Posted by: fvbcdm | October 6, 2011

Feast of Saint Bruno (6 Oct 2011)

Today the Church commemorates Saint Bruno, the founder of the Carthusian Order of monks and nuns.  He had an interesting life.  Born in Cologne about the year 1030, he taught there for some years as professor and priest.  But he felt called to become a hermit living among other hermits.  He was given a tract of land in the French Alps at a place called Chartreuse, the Latin version of which is Cartusia.  From that place comes the word Carthusian and the monastery which Saint Bruno founded at the Chartreuse has been down through the nine centuries of the Order’s existence its motherhouse.  He was called to Rome by Pope Urban II who wanted a man of such wisdom and holiness near him.  It nearly broke Bruno’s heart to have to leave his hermitage in the Alps and go to Rome, but he did it out of obedience.  In Rome, he lived in the ruins in the Baths of Diocletian, where we can still see a beautiful statue of Saint Bruno carved by the French sculptor Houdon who also left us a bust of George Washington.  Finally, the Pope allowed Bruno to go down to southern Italy and pursue a life more in keeping with his own dream of monastic and hermit existence. He eventually died there and is buried in the monastery of La Torre, a long way from his birthplace of Cologne and the first of his foundations which we in English call charterhouses.
In 1970, I was given by Lufthansa, the German national airlines, a free round trip between Chicago and Frankfurt to inaugurate the flights of the new 747s between those two cities.  I took my vacation in Europe since the greater part of the trip was free, and while I was there, I went to Switzerland and visited La Val Sainte, the only charterhouse in that country.  The friendly brother who answered the door called a young American monk to come and show me around.  Each monk lives in his own little two-story house with a small garden beside it—all of that for his exclusive use.  The little houses, called cells, are lined up along a very long hallway in which the monks can go to the chapel, the dining room, and the library.  But they spend the vast majority of their time in their cells or gardens in total silence and solitude.  Upstairs they pray, study, take most of their simple meals, and sleep.  Downstairs in the work area, they chop wood for their little stoves and perform the tasks connected with their gardens.  It is a strict life, but has been going on for 900 years, and shows no signs of ending.  Pope Benedict will be visiting the charterhouse in southern Italy where Saint Bruno is buried in the near future during a tour of that area.
The next time you come across the word “chartreuse,” which we Americans usually mispronounce as “shar-troose,” remember that it comes from the color of two liqueurs, the yellow and the green, made originally by the monks of the Grande Chartreuse in the French Alps.  On every bottle of the liqueur is the logo showing a circle surmounted by a cross, representing Christianity in our world, with the Latin words underneath: “The cross stands while the world turns.” Thank you for seeking God’s truth.  God bless you.  Father Victor Brown, O.P.


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