The Carthusian Order

The Carthusian Nuns

To the praise of the glory of God, Christ, the Father’s Word, has through the Holy Spirit, from the beginning chosen certain men and women, whom he willed to lead into solitude and unite to himself in intimate love. In obedience to such a call, Master Bruno and six companions entered the desert of Chartreuse in the year of our Lord 1084 and settled there; under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, they and their successors, learning from experience, gradually evolved a special form of hermit life, which was handed on to succeeding generations, not by the written word, but by example.

The existence of the Carthusian nuns goes back to the beginning of the Carthusian Order. Around 1145 the nuns of Prébayon in Provence, in the south of France, spontaneously embraced the Carthusian life. They were received into the Order by St. Anthelm, the Prior of the Chartreuse. Such were the beginnings of the feminine branch of our Order. From that time on, the Carthusian nuns and monks have formed a single Order under the direction of the Minister General, the Prior of the Grande Chartreuse.

Although they were determined to adopt the way of life of the Carthusians, for several centuries the communal part of the nun’s life was greater than for the monks. It was thought at that time that the feminine temperament was not apt to endure all the rigours of the monks’ solitude. Since 1970, given the earnest requests of the nuns to be allowed to adopt the Carthusian life in all its aspects, there has been a movement towards a more solitary life, so that the nuns’ life is identical to that of the monks now.

Our life as Carthusian nuns is a contemplative one marked by solitude, just like the monks. Our sole desire is to answer God’s call by returning love for Love. Our monasteries, far from towns, are “deserts”, to enable us in our encounter with God. In truth, our supreme quest and goal is to find God in solitude and silence. There, indeed, as a man with his friend, do the Lord and his servant often speak together.

So, we share the same vocation and the same spirit as the Carthusian monks. There are however certain specific aspects which not only differentiate us from the monks but set their own seal on our lives. Since our Statutes are not available on this website, we have listed some specific points below.

Like the monks, there are cloister nuns, dedicated especially to the solitude of the cell, converse nuns and donate nuns. The formation to the Carthusian life follows stages similar to those of the monks and lasts about eight years.

After her solemn profession or perpetual donation, the nun can, if she wishes, receive the Consecration of Virgins. This is a special rite where the Bishop gives the nun not only the veil and ring, external signs of an indissoluble union with the divine Spouse, but also the stole. This confers on the recipient certain liturgical privileges the most significant of them being the proclaiming of the Gospel on certain occasions.

The nun’s habit is similar to the monk’s: white robe, cowl with lateral bands for those who have taken vows. However, instead of the monk’s hood the nuns wear a wimple with their veil.

In each of the houses of nuns, one or two Carthusian Fathers exercise the priestly functions according to the Carthusian rite: Eucharistic celebration and confession. With these Fathers there are usually one or two brothers who take care of the work that the nuns cannot do. Fathers and brothers live in a separate building.

Our liturgy is identical to that of the monks. Nevertheless, Matins, at midnight, is recited rather than sung, which shortens our vigil by about half an hour.

Once a week we practise abstinence, but not with bread and water only; on that day we receive no fish, eggs, cheese, butter or milk. Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are also days of abstinence; on these days those nuns who are able to, content themselves with bread and water. On certain days and at certain times of the year we have only one meal at midday and a small collation in the evening. At all times, bread and a beverage are granted for breakfast.

Postulants are accepted from 20 to 35 years of age, but it is possible to consider exceptions to this if there is good reason to think that the candidate has a real call.

The Carthusian nuns’ history shows them undergoing the same trials as the monks. In 1794, due to the French Revolution, all the women’s Charterhouses were closed, but in 1816 the few nuns who had survived, revived the feminine branch of the order which now has five houses in Europe( two in France, in the Massif Central and in Provence, two in Italy, one in Spain), plus a foundation in Korea. (See the list of Charterhouses around the world).

Following in the footsteps of the first Carthusians, “ under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and learning from experience ”, the Carthusian nuns remain faithful to the charism of their father Saint Bruno.

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