Life of Saint Bruno: Part III

The following excerpted from André Ravier’s (1905-1999) biography of Saint Bruno : Saint Bruno The Carthusian, written in 1981 and translated by Bruno Becker, O.S.B., Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 1995. It is reproduced here with the kind permission of Ignatius Press

The Solitude of Chartreuse

“In the year 1084 after the Birth of the Lord, the fourth year of the episcopate of Hugh, Bishop of Grenoble, Master Bruno and his brothers began to inhabit and to build the foundations of this hermitage, whose boundaries we have just specified.” A critical study of the documents indicates they took up residence there near the feast of Saint John the Baptist, which would be in the latter half of June. The climate, too, would prescribe that season of the year.

In his Life of Saint Hugh of Grenoble, Guigo recounted the arrival of Bruno and his companions. The narration is more concise than we might wish, but it is very exact.

The leader was Master Bruno, renowned for his religious fervor and his learning, a model of virtue, dignity, and maturity. His companions were Master Landuino (who was prior of Chartreuse after Bruno); Stephen of Bourg and Stephen of Dié (formerly canons of Saint Ruf, who joined Bruno with the consent of their Abbot because of their desire for the solitary life); and then Hugh, whom they appointed their chaplain, the only one who exercised the ministry of a priest; and two laymen, Andrew and Guérin, whom we would now call brothers (conversi). They were looking for a place suitable for a hermitage and had not yet found one. Hoping to find it at last, they came to see Hugh, desiring to enjoy some spiritual conversation with him as well. He received them with joy and respect. He looked after them and helped them fulfill their vow. With his personal advice, assistance, and guidance they entered the solitude of the Chartreuse and settled there.

About this time Hugh had a dream. He saw God building a dwelling place for his glory in this solitude, and there were seven stars showing him the way. Seven! Bruno and his companions numbered exactly seven. So he welcomed the plans of this first group as well as those who came later, and he gave the hermits the benefit of his counsel and generosity until he died.

This text is not entirely satisfying. It leaves uncertainty about several points of interest. It does not say, for example, whether Bruno’s companions came from Sèche-Fontaine with him. Most probably they did, because the idea of a totally solitary hermitage was not Bruno’s ideal for religious life. Perhaps one or more joined the group on the way. It is possible, too, that the two canons from Saint Ruf did not meet Bruno until the day he stopped at the Saint Ruf priory near Saint-André on the way from Sèche-Fontaine to Grenoble. Regardless of what Guigo’s text omits, however, it is still valuable.

Guigo confirmed that Bruno did not know where his hermitage would be until after he arrived at Grenoble. He was only “in search of a place suitable for the eremitic life”. His concept of the eremitic life was clear, but he did not know where he would establish it. He “hoped” to find the place in Hugh’s diocese, where there were many mountains and forests, but he was not certain that he would. On the other hand, he was sure that he would find Hugh to be a genuine man of God, one who would understand his plan, one whose support and conversation, like those of Robert of Molesmes, would encourage his enthusiasm.

Finally, if Bruno and his companions settled in the wilderness of the Chartreuse, it was not they who chose it. God himself, through Bishop Hugh, made that decision, though the Bishop’s prophetic dream resists the most exacting critical analysis. Here Guigo is a firsthand witness, because he was a friend and confidant of Hugh of Grenoble for twenty-six years. His information came directly from the Bishop. To the historian, too, Guigo appears to be a perfect witness, critical and trustworthy. His sincerity is beyond question. He is always careful and prudent. He had serious reservations about miracles. In his Life of Saint Hugh, which he undertook at the request of Pope Innocent II, he described a holy life without mentioning a miracle. If he related the dream about the seven stars, it was because he could not disbelieve it. No one could reject it without declaring a priori that any kind of unusual mystical phenomenon was impossible. The events that followed, the entire spiritual history of the Carthusian Order, show how the landscape influenced the shape of Carthusian life. Between the landscape and the life there was a profound and determining relationship.

The little band left the house of the Bishop of Grenoble one June morning in 1084 and started on the way through Sappey and the Porte Pass toward Saint-Pierre de Chartreuse. They went beyond the pass at the entrance to the wilderness and continued all the way to the extreme end of the narrow valley of the Chartreuse. Did Bruno and his companions go to the far end of the gorge because of the dozen springs that were there? But there were still more productive springs in the valley, like the beautiful and abundant spring of Mauvernay, the one that made Guigo choose the location of present-day Chartreuse.

There is no proof the spring was miraculous. Miraculous springs belong to the folklore of sanctity. But this area, this climate, this atmosphere, this rhythm of seasons and temperatures that Bruno appreciated and desired — these were very important: in a way that nothing else does, they reveal his plan.

Standing out in bold relief, just like the sun, his plan can be seen in the whole landscape, in the forest and the snows. The end of the gorge in the heart of the mountains of Chartreuse, with access difficult even from the nearest villages, with long winters, deep snow, and poor soil—that was an advantage for him, creating an almost complete separation from the world, the utmost solitude. Here was the austere hermitage for which Bruno was looking. But it was a hermitage for several hermits: one man completely alone could not survive in conditions like those. Since Bruno agreed to make his “earthly dwelling” there, he had to have a plan in which the spiritual and human ties of the group would balance the considerable risks that solitude entails.

Bruno did not arrive at Chartreuse all alone. He was leading six companions, whom he had already formed into a remarkably united and harmonious group of like-minded men. The two “masters”, Bruno and Landuino, guaranteed doctrinal nourishment — solid, substantial food drawn from the Holy Scriptures — for these men who had vowed themselves to the contemplative life: two laymen, Andrew and Guérin, who, leading a solitary life as much as possible like that of the hermits, relieved their thousand material and physical needs and so freed them for pure prayer, which they shared as much as they could; and finally, at least one who was a priest, who exercised the priestly ministry for the group and was called “the chaplain”, a word that implies a community. The contrast between the austerity of the hermitage and the close harmony of the little group of hermits provides an insight into Bruno’s plan. If he had not seen that he could achieve this kind of hermitage in the wilderness of Chartreuse, he surely would not have settled there. But this place fitted his plan too well for him to hesitate: there he and his six companions could hope to live the eremitic life with all its demands and all its richness, insofar as human powers were capable.

However, the wilderness of Chartreuse was going to have a strong and lasting influence upon the accomplishment of that plan.

The 1086 document of donation indicates the boundaries of the area that was granted to the hermits:

The boundaries of the solitude that we have been given pass below the area called the Cluse and follow the boulder that closes that valley to the east, following the ridge that closes and divides Combe-Chaude, and extends to the middle of the monolith above Bachais; then another dry ridge that goes down to the mountain of Bovinant; from there another ridge that goes down from Bovinant at the edge of the forest to the boulder below la Follie; then the monolith that goes from la Follie to Mount Alliénard and that goes down from Alliénard toward the Morte on the west side to the monolith of Cordes, which extends toward Perthuis. The boundaries then follow the ridge of the monoliths to the river called Guiers-Mort, which serves as the boundary as far as the Cluse.

This description gives an impression of the Chartreuse area: a place surrounded by mountains with a single pass called the Cluse. Here and there, especially at the lowest part of the valley, limestone soil covered a narrow stratum of humus, where trees forming a wooded area clung to the soil that lacked depth. In this rocky place there was an occasional meadow to feed some cattle. It was useless to dream about planting vines or grain or fruit trees in this soil. The altitude and the climate precluded that. By working the soil diligently it was possible to gr?? a few vegetables. For contemplatives to settle in this wilderness was to dedicate them-selves to austerity. They were compelled to live frugally. It was not possible to make use of the trees because there were no roads for removing them. The Carthusians were not able to profit from the forest until the seventeenth century. For their livelihood they depended on a little agriculture and some flocks. Iron was discovered in the mountains later.

For many years it seemed unrealistic to think this wilderness could sustain more than thirty people, and it was better to have more “brothers” than “fathers”, more laborers than contemplatives. When he edited the Customs, Guigo set the size of the community at thirteen fathers and sixteen brothers. When the Carthusian of Chartreuse wanted to in-crease their number, they had to acquire land farther down the mountain, toward the plain. Here is one of the original characteristics of the Chartreuse. It was not the sort of hermitage, flourishing at that time, that the Camaldolese were building around a monastery of cenobites. Bruno wanted a hermitage strictly speaking: that is, total solitude, mitigated only by a little bit of communal living. They would be few, and even in their common life the hermits would preserve the feeling of being a “small number”.

The climate, especially the heavy snowfall in Chartreuse and the severe cold, imposed on Bruno a decision about the environment. There were two ways to combine the requirements of solitude and those of the regular life: one was to ensure solitude by placing the cells as far from each other as possible; the other was to promote their common life by placing them in groups. The climate persuaded Bruno to compromise: the cells would be completely separated but near each other and connected to each other and the areas for common life by a covered cloister, so that they would have a sheltered walk from one place to another during rain and snow. He intended for them to be called together frequently, several times a day, whether for one of the Hours, or for a Chapter meeting, or for meals together. If the environment had not suited his plan for contemplative life, Bruno could have changed the arrangement of the huts without leaving the wilderness of Chartreuse. For example, he put the brothers a mile and a half from the cells of the hermits, 1,000 feet down the mountain, where the sun shines more often and the snow melts more quickly.

What Bruno had planned was very close to what he established at the Chartreuse, even if it was not exactly the same.

In at least two passages of his Customs, Guigo mentioned the bold establishment of the first hermitage. He asked that “no one criticize [the physical arrangements of the Carthusians] before living a sufficient time in a cell, among the heavy snows and the severe cold”. In his view, nothing except experience of the contemplative life could explain and justify the bold foundation of Bruno and the first Carthusians. To understand and appreciate a hermitage like the one Bruno envisioned and established requires the grace of a vocation. The letter to Raoul le Verd explains something of the motives that induced Bruno to live in Chartreuse. More about that later.

Bruno and his companions built and organized their first dwelling. According to one tradition, the hermits received hospitality among the inhabitants of Saint Peter of Chartreuse the first few days after they arrived there. Bruno himself lived with the Brun family, who provided the wood he needed to build his cell. They received other acts of generosity as well. Even today, after 900 years, the names of two of the inhabitants of Ruchère are mentioned: Molard and Savignon took the responsibility of baking bread for the first Carthusians and bringing it to them, which was no small service. They began to work as soon as they arrived and continued diligently, because they had to arrange the essentials before the first snowfalls and before the cold came, so they had only about three months. While some of the land was being prepared for planting, hermitages were being built around the spring. They must have resembled little chalets, like the cabins of woodcutters or shepherds that are still seen in the mountain pastures, rustic but durable, made of logs and covered with sturdy boards, built to resist the weight of the yearly snows. Because of the lack of time and also, perhaps, of money, each of these dwellings sheltered two monks at first: later everyone had a cell to himself. Water from the spring came to each of the cells by means of conduits, which at first were just hollowed-out-trunks or branches of trees.

Only the church was built of stone. Bishop Hugh of Grenoble consecrated it on September 2, 1085, under the title of the Holy Virgin and Saint John the Baptist.

This group of buildings may have been located near the present-day Saint Bruno chapel.

The cells opened onto a covered walk about thirty-five yards long, which went “almost to the foot of the monolith”, permitting sheltered access to the chapter room, the refectory, and the church. In the church the hermits celebrated the conventual Mass and together recited Matins and Vespers on ordinary days and, on Sundays and feast days, the entire Office. They recited the rest of the Office in their cells on ordinary days. They occupied themselves with prayer, reading, and manual labor, the labor consisting mostly of classifying or transcribing manuscripts, especially the Bible and the Fathers of the Church. Each one took his meals alone. Only on Sundays and the great feast days did they go to the refectory, when one of the hermits would read some passage from the Bible or the Fathers while the community was eating.

The brothers lived within the boundaries of the wilderness, too, but their dwellings were located below the hermitages. They took care of the exterior works, especially the farm labors that were necessary for the community’s subsistence. They cultivated the land, cared for the livestock, cut wood, and performed the thousand crafts that were required for the upkeep of the buildings. In short, they protected the prayer life and the solitude of the hermits while living, as much as possible, a contemplative life themselves.

The spiritual harmony of this group of men was remarkable. Each one in love with God, they merged their lives in a way that would free them for pure contemplation.

There are two valuable accounts that describe the life of the first Carthusians. One is by Guibert of Nogent; the other by Peter the Venerable, abbot of Cluny. Guibert of Nogent never visited the Grande Chartreuse, but he has information from eyewitnesses whose account is true. He describes the Chartreuse of 1114, when it was thirty-eight years old. Peter the Venerable wrote about l 150, but he was acquainted with the Chartreuse since 1120, when he was prior of the Benedictine priory of Domène, not far from Grenoble. Thereupon he began a friendly correspondence with the priors of the Chartreuse. Even after he left Domène he visited his friends of the wilderness several times, admiring their life. His account was a little later than Guibert of Nogent’s, but it came from his personal experience. Here is what they wrote.

First, Guibert of Nogent described the place Bruno chose for his hermitage as “a high and formidable promontory (promontorium), reached by an extremely dangerous — one might say nonexistent — route”. Then he continued:

The hermits’ church is built almost at the edge of the monolith. Beyond it arranged in a curve is a group of dwellings where thirteen monks are living. Their cloister is convenient enough for the practices of the cenobitic life, but they do not live in a cloistered community like other monks…. Within the precincts of the cloister each one has his own cell, where he works, sleeps, and eats. On Sunday he receives from the bursar his bread and vegetable for the week. Water for drinking and other purposes comes from the spring through a conduit that makes its round of the cells and supplies each one through an opening in it. On Sundays and solemn feast days they eat cheese and fish, when some good people bring it to them: they do not buy them …. When they drink wine, it is so diluted with water that it has lost its strength, being scarcely better than water. Their cloth of their monastic habits is of poor quality. They gather in the church at set times, which are not the same as ours ….

They are ruled by a prior, with the Bishop of Grenoble, a very religious man, serving as their abbot…. They cultivate a little land for wheat, but the sale of the flocks they have assures their subsistence…. The place is called Chartreuse…. Below this mountain there is a group of dwellings where some twenty devout laymen live and work on their own. These hermits, too, dedicate themselves to contemplation with so much fervor that they never deviate from their reason for being there, and, despite the austerity of their manner of life, the passing of time has not diminished their zeal…. Though they are poor, they have a fine library: one would say they work with so much zeal to acquire eternal nourishment that they need less by way of earthly nourishment.

The account of Peter the Venerable essentially confirms the one of Guibert of Nogent:

Among all the European forms of our monastic foundations in the region of Burgundy, there is one that surpasses many of the others in holiness and spiritual valor. It was founded in our own time by some Fathers, wise and holy men of great courage: namely, master Bruno of Cologne, master Landuino of Italy, and some others, fine men, as I said, and God-fearing…. They fast almost continuously…. Like the Egyptian monks of old, they dedicate themselves constantly to silence, reading, prayer, and manual labor, especially copying books. In their cells, at the sound of the church bell, they pray part of the canonical Hours: namely, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, and Compline. For Vespers and Matins they all assemble in the church. . . . They change the daily routine on certain feast days . . . when they take two meals and, like the monks who are cenobites rather than hermits, they sing all of the Hours in the church, and all without exception go to the refectory for their meals, one after Sext, then again after Vespers…. They remain very recollected. They recite the Office with their eyes cast down toward the ground and their heart fixed upon heaven. By the gravity of their demeanor, the sound of their voice, and the expression on their faces they show they are totally — interiorly as well as exteriorly — absorbed in God…. The Carthusians practice great detachment, wishing to have nothing except what is prescribed.

Mabillon recalled a tradition that Bruno used to like to withdraw to a solitary corner of the nearby forest and meditate before a monolith where a cross engraved in the rock can still be made out.

All these details give the vivid impression that there was a wonderful harmony between the kind of life that God had inspired in Bruno and the Chartreuse that he chose as the place to accomplish his plan. Anyone who believes in inspiration will see the hand of providence in this harmony. If Bruno’s experience as a canon at Rheims is detected in certain practices, if his stay at Sèche-Fontaine and the influence of Bishop Hugh of Grenoble inclined him to adopt some Benedictine practices, if some details of observance or liturgy came from the Order of Saint Ruf or other Rules, his plan, from the beginning of the Chartreuse, was nonetheless original, new, unique. In the Mystica theologia, edited by Hugh the Carthusian at the beginning of the thirteenth century, this plan was clearly drawn up. There were two main premises: Bruno and his companions wanted a hermitage whose dangers and inconveniences would be reduced by elements taken from cenobitic life. Those elements of community life were not a concession to human weakness but rather a way of combining the spiritual and the human. A holy friendship bound the members together, a friendship of strong personalities who were great, learned, and holy (magnis, doctis, sanctis), with Bruno the outstanding example.

Three traits seem to characterize the Carthusian that Bruno envisioned: contemplation nourished by Holy Scripture and the Fathers; knowledge of Scripture and the Fathers stimulated by contemplation; and knowledge full of love, love that desires knowledge. The Carthusian lives the mystery of God in his spirit and his heart. And that “grandly”: there was nothing stingy in this vocation — everything was arranged to convey their awareness of the absolute, of need, of totality, of completeness, which gives the man of God (homo Dei) his true stature.

The place, therefore, is important. Such an existence cannot be achieved just anywhere. The very setting has to be favorable. Wilderness is a requirement, as well as separation from the world, a limited number of hermits, and a proper balance of “fathers” and “brothers”. The Chartreuse offered a rare, perhaps unique, opportunity to reach that ideal without any compromise.

It cannot be known whether or in what degree, in their pursuit of that goal, Bruno and his companions had the idea of starting an Order. What they established was a hermitage, a limited hermitage, with specific requirements, in unique circumstances, a hermitage that they could hope would continue long after them. Their awareness of the originality of the foundation was too vivid (and especially their desire to be silent, to be humble, to be forgotten, and to deny themselves was too definite) for them to dream of expanding into other places and among other men. They had no thought of repeating their experience in another place or at another time. The first generation of Carthusian, and Bruno himself, lived and died with no intention except to live like perfect contemplative hermits, their ideal marked by its absolute purity. Afterward, God would make changes in ways they had not foreseen, but that would be God’s affair. “They had come to seek God alone in the wilderness of Chartreuse”, say recent historians concerning the beginning of the Carthusian Order. “They did not know what God was preparing through them and by them. Without their knowledge people, events, and things would modify the organization of their life in such a way that the Order of Carthusian would be born from the original seed with its own special character.” Dom Le Masson would write one day: “They did not think that their humble sort of life (vile suum propositum, in Guigo’s phrase) was a little trickle of water that was destined to become a great river. The question did not even occur to them (imo nec de hac re cogitabant).”

Did they bind themselves by a formal “profession” of vows? It is not clear that they did at first. In chapter 23 of his Customs, Guigo I describes the profession of a novice. The formula of vows, like the ceremony itself, was surprisingly sober and simple. Here is the original formula of vows: “I, brother , promise stability, obedience, and conversion of my life, before God and his saints and the relics in this hermitage, which has been erected in honor of God and of ever Virgin Blessed Mary and of Saint John the Baptist: in the presence of Dom —, the prior.” The formula of monastic profession, as it was used everywhere at the time, can be recognized in it, though without mentioning the Rule of Saint Benedict, and replacing the word monastery with hermitage. Earlier in the ceremony the prior blessed the professiant, who was bowing before him. The formula of blessing, several centuries older than the first Carthusians, was used among all monks. The choice of this one, though, is very interesting. There were four or five formulas for blessing the new professiant, and from those the first Carthusians kept the one that was the most scriptural, the most spiritual, showing again their special attachment to the Bible. Here is that formula with its beautiful overtones from the Gospel:

Lord Jesus Christ, the only Way for anyone to come to the Father, we ask you in your unfailing love to lead this servant of yours, detached from desires of the flesh, by the way of regular discipline; and, since you were willing to call sinners, saying, “Come to me, all you who are burdened, and I will give you rest”, grant that your invitation will become so strong that he will put down the burden of his sins, taste how good you are, and deserve to receive you as his nourishment. Number him among your sheep so that he will know you and follow no stranger, that he will not even hear the voice of other shepherds but only yours, saying, “If anyone would serve me, let him follow me.” You who live and reign… .

If this liturgy did not yet exist at the time of Bruno, we may be sure at least, from all that we know of Guigo and his Customs, that it faithfully reflects his spirit and the spirit of the first Carthusian.

The title of the hermitage of Chartreuse was mentioned in the profession of vows. It was “erected in honor of God and of the ever Virgin Blessed Mary and of Saint John the Baptist”. These simple words indicate the special focus of Carthusian spirituality: God and the ever-virgin Mary who was the perfect example of a soul united to God, and John the Baptist, who was the precursor and man of the desert par excellence — this focus came directly from the soul of Bruno.

In Customs there are additional texts taken from the Bible, and especially from the Gospel of our Lord. If they are not always quoted word for word, their spirit is everywhere. And since Guigo does not intend to hand on anything except “what we are accustomed to do at Chartreuse”, they seem to be a conspicuous sign of the attraction that Holy Scripture had for Bruno and the first Carthusians right from the beginning. The Commentary on the Psalms contains frequent references to the contemplative life. Here is the reverse: the contemplative life refers constantly to the sacred texts. The movement is basically the same, however: the life, the breath, the work, the existence of the first Carthusians were in the context of the Bible. It was the dwelling place of his soul.

The most likely theory about the Commentary on the Psalms was presented earlier: if it was not written at Chartreuse, it was surely taken up, amended, and completed by Bruno there. Observing Bruno and his first companions settle and live in the Chartreuse recalls some passages of the Commentary, like that lengthy and solemn paraphrase on Psalm 118. This description of the “faithful and perfect ones”, “those who search for God with all their heart”, “who purify their path by observing his words”, those anxious appeals to the One “who alone gives life”, that intense feeling of being “only a guest on the earth”, that joy of “having chosen the way of truth”, that desire “to run the way of the Commandments”, “of keeping them until the end”, those earnest prayers to “obtain the grace of God”, to “examine the words of God”, that complete belonging to God alone, and so many other sentiments, like this: “How I love your law! I ponder on it all the day long” — what is that except the very breath of the first Carthusian?

Great satisfaction came to Bruno and his companions on December 9, 1086. That day, in the synod that was being held at Grenoble, Bishop Hugh officially ratified the grant that the landowners of Chartreuse had made two years earlier. Not only did the Carthusian become lawful masters of the land, but the document solemnly reaffirmed the purpose of the hermitage:

The grace and mercy of the holy and undivided Trinity has made us aware of the conditions of our salvation. Recalling our human condition and how inevitable sin is in this fragile life, we have judged it good to redeem ourselves from the hands of death, to exchange the goods of this world for those of heaven, to acquire an eternal heritage instead of possessions that will not last. We do not wish to incur the double sorrow of undergoing the miseries and labor of this life and then the eternal pains of the next.

For that reason we make over an area of wilderness into the possession of Master Bruno and the brothers who have come with him in search of a solitude where they can live for God alone: I, Humbert of Mirabel, with my brother Odo and the others who have rights over this place; namely, Hugh of Tolvon, Anselm Garcin; Lucy and her sons Rostaing, Guigues, Anselm, Ponce and Boson, who are representing their mother; and likewise Bernard Lombard and his sons; as well as Seguin, the lord abbot of Chaise-Dieu, and his community, give all their rights over these lands to the above-mentioned hermits.

After giving a precise, legal description of the boundaries of the area, the document continues:

If any powerful person tries to annul this grant in whole or in part, let him be considered guilty of sacrilege, separated from the communion of the faithful and burned in everlasting fire unless he repents and repairs the damage he has caused.

Master Bruno and the brothers who were with him began to occupy the above-mentioned land in the year of our Lord 1084, the fourth of the episcopate of Bishop Hugh of Grenoble, who, with all his clergy, approves and confirms the grant made by the above-mentioned persons, and, insofar as he is concerned, surrenders all of his rights over that territory.

After listing the witnesses, the document concludes with the date: “The present charter has been read at Grenoble, in the Church of the Blessed and Glorious ever Virgin Mary, on the fourth feria of the second week of Advent, in the presence of the aforesaid Hugh, bishop of Grenoble, his canons, and many other persons, both priests and clerics, assembled in holy synod, the fifth of the Ides of December.”

This 1086 document of donation shows Bishop Hugh’s favor and generosity toward the first Carthusians. His friendship never waned, and his influence was considerable, not only during the settlement of the hermits in the Chartreuse but during the first forty-eight years of the Order. His influence was also kind, based on admiration and affection more than on his canonical authority. Hugh was thirty-two years old and four years a bishop when Bruno and his companions arrived at Grenoble. He had tried everything to avoid becoming a bishop, but, because the legate Hugh of Dié had honored him and designated him, he finally had to submit. Hugh of Dié himself conferred upon him all of the orders except the episcopate. It was at Rome, in April or May of 1080, that the young man was consecrated Bishop of Grenoble by Pope Gregory VII.

Following the directives of the legate Hugh of Dié, he immediately undertook the struggle against the abuses that were afflicting the diocese and clergy of Grenoble. It was a relentless, tiring struggle for Hugh, and it revived his long desire to enter a monastery. One day he fled to Chaise-Dieu, and it took a formal order from Gregory VII to remove him from there. Nevertheless, after his return to Grenoble, his enthusiasm for monastic life remained; and, although he had no experience of it except for the Benedictine cenobitic life at Chaise-Dieu, Hugh immediately recognized Bruno’s zeal, his ideals, his love for God, and his special gifts, which attracted Hugh and caused him to associate himself with the venture. There was a difference of twenty years in the ages of Hugh and Bruno, but the two men developed the deep friendship that is known by true men of God. In his Life of Saint Hugh, Guigo wrote: “With Hugh counseling, helping, accompanying, [Bruno and his companions] entered the solitude of Chartreuse and constructed” (Ipso [Hugone] consulante, juvante, comitante, Cartusiæ solitudinem [Bruno et socii ejus] intraverunt et exstruxerunt). Each one of these words should be considered. For the first Carthusians Hugh had the role of counselor, helper (one who assists and tries to encourage), and companion (one who makes his own the lot of those he accompanies). He had this role not only when they arrived at Chartreuse, but during the whole period of their settlement, organization, and construction of the buildings (exstruxerunt). Hugh liked to meet Bruno at Chartreuse, to converse with him, to be formed by him, to live near him. Guigo reported that it was not unusual for Bruno himself to have to — in some way — “chase” (compellerent exire) Hugh from the wilderness, saying: “Go, go to your flock and discharge the obligations that you have toward them.” During his more than fifty years as bishop, Hugh remained faithful to the Carthusians. It was at his insistence that Guigo, the fifth prior of Chartreuse, wrote the Customs between 1121 and 1128; and, while he did that, Hugh, who had known Bruno, Landuino, Peter of Béthune, and John of Tuscany, was present as an important link that guaranteed, in a way, that the Order would be faithful to the original thought of Bruno.

Guigo wrote: “Until his death Hugh never ceased to favor the men of Chartreuse with his counsels and charity.” An anonymous manuscript from Mont Dieu, reflecting the tradition of the century following Hugh’s death (+1132), characterized him in these words: “One may say that he was the patron and founder of the House of Chartreuse and the Carthusian Order and, although it was not at first his undertaking, in some way their creator” (Vere dici potest et domus et Ordinis Cartusiensis patronus atque fundator, et quamvis non primus, tarnen quodammodo institutor). Guibert of Nogent (+1124) had used a more ambiguous phrase: “The Bishop of Grenoble filled the role of abbot and guardian” (Vicus auteur abbatis ac provisoris Gratianopolitanus episcopus … exsequitur). The “role of abbot” must not be taken in a juridical or canonical sense, because the Carthusians had no abbot but only priors. It was Hugh’s complete dedication to the Carthusians that suggested that image to Guibert. His thought might be better expressed: “For them he was like an abbot and guardian.” These phrases seem excessive only because they attempted to express a situation for which ordinary language has no exact words. Hugh’s relationship with the Carthusians was like that of a patron, founder, creator, abbot, and guardian.

That describes the spiritual and human environment in which Bruno and his companions lived during their first years at Chartreuse. All was providentially successful: Bruno’s plan, the coming vocations, and even the personal desire of Hugh of Grenoble, all seemed to coincide perfectly. Bruno could believe that he had finally reached the harbor he had been seeking. For six years he led a life that appeared to him to be the purest, the holiest, the most dedicated, the most useful for a world in which even churchmen were corrupted by too much involvement in political and temporal affairs. He thought he had at last found in Chartreuse the solitude with God that was the prelude to seeing him face to face in eternity.

The people of the Dauphiné were not mistaken about the spiritual importance of what was happening in the Chartreuse. “In the beginning,” wrote a seventeenth-century historian, “those saintly strangers were called hermits, and their leader, hermit par excellence. Their arrival opened a new era there. The history of that year can only be dated `the year the hermit came’.” God was going to reveal to him and to all who know his life that there is a solitude still more profound than that of the wilderness: namely, the solitude of obedience and self-giving of those for whom it is chosen not by themselves but by God: “Another will bind you and lead you where you did not wish to go.” Jesus’ words to Peter were true for Bruno.

Solitude in the Court of Pope Urban II

Pope Gregory VII died on May 25, 1085. After all his work and struggles, the Church he left was in a sorrowful, distressing state. Henry IV, Emperor of Germany, had unlawfully installed Guibert, the deposed archbishop of Ravenna, upon the throne of Saint Peter as Clement III. Guibert employed the military power of the empire against the lawful Pope. Before he died, Gregory VII had assembled the cardinals and some bishops who remained faithful to him, and he entreated them to choose as his successor a man with the character and virtue to continue the necessary internal reform of the Church and to resist the pressures of the antipope. He even suggested three names to them: Didier, abbot of Monte Cassino; Odo, bishop of Ostia; and Hugh, archbishop of Lyons.

Didier, abbot of Monte Cassino, was elected on May 24, 1086. For a year he refused the tiara. Finally, on May 9, 1087, he was consecrated with the name of Victor III. But on September 16, 1087, Victor III died at Monte Cassino, where the advances of Henry IV and Guibert had compelled him to take refuge.

Because of the trouble stirred up by the partisans of the antipope, the Sacred College assembled at Terracina in Campania and chose a successor to Victor III on March 12, 1088. This was Eudes (or Odo, or Otto) of Châtillon-sur-Marne in Champagne, who was a member of the Lageri family. Eudes took the name of Urban II. Urban, who was born around 1040, had studied at Rheims, and he had intended to remain there. In 1064 he had been named archdeacon of the Church of Rheims and before long a canon of the cathedral. Between 1073 and 1077 he had left Rheims to enter Cluny. So, Eudes had spent some twenty years at Rheims, first as a student of master Bruno, then as his confrère in the cathedral chapter before, like him, consecrating himself to God in the monastic life. Their meeting and their relationship will have very important consequences for Bruno’s future and that of Chartreuse.

From the time of his election Urban II determined to surround himself with trustworthy men, whose perfect fidelity to the Church and to the work undertaken by Gregory VII he knew, and to involve them in the government of the Church. The first one he invited to come to see him was Hugh, the abbot of Cluny. His letter is impressive, and no official document better shows us the state of the Church than this disclosure of Urban II to his father in the monastic life. This is what he wrote:

It was not because of ambition or a desire for dignity that I accepted my election…. But, in the present circumstances, if I had not brought all my support to the aid of the Church when she was in danger (periclitanti Ecclesiæ), I would have been afraid of offending God…. I entreat you, whom I wish so much to see again, if you have any affection for me, if you remember your son, your child, come to console me by your presence because I want it so much, and come to visit your holy Mother the Church of Rome, if it is possible for you, because your coming is very much desired. If it is not possible, at least send a delegate from among your sons, my brothers, in whom I may see you, receive you, recognize the voice of your consolation in the extremely troubling situation I find myself in; send one who will make your love and the warmth of your affection present to me, who will be a sign of kindness toward me from you and all the brothers of our congregation. Please tell all our brothers to pray to the all-powerful and merciful God until he is pleased to restore to their original condition both us and his holy Church, which is being attacked by so many dangers.

Hugh of Cluny responded to the summons of his son. Urban did not uproot him from his monastic responsibilities, but he soon took the monk John from Monte Cassino and made him cardinal-bishop of Tuscany and chancellor of holy Church. During his pontificate he called fifteen monks to the purple and authority of cardinals. In 1096 there were Albert, monk of Saint Savin of Plaisance; and Milo, monk of Saint Aubin of Angers, and others. In these choices, however, Urban II seems to have followed a rule of prudence: not usually to take from religious orders the abbot, the head, the one who encouraged them in zeal and the Rule. So when, by a letter from Capua dated August 1, 1089, he summoned Anselm, abbot of Bec, he asked him to bring along “a religious of your abbey, if there is one who can be useful to the sovereign Pontiff”. He added that a student from Rome who had become a monk of Bec should be sent back to Rome “before Lent next year”. Anselm himself returned to Bec. That attitude may partly explain Urban II’s later relationship with Bruno. One day Bruno learned in an unexpected way that he too had been summoned to Rome by the Pope, not just to be there for a time but to live there. In its concise style the Chronicle Magister relates the event clearly: “Master Bruno, … having left the world, founded the wilderness of Chartreuse and governed it for six years. On the formal order (cogente) of Pope Urban, whose master he had been, he came to the Roman Curia as an aide to the Pope, to be a spiritual light for him and his counsellor in the affairs of the Church.”

When and how did Urban AI’s order reach Bruno? To set a date for that there are only two points of reference from the Chronicle Magister: Bruno stayed “in Chartreuse for six years”, and he died “about eleven years after he left Chartreuse”. Even with these two facts, the missing date remains unclear, but “six years after Bruno arrived at Chartreuse” and “eleven years before he died” would be somewhere between the last months of 1089 and the first months of 1090.

Of course, historians try to be exact, and so they would prefer the one that coincides with events that are certain. Urban II had several times called important people to him so he could receive their advice. In May of 1089, Renaud du Bellay, archbishop of Rheims, left for Rome at the Pope’s invitation. He had been named to the See of Rheims after Bruno refused it. Now he stayed with the Pope for some time. He participated in the Council of Melfi in 1089, and on December 25 of the same year he received important privileges from the Pope in the form of the pallium, the primacy of the ecclesiastical province of lower Belgium, and confirmation for the See of Rheims with the right to consecrate the kings of France. After Christmas Renaud returned to his diocese. Would he have been the one commissioned to give Bruno the order to go to Rome? He must have discussed Bruno with Urban II. Between these two men, who had talked about the condition of the Church of France, the reforms to be introduced, and especially the holy and courageous men to be found and placed at the disposition of the lawful Pope, how could the name of Bruno have failed to come up, as well as the foundation of Chartreuse, and the important spiritual position of the hermitage? Both of them had studied under Bruno and still had vivid memories of what had happened at Rheims. The Pope and the Bishop carefully weighed this important decision, because to take Bruno away from that spiritual experience might be to condemn the promising new enterprise to death. Finally the Pope decided to take the risk. But rather than send his order through an anonymous messenger, he would have preferred to entrust it, in respect for his old teacher, to a mutual friend, who was also taking up (the Pope had confirmed it by his privilege of December 25) one of the highest ecclesiastical positions in the kingdom.

If this theory is granted, the events would have gone something like this. Renaud left Rome after Christmas and took Urban II’s secret order to Bruno. This wintertime journey, across some regions filled with partisans of the antipope Guibert, would have had to take around four weeks. About the end of January 1090, Renaud would have arrived at Grenoble and given Bruno the order to leave for Rome. The concurrence of events makes this not merely a theory, but one that is likely, at least.

The unembellished phrases from the Chronicle Magister might make Bruno’s departure seem easy. In fact, though, if Bruno’s obedience to Urban II was complete and unconditional from the moment his order came, the news must have caused great confusion for the hermits among whom he lived. How could they imagine the wilderness of Chartreuse without the presence of the one who was the soul of it? They decided to end their experience and disband. At that time there were many hermitages; sometimes hermits left their solitude and returned to their former way of life, or the group joined some neighboring abbey. Bruno tried in vain to prevent that act of desperation. But they made their decision. They separated.

That this dispersion occurred is demonstrated by a letter of Urban II and by the legal deed of Seguin (of whom more below). It is also certain that there was some urgency to abandon the Chartreuse.

There was need to hurry because, since his companions had decided not to continue the Chartreuse experience without him, Bruno had to make arrangements about the property before he left. In agreement with Bishop Hugh of Grenoble, in whose jurisdiction lay the lands of Chartreuse, it was decided to return the area to the abbey of Chaise-Dieu, in the person of its abbot, Seguin. Seguin was one of the donors — the only ecclesiastical one — in the document of 1086. It was normal for monastic property to revert to a monastery. Besides, the priory of Mont Cornillon, located at the entry to the mountains of Chartreuse, was a dependency of Chaise-Dieu, so this priory would be the obvious one to receive the property of the hermitage. Bruno drew up the act of donation. Renaud had to return to Chaise-Dieu, some twenty miles north of Puy. He wanted to ask that famous, devout abbey to send some monks to the abbey of Saint Nicaise at Rheims, because it was in need of reform. Hugh of Grenoble accompanied Renaud to preside personally over the committee that ratified the gift of the Chartreuse, which Bruno made over to Seguin. Bruno may have traveled with them, as well as William, abbot of Saint-Chaffre.

This moment of Bruno’s life is perhaps the one that best displays his spiritual greatness. For him it meant giving up that for which he had given up everything and receiving again everything he had renounced for it. The solitude of Chartreuse, which he had acquired at the cost of so much persistence, patience, and renunciation and in which he had finally found the deepest inspiration for his soul — namely, the pure love of God, this spiritual experience that seemed in every way to be favored by God and producing wonderful fruits of holiness — all this, upon a command of the Pope, suddenly came to nothing. Now he had to go to the Roman court, where he again found, worse than before, all the cares, all the dangers, all that intrigue that he had escaped when he left Rheims. If only his friends, his companions, had agreed to continue the experience or at least to try to continue. But no. If he went, they would go. This, too, was part of his sacrifice. Even in their brave effort to be detached from the world, that the little group had kept their affection for him too warm was for Bruno surely an occasion of humiliation rather than consolation. Now more than sixty years old, he was faced with totally giving up his original plan, for which he had struggled so much. The hermitage of Chartreuse — that “child” of his love for God, that reality that he had conceived, formed, built, and organized to offer to God as a sacrifice of praise — was destroyed by a command of the Church, a command of one of his old students who had become Pope.

In the lives of many saints, especially in the lives of saints who have created something for the glory of God, an hour comes when God requires them, in an act of obedience or faith (essentially they are the same), to sacrifice their work. A poignant hour, a sorrowful one, but it is the supreme hour in which the soul, if it consents, is compelled to strive for the summit in faith, hope, and charity. Nothing remains for it except God, to be apprehended in his transcendence, in his absolute independence, to be loved simply because he is God. One such sacrifice was that of Abraham sacrificing Isaac, the son of the Promise, with his own hands. The comparison is accurate. At the moment of obedience, Bruno must have been aware that he had created something great for God, a kind of life that held real promise for the reform of the Church, and that his departure from Chartreuse would bring it to an end.

But then the companions who had gone their ways began to think better of it. Reflecting on Bruno’s counsel, they began to doubt the wisdom of their decision. They got in touch with each other and then had a meeting with Bruno, who might have been waiting in the neighborhood of Chartreuse until Hugh of Grenoble came back to Chaise-Dieu, or he might have accompanied him there to visit Seguin. Bruno and his sons then reconsidered the situation. He gave the same advice, counseling them to stay at Chartreuse and continue their spiritual experience together. He would be loyal to them from Rome and help them with his advice and friendship. And then, who could know? Perhaps some day circumstances would change again, and he could return.

They reversed their decision. Accepting Bruno’s advice, the community came together again, and he named Landuino their new prior. But there was one serious problem: the hermits no longer had possession of the Chartreuse. They had to regain that before they could resume their life, because they needed it to assure their subsistence and independence. So Bruno asked Seguin to give them the lands again. This was a step that caused him some humiliation. Even though his own stability was beyond question, their coming back could be an indication to people who did not understand their internal life very well that there was some instability among the hermits as well as real uncertainty about the future of the foundation.

According to the above hypothesis Bruno left for Rome in February of 1090, accompanied no doubt by his friend William, abbot of the monastery of Saint-Chaffre, who was also going to Rome on abbey business. During the trip he was worrying about serious problems. Would the group persevere, now that they had come together again through his desire and encouragement? Would Landuino rise to his position as prior? Would Chaise-Dieu accept the request to return the property? Uncertainty about his own future was no less painful, though he had already decided to ask Urban II for permission to return to Chartreuse, or at least to solitude, as soon as he could. He had also decided that, whatever his future would be, he would create a solitude for himself in his new life and live in the papal court as much like a hermit as he could. But what if the Pope insisted on making him a bishop or even a cardinal, as he had already done for others? While the Church was having such prob-lems, would he have the right to abandon her? In short, he was leaving something precious but fragile behind him, and before him the horizon was completely unclear. After six years of peace, silence, and friendship in Chartreuse, these uncertainties must have weighed heavily on Bruno’s heart.

He would have reached Rome in March of 1090. That must have been the time, if he traveled with William of Saint-Chaffre, because the privilege that William came to ask for was granted on April 1, 1090. Then, too, there is the curious coincidence that a broad privilege confirming all the rights and privileges of the Church of Grenoble bears the same date. Were Bruno and William ambassadors for Hugh of Grenoble in this?

So then, in the spring of 1090 Bruno arrived at the Roman court. Before following him into the new events, a word about the request addressed to Seguin concerning the recovery of the property at Chartreuse. Things seem to have gone less rapidly than Bruno had hoped. Did Seguin, and perhaps even Hugh of Grenoble, not want to spend time drawing up a new legal deed to transfer the property of Chartreuse? Bruno thought it prudent to have Urban II intervene in the matter. One day — unfortunately the date is not known, but it was between March and April of 1090 — the Pope wrote this letter to Seguin:

Urban, Bishop, servant of the servants of God, to Our very dear son Seguin, abbot of Chaise-Dieu, and to his whole monastery, greetings and apostolic benediction.

The Roman Church should come to the aid of those who work tirelessly in obedience and lighten their cares. We have called Our very dear son Bruno to serve the Apostolic See. Since he has come to Us, we cannot — because we should not — permit his hermitage to suffer any harm. So, We ask your charity, and in asking it We instruct you to establish the hermitage again with its former condition. As regards the deed of donation, which Our son Bruno wrote with his own hand returning the property to you while his brethren were dispersed, return it as you love Us so that they can be established again in their former freedom. The brethren who were dispersed are together again under the inspiration of God, and they want nothing except to persevere in their vocation in the same place. For the respect which you owe to Our directives, do not delay beyond thirty days of receiving this letter to restore the above-mentioned deed.

Urban II’s letter went beyond the scope of a simple transfer of the right of ownership. It constituted the first papal approval of Chartreuse, and it affirmed one point that Bruno thought essential to his plan: the hermits’ complete independence of any patronage whatever, whether from a bishop, an abbey, or a prince.

What did Seguin do? A passage from the Chronicle Laudemus, a document issued by the Carthusian Order, testifies to his prompt and careful obedience. “Having received the directive from Rome, Abbot Seguin willingly and joyfully obeys. To Master Landuino and his companions, he surrenders all his rights and all his authority over the property of Chartreuse.”

The original deed of restoration is still preserved in the archives of Isère. It is dated September 15, 1090. Here is the original text:

I, Brother Seguin, Abbot of Chaise-Dieu, make known to all for now and for the future that, when Brother Bruno was called to Rome by Pope Urban and he saw the property of Chartreuse being abandoned because his brethren were leaving it, he gave the property to us and to our monastery. But now, to respond to the request of our father, Pope Urban, and made aware as we were by a report from Bruno that he, their prior, had strongly encouraged his brethren to remain in that place, I, Brother Seguin, abbot of Chaise-Dieu and with the agreement of our monks, have returned to Brother Landuino, whom Master Bruno as he was leaving named prior of the other brothers, and to all the brethren who live under his authority, the gift that Bruno had made to us in our Chapter, in the presence of the chapter members that we assembled, Bishop Hugh of Grenoble presiding. In favor of them and their successors I relinquish all authority over the property of Chartreuse so that they may use it as they wish, and to them I cede all my rights. As regards the deed that Bruno had drawn up for us, if it has not been returned to them it is because the brethren present in our Chapter have not been able to find it. But it is agreed that if this document is ever found, it belongs to them by right.

In the year of the Incarnation of our Lord 1090, on the fifteenth of the calends of October, I, Brother Seguin, Abbot of Chaise-Dieu, sign this document and affix my seal, Archbishop Hugh of Lyons present and presiding.

It was necessary to quote Urban II’s letter and Seguin’s deed because the typical official or legal forms seem to indicate a certain uneasiness. In other words, perhaps his friends judged Bruno’s grant of the property of Chartreuse at the time the brothers left as too hasty, too radical, even perhaps somewhat imprudent. And Seguin apparently temporized — which wasn’t necessarily the bad humor of a frustrated landowner, but simply the patience of an administrator — in returning what had so recently been given to him. To justify his intervention, Urban II mentioned that he had summoned Bruno and assumed some responsibility for the deed of relinquishment with an apology for the haste. Twice Seguin stressed that Bruno’s gift to him was perfectly proper, as if he wanted to make allowance for the future, in case the hermitage would again cease to exist some day. And did one of the monks of the Chapter come to reclaim that recent act of relinquishment? The whole scenario exhibited uncertainty and hesitation. Apparently Seguin was acceding less to Bruno’s request than to Urban’s formal directive and, while obeying, prepared for the future: if their master did not come back some day, wouldn’t this group of hermits either cease to exist or ask, like so many others, to be affiliated with the powerful neighboring abbey?

In September 1090, therefore, the hermitage of Chartreuse was restored to its original condition. Bruno was far away, but he was not absent. Within ten years the Chartreuse would be a testimony to the fervor and unity of his sons, the faithfulness of Landuino, and the power of Bruno’s own invisible presence.

What happened to Bruno during the several weeks he had been in Rome? He found Urban engaged in a very confusing and very precarious political situation. The Pope had made his solemn entry into Rome on June 30, 1089, but in the spring of 1090 the partisans of the German Emperor Henry IV and the antipope Guibert had taken the offensive against Rome, and toward the end of July 1090, Urban II was again obliged to leave the city. Where could he find refuge? The lawful Pope had only two faithful supporters in Italy. In Tuscany there was the courageous Countess Mathilda, who was, wrote Guigo, “in appearance a woman, with the soul of a man”; also in the southern part of the peninsula were the Norman princes, who had carved out a realm for themselves there. The Pope decided to go south. There he remained for three years. In September 1090, Bruno was in the south of Italy along with the Roman court, in that territory ruled by the Norman princes.

What were his thoughts? The Chronicle Magister gives us valuable information about that in a few words — as usual, too few:

Bruno set out for the Roman court…. But, being unable to endure the commotion (strepitus) and style of life (mores) in the court and still very much in love with his former solitude and peace, he left it. Apparently he had even refused the archbishopric of Reggio, for which he had been chosen upon the personal wish of the Pope. Instead, he went to the wilderness of Calabria that is called La Torre.

The Chronicle Laudemus says that he departed “shortly after he arrived”.

Bruno seems to have made a loyal effort to resign himself to the rhythm of life in the papal court. It is true that circumstances were hardly favorable for him to return there. The difficulties of diplomacy during that time, the war, the schism, the intrigue — that was a world in which Bruno could not fit. Besides, deep in his heart remained the desire for solitude and tranquillity, all the more fervent as the situation there was so inconsistent with it. Could anyone who for six years had tasted the peace of the Chartreuse, the prayer, the friendship, the heavenly familiarity of the hermitage have become accustomed to the commotion of the Roman court in exile during that autunm of 1090?

Bruno explained his distress to Urban II and asked to be allowed to leave the court again and return to his wilderness.

But, as it happened, Urban II had a delicate post to fill. It was the archbishopric of Reggio. According to the policy of Urban II and the Norman princes, this See and several others in the peninsula were gradually being given to Latin bishops instead of Greek ones, for the purpose of diminishing the influence of the Greeks in Italy. William, a Latin, was put in the place of Basil, the Greek archimandrite who formerly occupied the See of Reggio. But Basil was still living, and he always hoped to recover his position. Then William died. The succession proved to be very delicate, because Basil enjoyed the confidence of the Emperor of Constantinople, Alexius I Comnenus, with whom at this very time Urban II was seeking a rapprochement. In 1090 the See was still unoccupied. If Urban wanted to place a Latin bishop in the See of Reggio, he had to choose a man whose personality was such that Basil could not be offended. Wasn’t Bruno just such a man? He had proven his ability, in difficult matters, to combine firmness and prudence, and zeal for the truth with moderation. Besides, his reputation had long since become known throughout the Church. For him one could step aside without being humiliated.

Urban II decided to have Bruno appointed to the See of Reggio. The exact date is known. Rayner, the Benedictine monk of La Cava, who was finally named archbishop of Reggio, signed a confirmation certificate in 1091, so Bruno’s nomination to the archbishopric of Reggio and his refusal must have occurred between the summer of 1090 (when he arrived at the papal court) and November of 1091. This haste is not surprising. Several times Urban II nominated bishops and even cardinals very rapidly, men he had personally summoned to be with him to serve the Holy See. He speeded up the election process by announcing his selection publicly. The electors hardly knew the candidate, but they had confidence in the Pope’s choice. This was clearly what happened with Bruno: he was elected “at the will of the Pope” (ipso Papa volente), when the Pope formally made his choice known.

The law gave the elect the right to refuse the See that was designated for him. Bruno exercised that right firmly. For the man we know he was, this must have been a serious crisis of conscience. His faith and loyalty to the Church inclined him to serve Urban II and to be responsible for the position in which the Pope thought he would be useful. But to become archbishop of Reggio would be to involve himself permanently in the “commotion”, “the style of life”, and everything that was profoundly distasteful to him and conflicted with his craving for solitude and interior tranquillity, which he well knew, after six years in the Chartreuse, to be his true vocation. As bishop, and soon no doubt as cardinal, he would accompany the Pope in his travels, take part in all the business and the great assizes of the Church and be closely involved in papal diplomacy. All that, and no hope of ever finding a hermitage again. What a moment in Bruno’s life! There must have been frank and familiar conversations between him and Urban II when Bruno revealed his soul, his desires, his attractions, and his vocation to the man whose mission and grace it was to direct his life. Though Urban could have let his appointment stand and confirmed it by imposing it upon Bruno under pain of ecclesiastical censures, he finally recognized his old master’s special vocation to an unusual calling. Rayner was appointed to the See of Reggio.

That decision brought honor to Urban II and to Bruno. Both of them gave way before that mysterious, clear, genuine, irrepressible reality called a vocation from God — to Bruno for having the courage to go against the Pope’s wish, to Urban II for giving up the services of a man whom he judged so suitable to be a helper and counsellor in his problems. The Pope’s decision to free Bruno seems to partake of divine inspiration, higher than any human wisdom, higher even than the holiest friendship. Urban II, of course, had been a monk; he was even formed in the school of Saint Benedict and instructed in that mysticism that makes the soul attentive to the mystery of God and endows it with the Church’s understanding of a consecrated life entirely dedicated to the adoration and the praise of God in union with Christ, who died and rose to live again. In Bruno he found that vocation pure, perfect, insistent, yearning for the absolute. From all that he could see, God was there, imposing his own designs and calling. Could this former student of Saint Benedict have failed to understand that for the good of the Church it was more important that Bruno be a hermit, undertaking and achieving his work as a contemplative, than for him to be archbishop of Reggio and a dignitary in the papal court? A few months earlier Bruno sacrificed his vocation as a hermit to the Pope’s summons; today, Urban II sacrificed his summons to a higher one, and through that sacrifice the Church authenticated the supreme value of the purely contemplative life for its work of Redemption. This was one of the high points in the life of Urban and the life of Bruno.

Here a question comes up to which history, at the present stage of research, cannot give a positive answer. Since Urban II authorized Bruno to follow the way of pure contemplation, why did he not simply authorize him to return to Chartreuse? Why did he point him to a new foundation in Calabria? Surely Bruno would have wanted to go back to Chartreuse. He never had any plan to found a religious Order; the hermitage of Chartreuse was enough for him, where conditions of geography and climate, and his plans as well, limited the number of candidates to a few; and he wanted to take his place humbly and simply in the place where for six years he had enjoyed the solitude and peace of the wilderness. Everything was calling him back to his sons at Chartreuse. He loved them, and he knew they loved him, and he thought about how happy they would be when they heard he was returning. Besides, didn’t they need him? Though he corresponded with them and firmly intended to stay in touch with them, not even the most diligent correspondence could ever be equal to his being there and living with them. But his desire to return to Chartreuse conflicted with Urban II’s formal decision: he had to stay in Italy.

Some mystical reasons were ascribed to the Pope earlier when he accepted Bruno’s refusal of the See of Reggio. Perhaps now, at the moment he felt the weight of the Church upon him, threatened as it was from the inside by schism and from the outside by war, Urban II would have been glad to have Bruno’s hermitage near him — a high place for praying and imploring God’s protection, a high place of wisdom, of recollection, and advice, to which he would have ready access. Yielding to Bruno’s vocation as a hermit, Urban II could nevertheless make that vocation an attraction in his thorny diplomacy with the Norman princes, who were not the most agreeable friends. As recently as 1083, while they were supporting Gregory VII, they sacked Rome. For them to do another about-face would not be surprising. Settling Bruno in Calabria would be an honor for them, assisting in their strategy for Latinization, and it would bind them more closely to the Holy See. All this is theorizing. Only one thing is certain: Bruno did not resume his life as a hermit with some companions at Chartreuse, but in Calabria.

That fact had considerable importance for Bruno’s eremitical experience. First of all, Chartreuse itself was going to show itself so permeated with Bruno’s spirit that the monks could carry out his ideals in their lives with fervor, even though he was absent. Besides, in Calabria Bruno was going to show that his experience at Chartreuse, favored as it had been by conditions and circumstances, was not restricted to that location and could be repeated elsewhere with even a small number of men who, prompted by his spirit, embraced the hermitage unreservedly. To repeat, nothing was farther from Bruno’s thought than founding a religious Order; but, during the remainder of his life, there would be two hermitages, both of which in very different circumstances would accomplish his own unique plan. They would not be joined by any legal bond, but they would burn with the same flame. When did Bruno settle in Calabria? Some say 1090, others 1091 or 1092, and some as late as 1095. The last date hardly seems likely, because there is no reason, after the matter of the archbishopric of Reggio was resolved, that Urban II would have forced Bruno to remain in the papal court. However, it is likely that Bruno needed some time to select the exact place for his new hermitage, to settle some questions related to the new foundation, poor as it was, and gather some men with whom he would form his small community. A reasonable date for the beginning of the new hermitage would be the end of 1091 or the first months of 1092. There is no way to know exactly how much time passed between Bruno’s departure from the papal court and that beginning, but he seems to have been present in the court of Urban II for about one year.

Calabria: Return to Solitude

The Calabrian period of Bruno’s life is an obscure one for the historian not only because of the legends and the edifying embellishments added by hagiographers as in the other periods of his life but also because the history of Calabria and of Bruno’s foundation were particularly eventful. When one remembers what happened to Bruno’s relics during the four centuries following his death (more about that later), it can hardly be surprising that memories of his time in Calabria that could have survived have practically disappeared. There is always some loss when a religious Order gives one of its “holy places” to monks of another observance for more than three centuries. However, when a break in traditions has destroyed an entire past, usually certain documents are preserved with care: namely, the titles to properties and all the records relating to them. Most of those documents regarding the Calabria foundation disappeared after the several fires, the earthquake (February 7, 1783), the destruction and pillage during the Napoleonic wars, and many other lesser events. Those are sufficient to explain the loss. What survived destruction, in spite of all that, was kept, after the beginning of the nineteenth century, in the Great Archives of Naples, where, it was thought, they would be safe. But everything, down to the very last item, was burned during the events of 1943.

Another fact contributed more than a little to obscure this history. The hermitage of Calabria was lavishly endowed by Count Roger, and that wealth later became the cause of litigation. During the second half of the eighteenth century there was a long dispute between the Carthusians, who had taken possession of the property on February 27, 1514, and the treasury of Naples. The latter, for the purpose of robbing the Carthusian Order of its property, tried to prove the deeds granted by the Norman princes were invalid. The quarrel was no help to historical objectivity, especially when one of the parties had the advantage of the power of the state. Today, however, some specialists have undertaken an impartial study of the documents of donation. They have not finished their work, but it is now certain that most of the deeds that were contested by the treasury of Naples are completely authentic.

Even with all these misfortunes, the historian of Saint Bruno still has some good fortune. When, on February 27, 1514, the Carthusians regained possession of the monastery of Calabria from the Cistercians, who had occupied it since 1193, Dom Constantius de Rigetis, who was born at Bologna and professed at the Chartreuse of Montelli, was sent as rector of the revived house. A year later, when the Chartreuse of Calabria was sufficiently restored, he was appointed there as a regular prior. Now Dom Constantius could work full time, systematically gleaning the archives of the monastery. With filial devotion, he sought out and compiled everything that referred to Bruno and the first years of the foundation. As he discovered the manuscripts, he copied them with scrupulous accuracy, described them with objectivity, and distinguished their various sources; and, if he had to interpret any passages, he indicated his theories and corrections honestly, clearly indicating his own commentaries. Constantius’ work has survived in the form of two copies. One of them seems trustworthy — the one that comes from Dom Severus of Trafaglione, a Carthusian of Naples, in 1629; the other, which is incomplete and much more doubtful, was recopied in the eighteenth century by Tromby in his Storia. A critical study of the text confirms what is already known about Dom Constantius: “He was a man of great prudence and religion, moderately well educated in human letters, known for his propriety and piety” (vir fuit magnæ prudentiæ, et religionis, et litteris humanis mediocriter eruditus, gravitate et pietate præcipuus) : he was an honest worker, sincere, exacting, precise, very careful to be accurate. It was fortunate for the historian that Constantius undertook that research in the archives of the monastery of Calabria and that it has been preserved. The authors of Aux sources de la vie cartusienne write: “Without Constantius the face of Saint Bruno and the history of his foundation could never have emerged from the fog of hagiographical legend.”

It was necessary to explain the difficulties that face the historian of the Calabrian period of Bruno’s life, so that the certainties finally acquired may be seen at their full value and clarity. All those documents were patiently taken up again, studied, and compared by recent historians of the beginnings of the Grande Chartreuse, and a collection of very certain facts has emerged, even though numerous items remain obscure.

What was the condition of Calabria when Bruno went there to plant his new foundation? Something was said earlier about that, but it will be useful to reconstruct the circumstances of the time. He was confronted with difficulties that were very different from those he had found at Chartreuse. There the planting of his hermitage was given extraordinary assistance by Hugh of Grenoble, who understood the plan and took it on as his own project, supporting it with all of his authority, generously advising and giving aid. But Bruno worried about nature, climate, and the location, and many of the difficulties actually assisted his plan for absolute solitude. In Calabria, it was men rather than nature that obstructed his plan. The political and religious milieu Bruno was in had great influence upon his foundation. There will be more said of that later for the better understanding of his work.

Between 1057 and 1060 two of the “Norman princes”, Robert Guiscard and his younger brother Roger, in spite of their weak forces, quickly conquered Apulia and Calabria, which theoretically belonged to the Greek Empire. In 1060 Robert and Roger undertook the conquest of Sicily, where they met both Greeks and Arabs, and it took them twenty years to bring their efforts to a successful conclusion, the last battle being fought in 1091. After conferring upon himself the title of duke of Apulia, Robert ruled as suzerain over the conquered lands; and Roger, with the title of count, ruled Sicily and Calabria under the suzerainty of his brother. In 1085 the conquest of Sicily was sufficiently advanced and consolidated for Duke Robert to decide to take the war into the Greek Isles. He died on Corfu, and, on July 17, 1085, his son Roger Borsa became duke of Apulia. Duke Roger was the suzerain of his uncle, Count Roger, at the time Bruno established his hermitage in Calabria.

In 1091 Count Roger completed the conquest of Sicily and began to organize his new lands. While doing this, he was revealing exceptional gifts for ruling.

He had to get different ethnic elements to coexist peacefully, though they had opposed each other up to that time: Catholic Latins, Greek Christians, and Muslims. His religious policy, however, tended to favor the Latins over the Greeks, even the Greek Catholics. So it was that certain Greek bishoprics, whether because of retirement, as at Reggio, or by normal succession, were transferred to Latins. Count Roger had the Greek monks emigrate from Calabria, where he believed they had too much power, to Sicily where they would be a counterbalance to the Islamic presence.

At the time Bruno was looking for a hermitage in Calabria, therefore, it was a place favorable — almost too favorable — for Latin monasticism. Roger had despoiled the Greek monks of their possessions in Calabria and given them to Latin monks. It can be said ‘that the Latin monks appeared as destroyers of earlier Greek monasticism.

How did the sovereign pontiffs react when faced with what might be called the Norman princes’ invasion of southern Italy? It is best not to consider the political war games of our times. Actually, relations between the popes and the new masters of southern Italy were not always easy. It is true, nevertheless, that at the beginning of Urban II’s pontificate, when Emperor Henry IV was threatening the whole peninsula with his military expeditions, the Norman princes were faithful to the Pope. Immediately after his election in the spring of 1088, Urban II judged it possible and wise to go to the south and make contact with the Normans. When Henry IV forced him to leave Rome in the summer of 1090, he returned to the territory of the Norman princes to seek and find asylum. He stayed there for three years (1090-93).

Bruno’s decision to begin the hermitage, therefore, came at a time when Urban II and Count Roger wanted to give each other clear pledges of friendship, and when the papal court was not looking with disapproval upon the policy of Latinization, which Count Roger had introduced in the monastic life in Calabria. Bruno himself had just one idea: namely, insofar as circumstances would allow, to find in Calabria, where he was obliged to settle, the solitude and peace that he had enjoyed in Chartreuse.

But where? Did Bruno think he would ever find a place in Calabria so perfect, so suitable to his idea of eremitical life as Chartreuse? Biographers have undertaken to explain, or simply to praise, Bruno’s choice of the region of La Torre. Some of them relate that Urban II had put Bruno in charge of an important mission to the Norman princes. Duke Roger, aware of Bruno’s plans for a hermitage, had been waiting to furnish the hermits with the perfect place they were looking for; but when, at last, Bruno did not find a place suitable for his foundation in Duke Roger’s land, Count Roger offered him great benefits if he would remain in his estates. Others created a legend — a gratuitous one common in the folklore of hermits — that Count Roger, while hunting, came upon Bruno, who was praying in the forest. Still others, more seríous, maintained that Bruno had lived for a while in Count Roger’s court before deciding on the place. That is not unlikely, unless they want to prolong his stay there. Certainly Bruno had to make some contact with Count Roger and his court so that he could look over his lands and then, after making his decision, to arrange for the administration.

But probably things happened very simply, as things do whenever a founder looks for a place suitable for a foundation: he travels around the area where he expects to find what he wants, examines all the possibilities, then makes a choice and finally arranges to possess it. The only anecdote that might be added to that in Bruno’s case is that Urban II met Count Roger in the little town of Mileto at the beginníng of June 1091. No doubt Urban told him about Bruno’s plan and asked him to take care of it. The wilderness of La Torre is just a few kilometers from Mileto.

Nevertheless, according to the document of confirmation that was set down by the Bishop of Squillace on December 7, 1091, it is certain that the wilderness of La Torre was granted (and very probably Bruno and his companions had settled there) before December 7, 1091.

The place where Bruno established his new hermitage was called Saint Mary of La Torre. It was a wilderness, located at an altitude of about 2,600 feet, midway between the two seas and between the towns of Stylum and Arena. The deed of donation added to this two and one half square miles of land adjoining the wilderness, including the forest, meadows, pasture land, water, mills, and all seigniorial rights. A look at a map of the area will cause surprise that Bruno preferred this small place of relative and threatened solitude to others more remote in the mountains of Calabria. Was it because of prudence, since the peace of the country was uncertain? Was it for security while living among a divided population, one part of which—the Greek element — was in fact being abused for the benefit of the other — the Latin element? Perhaps the wilderness of La Torre already included some monastic buildings erected by the Greeks. Stylum, in fact, was one of the places that supported the Greek resistance to the Normans at the time of the 1060 conquest. At any rate, Saint Mary of La Torre did not offer the same natural protections for the solitude of the hermits as the Chartreuse did. In his letter to Raoul le Verd, Bruno used a rather unenthusiastic phrase to describe his solitude: “I live ín a wilderness located in Calabria, sufficiently distant (satis remotam) from any center of human habitation.” Comparing it to the location of the Chartreuse would have strengthened his description.

When he left for Saint Mary of La Torre, Bruno did not go alone. He had companions, just as he did when he went up to Chartreuse. Who were they, and where did they come from? In the letter to Raoul le Verd, he said he was living “with my brothers in religion, some of whom are filled with knowledge”, which shows that the group had attained a certain number of hermits. The letter dates, at the earliest, from 1096, and at that time the small community must have numbered fifteen to twenty members. When Saint Bruno died, there were thirty. Thanks to Constantius, there are two lists of Bruno’s companions in Calabria: one is a necrology of the foundation (which also contains the profession of faith that Bruno made before he died), and the list of thirty hermits who took their oath to blessed Lanuino in 1101. None of the names of the first six companions from Chartreuse appear in it, though that does not absolutely exclude the possibility that some of the hermits from Chartreuse had accompanied Bruno or joined him in Italy. It appears that Lanuino was one of the first of Bruno’s companions in Calabria: he was a Norman, a Norman who was very skillful in business, as will be observed. But was this Norman among the noblemen? Did he come from Chartreuse with Bruno? Did he come from France when he found out that Bruno was going to found a new hermitage? Perhaps what happened was very simple: when Bruno’s plan became known, given his buoyant personality and the attraction that many felt for the eremitical life, some of the Norman emigrés (including Lanuino) might naturally have revealed themselves to him and asked to accompany him. Seemingly there were both laymen and clerics among them, as at the foundation of Chartreuse. The Chronicle Magister, which did not waste words, tells about the foundation of the house at Calabria in this fashion: “Bruno … withdrew to the wilderness of Calabria, which is called La Torre, and there, with several (quampiurimis) laymen and clerics, he led the solitary life, according to his plan, just as he had done before.”

The central fact, which is well established, is that before the end of 1091 Bruno had founded the new hermitage of Saint Mary of La Torre, and he was living there with several companions, both laymen and clerics. He lived there for ten years.

Consequently the historian faces an important question that concerns not just the Carthusian Order but anyone who has followed the development of Bruno’s rare, unqualified attraction for solitude with God. On account of the doubt about the authenticity of the documents of the donations in Calabria, papal documents, and civil deeds as well, it can be maintained—depending-upon two documents, one of 1098 or 1099 (the famous document that had been de-livered by Count Roger when he returned from the siege of Capua), and the other of June 4, 1102 (concerning the traitors from the siege of Capua)—the group of monks that Bruno had himself established in Calabria were somewhat different from those at Chartreuse. There were two houses one mile apart: the true and strict hermitage of Saint Mary of La Torre, and a place called Saint Stephen, which might also have been a hermitage but more probably had been a monastery of cenobites for the religious who were not suited for the eremitical life and for novices to receive their first formation. If so, Bruno’s original plan for absolute purity, for a complete contemplative life, had been greatly modified. He would have come closer to some of the communities combining hermitage and cenobium that already existed in the Church, like the Camaldolese. Bruno himself would then be responsible for the rapid evolution of Saint Mary of La Torre, because the cenobium (which was actually founded twenty years after Bruno’s death) developed to the detriment of the hermitage, so much so that in 1193 William of Messina asked that the Chartreuse of Calabria be received into the Cistercian Order.

Recent research by the Carthusian Fathers has definitely established that the two documents were spurious and that there was never a cenobium at Saint Mary of LaTorre during Bruno’s time. The house of Saint Stephen was not founded until twenty years after Bruno’s death. Meanwhile, in 1114, the monastery of Saint James had been founded at the village (casale) of Montauro, having a church dedicated to Saint James, where Count Roger had given a large area to the hermits of Saint Mary of La Torre in 1094. At the request of Lanuino, the second master of the wilderness, the Pope erected a monastery there, which was intended for religious who found the strict rule of the hermitage had become too difficult, as well as for the old and the sick. There, too, candidates for the eremitical life were to spend one year of probation before being admitted to Saint Mary. This foundation originated thirteen years after Bruno’s death. But it does not present the same problems as Saint Stephen: Saint James of Montauro is located near the town of Squillace on the Ionian Sea, twenty-five miles from Saint Mary of La Torre, so there could have been no confusion possible between the hermitage of Saint Mary and the cenobium of Saint James.

One important fact emerges from those studies: while Bruno was living, the only institution that existed in the wilderness of La Torre was Saint Mary, and it was a hermitage.

Now that this point of history has been clarified, the way is open again to recreate the milieu in which Bruno lived and led his companions to live at Saint Mary of La Torre. Everything comes together to provide a glimpse of Bruno’s perfect loyalty to himself and to the grace of a purely contemplative life. The documents, both papal and episcopal, reveal the admiration and esteem that Bruno enjoyed: his extraordinary goodness, which is legendary; his sensitive and solid friendships; his great devotion; his love of solitude and peace; his human and spiritual enthusiasm among his brethren and contemporaries, especially the papal court and Count Roger. Even making allowances for the inevitable exaggeration that is typical of such documents, the man who was the object of so much reverence, respect, and affection was certainly an exceptionally religious person, and his ideal of a life entirely consecrated to loving God and to pure contemplation awakened a profound echo in the soul of those who came into contact with him.


Life of Saint Bruno: Part I

The following excerpted from André Ravier's (1905-1999) biography of Saint Bruno : Saint Bruno The Carthusian, written in 1981 and translated by Bruno Becker, O.S.B., Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 1995. It is reproduced here with the kind permission of Ignatius...

Life of Saint Bruno: Part II

The following excerpted from André Ravier's (1905-1999) biography of Saint Bruno : Saint Bruno The Carthusian, written in 1981 and translated by Bruno Becker, O.S.B., Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 1995. It is reproduced here with the kind permission of Ignatius...

Life of Saint Bruno: Part IV

The following excerpted from André Ravier's (1905-1999) biography of Saint Bruno : Saint Bruno The Carthusian, written in 1981 and translated by Bruno Becker, O.S.B., Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 1995. It is reproduced here with the kind permission of Ignatius...