Life of Saint Bruno: Part V

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

Calabria and Chartreuse

Surely Bruno himself was living and helping others at Saint Mary of La Torre to live the particular kind of ideal contemplative life, both practical and theoretical, that he described in the two letters he wrote from Calabria. Lack of reliable documents leaves what happened during those years at Calabria uncertain, with the result that ingenious biographers have invented opportunities to make him known and active in the Church. But, except for the location and political conditions, Bruno’s ten years in Calabria seem to have been just like the six years in Chartreuse: the same exterior silence, the same relish for solitude, the same zeal for the contemplative life, the same spiritual inspiration for his community, the same simple goodness, the same charity.

During the difficult developments that befell the Calabria foundation after Bruno’s death, one thing was certain: there would always be a group of hermits faithful to the ideal of Bruno. The number in this group would diminish, but it would continue and preserve his spirit. Thus, around the year 1170 some solitaries who were living in Piedmont near Garessio asked the “master of the wilderness” (the Prior of Saint Mary of La Torre) to have some of his religious come to form them in the eremitical life. The Prior complied with their wish and sent them several of his sons. But when they finished their novitiate they asked to join Chartreuse, not Saint Mary of La Torre. In their choice it is hard not to see the influence of the Calabrian hermits’ faithfulness to Bruno’s pure ideal. Also, when William of Messina, the last superior of Saint Mary of La Torre and of Saint Stephen, requested and obtained affiliation of his monastery with the Cistercian Order, the hermits who were still at Saint Mary objected and finally departed for Aspromonte, some thirty miles below Reggio — the supreme testimony of fidelity to Bruno made by some of his sons 100 years after the foundation.

Today it is even clearer how important it was that history definitely record that no cenobium, no cenobitic life at all had existed either at Saint Mary of La Torre or near it during Bruno’s lifetime. What would be the meaning of the letter to Raoul le Verd and the letter to the community at Chartreuse if they had been written by a Bruno who was himself unfaithful to his original plan? The location and the political conditions in Calabria that have been mentioned were different from those at Chartreuse. These differences had great influence over the destiny of the hermitage in Calabria. They were already making notable changes in the life of the hermits during Bruno’s lifetime. There should be at least a brief reference to that situation.

At the beginning of the Chartreuse foundation, Bruno had obtained clear title to the property, though all kinds of interference and rudeness on the part of the donors began then. There, on those poor lands, isolated, so unproductive that no nobleman and no abbey wanted them, he had complete freedom to do whatever he wanted. If Hugh of Grenoble stood by the hermits, if he came to intervene in their affairs, it was to help them keep their spirit. He thoroughly understood Bruno’s ideal and made it his own. Independence was considered so essential that in 1090, as soon as the community had come together again, Bruno and Landuino didn’t stop until they had regained complete control over the property where the hermitage was established.

In Calabria things were very different. In addition to the fact that the location of the hermitage, like the landscape itself, was less inaccessible, less secluded, and less wild than Chartreuse, Bruno and his sons were willingly or unwillingly committed to them by Count Roger and by him alone. Their installation at the beginning and the fine grants that the prince made for them later were, whether Bruno wished it or not, part of a policy to replace Greek monasticism with Latin monasticism in that area. In the complicated diplomacy of Urban II, Bruno was an intermediary, a mediator, if not actually a hostage held by the Pope and the Count. He would not be able to resist the Count without displeasing the Pope. But there was no suggestion of that. The high regard that the Count had for Bruno was known and respected by everyone. The two men were bound by particularly cordial ties. In his dealings with the Count Bruno unquestionably enjoyed a place of privilege. Biographers have used the word friendship, and produced an entire literature dedicated to this attachment between the prince and the saint. People like to quote a verse written by Maraldus, a religious of La Torre, for the occasion when Bruno baptized Roger II, the Count’s son, who later wore the crown of the Two Sicilies. In fact, it is not certain that the relationship of Bruno and the prince ever went beyond an courtoise entente (a very friendly understanding).

Whatever it was, that perfect accord between Bruno and Count Roger gave rise to two series of events that appeared unrelated to Bruno’s ideal for hermits but that, in the long run, were a threat to his work. The Count continued his donations to the hermitage, and the Magister eremi (master of the desert) little by little became one of the principal figures in the Count’s “realm”.

Following are the principal stages in the settlement of the hermitage property during Bruno’s lifetime. That many of the official acts were made in the two names of Bruno and Lanuino leads to some clear conclusions.

The first document donating the wilderness of La Torre has not been found, but there is no doubt that it existed. Indicating the importance of the donation are the documents of confirmation issued by the Bishop of Squillace on December 7, 1091; of Pope Urban II on October 14, 1092; and of Count Roger on May 10, 1093. All the land surrounding La Torre “for two miles around the church” was given to the hermits. The land, right from the beginning, was therefore extensive.

On August 15 (1094?) Argiro, archbishop of Palermo, solemnly consecrated the church of the hermitage under the title of the Virgin Mary and Saint John the Baptist. The Count and his court honored the ceremony by their presence. In the entourage of Argiro were four bishops: Tris-tan, bishop of Tropea; Augero, bishop of Catania; Theodore, bishop of Squillace; and Godfrey, bishop of Milazzo. To celebrate the event, Count Roger made a new and important donation to the hermitage: namely, the ancient monastery of Arsafia with all its dependencies, property that extended as far as the village of Squillace.

On September 4 (1094?) Count Roger gave Bruno and Lanuino thirteen families of farmworkers as vassals. The Count as well as the Duke made other gifts of “vassal families”, fifty at one time and sixteen at another.

In 1096 the Count gave Lanuino a mill. In the same year he gave Bruno and Lanuino the orchard of Saint Nicholas and a large property whose owner “died without heir”.

On June 16, 1101, shortly before his death, the Count gave Bruno and Lanuino the village of Aruncio, which was on the lands of Squillace, as well as a hundred “serfs” who belonged either to that village or to two others named Montauro and Oliviana, which he had already given to the hermits. To them he added the mill “Alexi”, which was near Squillace.

All this abundance was very different from the poverty at Chartreuse. In 1101, the property at Chartreuse had increased hardly at all. The land remained poor and hard to cultivate, and so, to survive there, the hermits had to be few — they were still no more than twelve. But in Calabria they were thirty already, and their lands were extensive and prosperous. How would the Magister eremi fail to become a man of influence in the kingdom? If the archives have not preserved any pontifical document entrusting some apostolic mission to Bruno, it was otherwise for Lanuino. In 1104 Pope Paschal II instructed him to see to the choice of a bishop for Miletus and to the correction of two prevaricating abbots. Several times between 1104 and 1118 Paschal entrusted Lanuino with the reformation of certain monasteries — particularly delicate assignments that reveal Lanuino’s authority as well as his talents for managing matters. In February of 1113, he was given the noteworthy privilege of receiving candidates into the novitiate and to profession without requesting permission from their bishop. While the influence of Bruno’s successors was increasing gradually, there was a certain disquiet growing up among the hermits. As they departed from Bruno’s simplicity and silence, they also lost his peace — that peace that is essential for pure contemplation.

There is another fact to remember from these original charters: namely, that in most of them the name of Lanuino is added to the name of Bruno. A Carthusian enumerated them. “Of fifteen charters from the counts, two bulls and one letter from Urban II, and a privilege of Paschal II, fourteen are addressed jointly to Bruno and Lanuino, as if the two of them were equal superiors of the foundation in Calabria. Three documents are addressed only to Bruno; two, only to Lanuino. Of these nineteen, four attributed an active role in administration to Lanuino.” That means Lanuino was not merely one who substituted for Prior Bruno; rather, in negotiations and in relations with those outside the monastery, Lanuino was Bruno’s alter ego. Of course, Bruno’s entire life manifested his dislike of administration. In Chartreuse, the charity and the discretion of Bishop Hugh of Grenoble made up for that deficiency. Again, Bruno’s haste in giving the property of Chartreuse to the abbey of Chaise-Dieu entirely and immediately when Urban II’s appeal stirred up a crisis among his companions at the hermitage also showed him incapable of the prudence and subtleties needed in affairs of the world. For the many complicated donations at Calabria, he had to have someone skilled in such matters, a companion upon whom he could rely to assume all the worries of administration: and right there was Lanuino, that Norman who would one day succeed him as “master of the wilderness” and who seems to have had a character active, dynamic, and realistic, as well as genuine gifts for contemplation — the Church later beatified him.

That division of responsibilities, though surely required by circumstances, brought some serious inconveniences. Presumed to be a faithful and exemplary disciple, a man like Lanuino, who was given the administration of considerable property, could not have the same view of things as Bruno, who was contemplative, poor, and detached. Furthermore Bruno, with his facility in spiritual matters, would have had to perceive that such wealth and such cares were not in harmony with his ideal for the hermitage. As long as he was present with his goodness, his balance, and his clear vision of contemplative life, these discrepancies were only shadows, quickly eliminated in the radiance of his personality. But what of the day when he would no longer be there?

The documents reveal some of the differences between Bruno’s approach and Lanuino’s in regard to accepting or requesting a gift.

There is not a single document indicating that Bruno requested a gift. On the contrary, the famous document of the siege of Capua, which, though it is not genuine (it was written between 1122 and 1146) conveys some of the popular admiration for Bruno, showing that he refused the extravagant donations Count Roger wanted to make. The document reads as follows: “I, Roger, asked him to accept substantial revenues from my land at Squillace, but he declined. He said he had left his father’s house and mine, where he had held the first place, to be able to serve God with a soul completely unencumbered by the goods of earth, which were foreign to him. Only with difficulty could I get him to accept a small gift from me. Nevertheless, I presented to him for himself and his successors in perpetuity the revenues from the monastery of Saint James at Montauro without any rent, as well as many other gifts and privileges. Letters have already been sent to execute all this.” Since the charter is not genuine, this detail is no more impressive than the rest of the story; still, forgers generally perpetrate their frauds in circumstances that give them a semblance of truth. Would Bruno’s refusal of the donations have been mentioned had his detachment not been part of his personality? In any case, it agrees too well with what is known of his concern for poverty, total detachment, and his care to spare his sons the “evil” of riches for it to be rejected entirely. And would he have written to Raoul le Verd about this matter, if he had been pleased to accept so much land and revenue in Calabria? That would have been hypocritical.

The other panel of the diptych shows Lanuino’s reaction to the donations. Not only did he accept what was offered, but he asked for donations. No doubt their needs justified that, and sometimes even compelled them to beg. Still, he seems to have had a natural ability, which did not escape Count Roger’s notice. There is a genuine document from 1096, in which the Norman finesse of “Brother Lanuino of the Wilderness” meets the no less Norman ingenuity of Count Roger. It was in the matter of a mill and a waterfall. No résumé could have the flavor of this direct quotation from Count Roger:

One day I, Roger, by the grace of God Count of Calabria and Sicily, was out riding with some companions. It was after nine o’clock, and we were coming from Saint-Ange, when we met Brother Lanuino of the wilderness, who was going up to the main square beside the road to Gramatico. Lanuino rode with us past Saint-Ange and then asked me to stop for a while, saying he wanted to speak with me about something that would interest me. We stopped at the chapel called Saint-Larron, on the little hill which is beyond Saint-Ange. Using the very words of Master Bruno — for he was a man I could let convince me easily — he asked me to give them one of the mills of Squillace for the shepherds of the monastery at Montauro (?). Out of regard for Master Bruno I answered him pleasantly: “Brother Lanuino, by God’s grace you are a capable craftsman and a remarkable builder of monasteries. Get busy and build your mill over by Severatum on the estate of Arsafia, which has been given to you. There you will find a very fine waterfall.” Lanuino then remembered an old mill that used to be there. Giving thanks to God, he asked me to give him the old mill and to have a document drawn up and sealed with my seal. I did this, asking all my companions to be witnesses. Later, my wife, the Countess Adelaide, concurred with this during a great celebration at the palace of Melitus, during which Brother Lanuino and my son Malgerius accepted this charter. The guests, cupbearers, and equestrians all shouted: Amen, let it be done.

This document would deserve to be studied in detail. It reflects characteristics of the time; better than any explanation could, it describes the relationship of Count Roger to Bruno and Lanuino. Over this legal document hovers an amused, ironic smile. Count Roger was not deceived by the monk Lanuino’s tactic, but out of regard for Bruno he agreed. At any rate, Lanuino was completely revealed, both by the Count’s words bonus laborator (a capable builder of monasteries) and by his own reaction. He is not like Bruno. This document, which is definitely genuine, allows a more accurate interpretation of what truth there is in the inauthentic one mentioned above. In the charter about the siege of Capua, Bruno appeared to be detached, poor, and reluctant to receive extravagant donations, while Lanuino gladly accepted what the Count offered, twice even insisting that the gifts be increased. As business sense and negotiating skill characterize the “Lanuino of legend”, so concern about poverty distinguishes the “Bruno of legend”.

In passing, and with all the reservations that this charter’s lack of authenticity imposes, it is very surprising that the differing attitudes of Bruno and Lanuino are given by reference to a donation in the territory of Squillace. This territory, which Bruno had refused to accept on August 2, 1099, had been given to the hermits already, some of it on August 15 (1094?) and some on June 16, 1101. It was precisely at Montauro, in the region of Squillace, that on January 27, 1114, with the authorization of the Pope, that Lanuino erected a cenobium (a monastery of cenobites) with the rule of Benedict. That was the beginning of the evolution that took the hermitage at Saint Mary of La Torre away from Bruno’s ideal and made it a Cistercian monastery.

This divergence between the vision and attitude of Bruno and that of Lanuino could not escape the notice of the community in Calabria. Disagreement among the religious was inevitable, and it broke out over the election of his successor soon after Bruno died. Many were reluctant to have Lanuino named as prior at Calabria. The matter was serious enough and lasted long enough to need the intervention of the Pope. Paschal II appointed the Cardinal of Albano as his legate to study the situation and reestablish peace. In the end, Lanuino was elected “master of the wilderness”, and all of the religious promised obedience to him. Nevertheless, through letters that he wrote to the hermits to recognize the return of peace, the Pope judged it proper to entreat Lanuino to imitate Bruno’s virtues, particularly his faithfulness to the hermitage. But that is another story.


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 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...