By M. Carrie Allan
November 19, 2019 at 9:00 a.m. EST
Carthusian monks developed the recipe for Chartreuse over centuries, refining the instructions for an “elixir of long life.” It wasn’t until the mid-1800s that liqueur versions were released. The herbs shown here are speculative; only a few members of the order know all the botanicals used to make Chartreuse. Image credit: Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post
In the 11th century, Bruno of Cologne, a renowned cleric and intellectual from a noble German family, rejected the chance to become a bishop. Forswearing the career bump of higher placement in the Church, he instead went into the snowy wilderness of the Chartreuse Mountains in France and built a remote retreat, founding a cloistered order that over nine centuries has remained perhaps the strictest and most austere in Catholicism. Even today, postulants who enter the order, which has chapters around the world, mostly spend their days alone, in spartan cells in prayer and contemplation, mixed with some manual labor. The monks go to sleep early and wake in the middle of the night to pray for several hours together. They rarely speak and eat a simple, humble diet.
Elements of life inside the Grand Chartreuse monastery were captured in Philip Gröning’s 2005 documentary “Into Great Silence.” Stretches could be mistaken for stills, what’s happening on-screen is so slow and quiet. A robed monk in his cell prays for long minutes, motionless on the hard wood kneeler. Snow falls. Light shifts in a corridor. Not until 20 minutes in do you even hear human voices, of the monks chanting nighttime prayers. At one point the director captures, far above, a plane flying overhead. Buglike and too far away to hear the engine, the enormous machine and its world of commerce and motion are dwarfed by the light and silence of the monastery.