How clean are monks? Clean enough to get buried in a dirt grave without a coffin!
art and unto dust thou shalt return!"
Filth is not a Carthusian virtue, and the priests, in particular,
have an obligation to keep themselves clean enough to be able to reverently celebrate the Mass and handle the Holy Eucharist,
so each monk has to find his way of keeping himself clean and neat. Due to the poverty and simplicity of Carthusian life,
and to some extent the solitude and limited number of Brothers, this requires some serious personal effort.
The Brothers do laundry every three weeks. They will launder only one bed sheet, so the system is the bottom sheet
become the top sheet, and the freshly laundered sheet become the bottom sheet, in a perpetual cycle, unless, of course there’s
an illness requiring some other arrangement.
If a monk needs to clean something outside of the
normal laundry times, then he can do it himself in his cell. Small things like socks and underwear are pretty easy to do in
the cell’s sink. The habits are another story, since they are woolen, and are heavy and bulky. The monks share common
large wash tubs that can be requested from the Brothers or the superiors to wash a cowl or tunic.
The observation about a "dirty little Brother" is due to the fact that in Post Vatican II times, Fathers and Brothers
have a "Work habit", consisting of a denim tunic with a hood. If you are doing something that is messy or dirty for your work,
that’s what you want to be wearing. For the cell office, I could put the short cowl on over it. This was a system that
allowed monks to keep their "real" or full habits clean. (or cleaner). It is amazing how immaculate the actual habits
of both Fathers and Brothers appeared in the movie "Into the Great Silence". That cream colored raw wool the habits are made
from picks up a lot of dirt, soot and dust in the course of three weeks.
Carthusian Cells are cold
water flats. However, one can always heat water on the wood stove. During the winter, many Carthusians keep their wash pail
on the wood stove to get moisture into the air. Wood heat is an incredibly dry heat, sometimes too dry. In the summer, the
sun will heat the pail and make the water warm enough to use. So, one learns to become a master of the perpetual sponge bath.
At Transfiguration, the Water Closet of the cell had a commode and a cold water sink. The floor
was tiled with a drain in the middle of it, so that if the monk wanted to pour water over himself he could.
At the Charterhouse of Transfiguration, there was not antiperspirant deodorant available. Of course, soap,
toilette paper, toothpaste, dental floss, shaving cream are in supply. All a monk has to do is write a note to the pantry
brother and place it in the food delivery insulated box and the brother will make sure that what is needed is delivered to
Traditionally, Carthusian Fathers are clean-shaven as a sign of humility. Evidently in
St. Bruno’s time, slaves were kept clean-shaven as a sign of bondage. Only nobles and freedmen could have beards. The
Carthusian Brothers, traditionally, are bearded, although this has become optional in the post Vatican II Renewal Unification.
Before Vatican II, every two weeks the Fathers would be shaved with a straight razor by the Brother Barber facially
as well as the tonsure. Now the Fathers and Brothers have modern razors or electric razors. Most shave every day or two, however
they are instructed by their novice masters, who by the way, initiate and monitor the novices in the ways of Carthusian hygiene
and the expectations of the Order and Community for cleanliness and proper appearance.
The monastic clerical tonsure is no longer used. Everyone who wears a habit, Fathers and Brothers, have their heads completely
shaved by an electric hair cutter set on its lowest setting. The layman in street clothes whom everyone saw in the film "Into
the Great Silence", is a special lay adjunct to the community at La Grande Chartreuse
. He is what is known among both the Trappist and the Carthusians as a "Family" Brother.
to be that pious laymen of good character who could be reliably vouched for by external ecclesiastical authorities, would
be allowed to live at the monastery on it’s property in a more normal conventional living situation. They had no vows,
and bound themselves over without pay; to live and work for the monastery in return for room, board, healthcare, personal
needs within reason, and spiritual care. George, the Family Brother at La Grande Chartreuse
, has been there for 45 years and is very happy. He has a type of lay non-monastic solitary life that allows him the freedom
he needs to be stable in the service of La Grande Chartreuse. It’s his Carthusian vocation.
Family Brothers with the Monks and Family Sisters with the Nuns, serve in positions that bring them into contact with the
outside world, driving the sick monks to the doctor, doing the shopping in town, etc., in short, the become the buffers and
facilitators of all the things that might compromise the silence and solitude of the monks and nuns. Not all Charterhouses
have them, but the ones that do, lovingly include them in as much of the community life as possible. They are very special
and important members of those communities.
Now these Charterhouses are built very solidly as a
matter of pragmatism. But they are extremely plain and simple, with very little thought to creature comfort. Transfiguration,
for instance, has a small central shower room with individual shower stalls, and one bath tub. That is where the monks can
get a once weekly hot shower after the Spatiamentum (recreational 4-hour hike), usually on Mondays.
"Also, it seems that they live very frugally. It is not uncommon to see a monk praying: his robe having been patched
several times, in the wall is a box labeled "cabbage" that holds kindling. And of course they reuse grave sites.
Yes, the Carthusians in all things live a very plain, simple, poor, frugal, not very comfortable,
non-luxurious life. To be a Carthusian, one can take oneself too seriously. You have to become willing to be a nobody, a nothing,
having absolutely nothing at all but God alone!
After the founding of La Grande Cgartreuse, they
were know among other monastic groups and orders as "The Poor Ones of Christ". They meant that to be that way by deliberate
design, for profound spiritual, contemplative reasons, and for political and economic ones. Since there was really nothing
to them, their monasteries and properties, they never fell into the "In Commendum" system of the middle ages. That was the
system whereby some secular noble would be made the titular Abbot of a "prize" monastery to be able to milk off it’s
net worth, to the spiritual detriment of the community.
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