the diocesan bishop four years after the nun took her vows. [5]


The formation of a Carthusian begins with 6 to 12 months of postulancy, where the postulant lives the life of a monk but without having professed any kind of vows. This is followed by 2 years of novitiate, where the novice wears a black cloak over the white Carthusian habit. Subsequently, the novice takes simple vows and becomes a junior professed for 3 years, during which the professed wears the full Carthusian habit. The simple vows may be renewed for another 2 years. Finally, the Carthusian performs a solemn profession and becomes a solemnly-professed Carthusian. [8]

Locations of monasteries

As of March 2020, there are 23 extant charterhouses, 18 for monks and 5 for nuns, [11] [12] on three continents: Argentina (1), Brazil (1), France (6), Germany (1), Italy (3), Korea (2), Portugal (1), Slovenia (1), Spain (4), Switzerland (1), the United Kingdom (1) and the United States (1). The two in Korea, one of monks and one of nuns, are of recent construction.

Notable Carthusians

See also

Related Research Articles

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Hermit person who lives in seclusion from society

A hermit, or eremite, is a person who lives in seclusion from society, usually for religious reasons. Hermits are a part of several sections of Christianity, and the concept is found in other religions as well.

Grande Chartreuse monastery

Grande Chartreuse is the head monastery of the Carthusian religious order. It is located in the Chartreuse Mountains, north of the city of Grenoble, in the commune of Saint-Pierre-de-Chartreuse (Isère), France.

Monk member of a monastic religious order

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The Camaldolese monks and nuns are two different, but related, monastic communities that trace their lineage to the monastic movement begun by Saint Romuald.

Christian monasticism Christian devotional practice

Christian monasticism is the devotional practice of individuals who live ascetic and typically cloistered lives that are dedicated to Christian worship. It began to develop early in the history of the Christian Church, modeled upon scriptural examples and ideals, including those in the Old Testament, but not mandated as an institution in the scriptures. It has come to be regulated by religious rules and, in modern times, the Canon law of the respective Christian denominations that have forms of monastic living. Those living the monastic life are known by the generic terms monks (men) and nuns (women). The word monk originated from the Greek μοναχός, itself from μόνος meaning 'alone'.

<i>Into Great Silence</i> 2005 film by Philip Gröning

Into Great Silence is a documentary film directed by Philip Gröning that was released in 2005. It is an intimate portrayal of the everyday lives of Carthusian monks of the Grande Chartreuse, a monastery high in the French Alps.

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Perth Charterhouse

Perth Charterhouse or Perth Priory, known in Latin as Domus Vallis Virtutis, was a monastic house of Carthusian monks based at Perth, Scotland. It was the only Carthusian house ever to be established in the Kingdom of Scotland, and one of the last non-mendicant houses to be founded in the kingdom. The traditional founding date of the house is 1429. Formal suppression of the house came in 1569, though this was not actualised until 1602.

Witham Charterhouse

Witham Charterhouse, also Witham Priory, at Witham Friary, Somerset, was established in 1178/79, the earliest of the ten medieval Carthusian houses (charterhouses) in England. It was suppressed in the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539.

Žiče Charterhouse

The Žiče Charterhouse was a Carthusian monastery or Charterhouse in the narrow valley of Žičnica Creek, also known as Saint John the Baptist Valley after the church dedicated to St. John the Baptist at the monastery near the village of Žiče and at settlement Špitalič pri Slovenskih Konjicah in the Municipality of Slovenske Konjice in northeastern Slovenia.

La Valsainte Charterhouse monastery

La Valsainte Charterhouse or La Valsainte situated in La Valsainte in the district of Gruyère, Canton of Fribourg, is the only remaining extant Carthusian monastery in Switzerland.

Church of Saint-Bruno des Chartreux Church

The Church of Saint-Bruno des Chartreux is a Roman Catholic church located in Lyon, France. Until the French Revolution, it was the church of Lyon Charterhouse. The cathedral is dedicated to Saint Bruno of Cologne, also known as Saint Bruno of the Carthusians, and is the city's only Baroque church.

Guigo I Cartusian monk

Guigo I also known as Guigues du Chastel, Guigo de Castro and Guigo of Saint-Romain, was a Carthusian monk and the 5th prior of Grande Chartreuse monastery in the 12th century. He was born in 1083 near the Chateau of Saint-Romain, and entered the Grande Chartreuse in 1106.

Monastère de Chalais abbey located in Isère, in France

The Monastère de Chalais, also called Châlais-sur-Voreppe or Notre-Dame de Châlais, is a Dominican convent near the town of Voreppe, Isère, France. The convent dates from 1101. The monastery at Chalais began as a house of male hermits, under the guidance of S Hugh of Chateauneuf, like the Carthusian monks. At first the Order of Chalais was independent, but in 1303 it was absorbed by the Carthusians. The monastery was partly destroyed in 1562 during French Wars of Religion, but was rebuilt. The state seized it during the French Revolution (1789–99) and sold it to a private owner. From 1844 to 1887 it was again a monastery, this time of the Dominican friars, before again being sold. The present community of Dominican nuns bought the property in 1963 and restored it. Today the nuns of Chalais manufacture Monastic biscuits to cover their expenses.

Carthusian Martyrs Members of the Carthusian monastic order who were persecuted and killed for adherence to Catholiscm during the Protestant Reformation

The Carthusian martyrs are those members of the Carthusian monastic order who have been persecuted and killed because of their Christian faith and their adherence to the Catholic religion. As an enclosed order the Carthusians do not, on principle, put forward causes for their members, though causes have been promoted by others on their behalf.

Chartreuse du Liget Carthusian monastery located in Indre-et-Loire, in France

Chartreuse of Liget was a monastery of hermit-monks of the Carthusians order in France, founded in 1178 in Touraine by Henry II, Count of Anjou and King of England, in atonement for the murder of Thomas Becket committed on his command.

Marcellin Theeuwes was a Dutch Carthusian monk.


  1. In other languages: Dutch : Kartuize; French : Chartreuse; German : Kartause; Italian : Certosa; Polish : Kartuzja; Spanish : Cartuja
  2. 1 2 3 Chartreux, L'Ordre des. "Welcome" . Retrieved 13 June 2016.
  3. 1 2 "The Carthusian Order". St. Hugh's Charterhouse. Retrieved 13 June 2016.
  4. 'House of Carthusian monks: Priory of Sheen' A History of the County of Surrey: Volume 2, ed. H E Malden (London, 1967), pp. 89–94 Accessed 15 April 2015.
  5. 1 2 3 PD-icon.svg Douglas Raymund (1913). "The Carthusian Order". In Herbermann, Charles (ed.). Catholic Encyclopedia . New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved 1 January 2015.
  6. The Monastery, BBC, broadcast May 2005, about 20 minutes into third episode.
  7. 1 2 3 "Charterhouse of the Transfiguration" . Retrieved 13 June 2016.
  8. 1 2 3 vocatiochartreux (4 August 2011). "The joy of being a carthusian" . Retrieved 13 June 2016.
  9. 1 2 3 McNary-Zak, Bernadette. Seeking in Solitude, Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2014 ISBN   9781606089699
  10. "Deaconesses". in Catholic Encyclopedia; Alexander, David L. "A Rose By Any Other Name. The Ordination of Women to the Diaconate".
  11. (official website of the Carthusian Order): List of active Carthusian houses. Retrieved 2 March 2020
  12. including Sélignac Charterhouse, which has been a lay house since 2001, but not including the Hermits of St. Bruno at Parisot

Further reading