Thursday, October 6, 2022

Today on the Almanac, we remember Bruno the Carthusian, the Carthusian Order, and the color and drink named after them.

*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***

It is the 6th of October, 2022. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at; I’m Dan van Voorhis.

The Middle Ages saw the creation and diffusion of religious orders in the Western Catholic Church. Members of these orders are regular topics on this show- most recently, we talked about the Jesuits and their unfortunate reputation at times. Other orders like the Benedictines, Dominicans, and Franciscans are known for their activity in the world.

But perhaps the quietest, both literally and figuratively, are the Carthusians. And they were founded by Bruno the Carthusian. Since today, the 6th of October, is his feast day and the day he died in 1101, let’s talk about Bruno and the order for which he is remembered.

Bruno was born in Cologne in 1030. He was ordained in 1057 and called to Reims, where he would oversee the Cathedral school (sort of like proto-universities) and the other schools in the region. He was apparently quite capable and popular but lost his post when he criticized the Archbishop. He went to seclude himself but was called back to be the new Archbishop when the old Archbishop was deposed. He declined the position and instead headed off to Grenoble in France, where he was given the place called “Chartreuse.”

[Fun fact- the liqueur called Chartreuse comes from the monastery that would be built there, and the color is named so for the color of the drink- at least it’s a greenish variety]

Here he developed a new kind of monasticism, for it was neither cenobitic nor eremitic- that is, it wasn’t strictly communal, nor was it strictly to live as a hermit. More on that in a second.

Unfortunately for Bruno, he was called upon by Pope Urban II- the pope who called the first crusade and got into a beef with the emperor over who got to call Bishops. The Pope had been a student of Bruno’s and called him to help him with the Imperial dust-up (technically called the Investiture Controversy, but there are a lot of fancy words today already). Bruno didn’t want to go- he had sworn off worldly affairs, but if you’re a Catholic and the Pope tells you to do something… what are you going to do?

After his service to the pope, he was granted leave and set up a new Carthusian monastery in the Spanish region of Calabria, where he died in 1101.

He never wrote rules like Benedict, but his followers codified the way of life-based on his example. It is hermetically communal- that is, you practice austere silence and prayer in your own cell, only coming together on Sundays and Feast days for a meal and spatiamentum- that is a 3 to 4-hour communal walk wherein you speak with each brother for about 30 minutes at a time.

Their day begins at 1130 pm- they practice biphasic sleep (a common practice before the Industrial Revolution)- so you wake at 1130 pm to perform Matins. You then go back to sleep and wake at 630. The day is broken down into prayer, manual work or study, the Mass, and the lectio divina- a practice made popular by the Carthusians. It is a manner of devotional reading and meditating in a repetitive manner to focus on the meaning of the given text. They eat no meat and are permitted eggs and cheese only on Sunday and Thursday. They are permitted to write seven letters a year to the outside world and sometimes permitted exclaustration. It is kind of like Amish rumspringa, where you are permitted to go out into the world- break your vows- to confirm that you are, in fact, called to the order.

The movie “Broken Silence” is a fictional story of one monk's exclaustration. The Carthusians were also in the news with the movie “Into Great Silence”- visitors are not usually welcomed to Carthusian houses (called charter houses in English), but one filmmaker was permitted to stay with them for six months in 2002- the resulting film is 3 hours of only limited speech and natural light (he had to be as unobtrusive as possible).

There aren’t any really famous Carthusians as they were called to lives of contemplation and prayer- if one did write something, it was usually printed with the author's name given as simple “a Carthusian.” Today there are 23 charter houses around the globe, the only American charterhouse is in Vermont. Today we remember these quiet monks and nuns of the order founded by St Bruno the Carthusian on the anniversary of his death on this day in 1101.

The Last word for today comes from the daily lectionary, from 2 Timothy:

13 What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. 14 Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.

This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 6th of October 2022, brought to you by 1517 at

The show is produced by a man who, along with chartreuse, enjoys the real but silly names for colors Lusty Gallant, Razzmatazz, and Goose turd Green. He is Christopher Gillespie.

The show is written and read by a man that reminds you that puke was first color before we assigned it to vomit- it is a dark sandy brown. I am Dan van Voorhis.

You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.

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