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The Story Of A Book: The Great Silence of St. Bruno

It has been a while , since I wrote a post about the story of our book: St. Rosaline, the Carthusian, the Saint with the Shining Eyes. Here is a book providing some background information. Saint Bruno, the Carthusian by Andre Ravier, S.J. is a very readable biography of the founder of the Carthusian Order to which St. Rosaline belonged.The book is suitable reading for young adults.

Saint Bruno lived from 1050 to 1101, an extremely troubled time in the history of the Church (yes, it has happened before). He was a famous teacher at the prestigious cathedral school of Rheims in France. His former pupil, Pope Urban II called all of Christendom to the first crusade.

Bruno and six of his companions sought another way of battling the Enemy. They built their first monastery, the Grande Chartreuse, in a high and desolate place in the French Alps. It was to be the prototype for all Carthusian foundations suited to their particular way of life. There was a church in which the monks celebrated mass together. The monastery building consisted of a few common spaces like a refectory and kitchen. The most remarkable part , however, was a series of separate, isolated dwellings where each monk lived in silence and solitude praying, studying and working in his own workshop. The Carthusians are hermits who live next to each other but separated from their brothers. In silence, separate from the world and each other, they seek to free themselves from the passions by prayer, fasting and penance to unite their spirit with the love of Our Lord. If the monastic is the ideal Christian, the Carthusian is the ideal monk.

Few are called to the austere and sublime life of the Carthusians. There have never been many. It is hard to comprehend how anybody could withdraw so completely not only from worldly pursuits but also from human fellowship. A way to explain this to children may be to describe the Carthusians as warriors of the spirit.

These humble contemplative monks seem so vulnerable and insignificant hidden away in their cells. However, the Carthusians are some of Our Lord's most powerful and fearless warriors. It is interesting to note that power-hungry totalitarian rulers throughout history have known. King Henry VIII of England had the Carthusians dragged out of their Charterhouses, as their monasteries are called in England, to be tortured and killed unless they swore the oath to accept him as the unlawful head of the Catholic Church. In 1789, French revolutionary troops were sent to the Charterhouse of Cologne to destroy it and to kill the monks. Adolph Hitler, too, wanted them dead. However, he had no power over these warriors of the spirit. Here is my translation of a short poem written by the aged Carthusian Bernhard Lichtenberg as he was awaiting execution in the infamous prison of Berlin Tegel:

I have no other wish

Than Christ my Savior’s will,

And this is why this prisoner

Until the end holds still

And what my Savior’s will may be

Has been decided long ago

Read Revelation, Chapter II,

Verse 10, where He will tell you so.

This is pure defiance in the face of evil delivered with the typicaldry humor of Berlin. I hope it did not get lost in translation. Here is the original for those who read German. Go ahead and have the kids look up the verse in Revelation:


Ich will nichts anderes haben

Als was mein Heiland will,

Drum hält der Strafgefangene

Bis an das Ende still.

Und was der Heiland will,

Das steht schon lange fest:

Apokalypse Zwei

Vom 10. Vers den Rest.

From: Illustrierte Geschichte des Zweiten Weltkrieges , Kurt Zentner, Südwest Verlag, Munich, 1963, p. 525.

Another surprising phenomenon about the Carthusians is the unexpected popularity on the German alternative cinema scene of the documentary Die Große Stille, The Great Silence. In English, the film is titled Into Great Silence. It was directed by Philip Groning and published in 2007. It seems that many searching souls found meaning in this film which is masterfully depicting life at La Grande Chartreuse. It is now available on YouTube.

If you would like to introduce your young children to the spiritual life of the Carthusians, read them. St. Rosaline, the Carthusian: The Saint with the Shining Eyes.

Learn more about St. Rosaline and the Carthusians on our The Book page.

Another children' book about La Grande Chartreuse has been published recently: Brother Hugo and the Bear by Kate Beebe, illlustrated by K.D.. Schindler. This is a charming story about poor Brother Hugo, Benedictine monk of Cluny who borrowed a precious manuscript from the monastery library only to have it eaten by a glue loving bear. He then asks the Carthusians for the use of the copy in their library only to be pursued by the hungry bear again. This is a secular book of historical rather than spiritual interest. It is based on a snippet in a 12th century letter written by Peter the Venerable, Abbot of Cluny, to the Prior of La Grande Chartreuse requesting the loan of a book that had been partially eaten by a bear.

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