Originally this was supposed to be a reply to Barry who works in active ministry in a catholic diocese in the USA, who thanked me for my blog (I am actually benumbed anyone reads them even more so for having received a message which is extremely rare, but then, as a hermit not much mail filters past my administrator Bro. Paolo)… So Barry asks “Do you have any recommendations for developing a program of life? What is most essential, to make a beginning?”  This is my reply to him which nevertheless I perceived (and Barry agrees) should be shared with all enquirers.  I’ve also had to put in some background, for those who are interest but not yet ready to make a formal request to their Bishop, it is therefore a somewhat loaded response, written and compiled very quickly, but wanting to ensure that you had the full facts available, there is also the possibility that I may repeat myself in the rush (I’m not at my best when rushing – as I like to think things through but I’m also afflicted by RA and “winter is coming”, so it tends to slow me down somewhat).  In the Diocese we use the term ‘Evergreen Document’, being that it is continually edited and updated online.  I am honour-bound to recognise Barry as being instrumental for this article and thank him for asking the question.  I take this opportunity to offer my prayers and blessings to Barry as he begins his walk into the Desert.  Benedicite.


St. Mary’s Hermitage Nr. Canterbury Kent.

Originally this was supposed to be a reply to Barry who works in active ministry in a catholic diocese in the USA, who thanked me for my blog (I am actually benumbed anyone reads them even more so for having received a message which is extremely rare, but then, as a hermit not much mail filters past my administrator Bro. Paolo)… So Barry asks “Do you have any recommendations for developing a program of life? What is most essential, to make a beginning?”  This is my reply to him which nevertheless I perceived (and Barry agrees) should be shared with all enquirers.  I’ve also had to put in some background, for those who are interest but not yet ready to make a formal request to their Bishop, it is therefore a somewhat loaded response, written and compiled very quickly, but wanting to ensure that you had the full facts available, there is also the possibility that I may repeat myself in the rush (I’m not at my best when rushing – as I like to think things through but I’m also afflicted by RA and “winter is coming”, so it tends to slow me down somewhat).  In the Diocese we use the term ‘Evergreen Document’, being that it is continually edited and updated online.  I am honour-bound to recognise Barry as being instrumental for this article and thank him for asking the question.  I take this opportunity to offer my prayers and blessings to Barry as he begins his walk into the Desert.  Benedicite.

Fr. Ugo-Maria 
St. Mary’s Hermitage Nr. Canterbury 
On the Feast of  Saint Didacus de Alcalá o.f.m.


Theophan, recluse, hermit, bishop and saint.

Throughout Christian history many monks have had to abandon the tranquility of their monasteries and serve the Church as missionaries, bishops and popes. There were also itinerants in withdrawal, when so many ecclesiastics of action took refuge in a cloisters to seek God in prayer, penance and solitude. In many cases, these retreatant’s exercised important apostolate’s as directors of souls or writers of texts on spirituality. Still fresh is the memory of Canadian Cardinal Paul-Émile Léger pss, whom Pope Paul VI allowed to leave his episcopal See and enter into seclusion in a distant African mission as chaplain for a leper colony in Yaoundé, Cameroon.  The author of this paper recalls Monsignor Tomás Aspe o.f.m., (Oct. 9, 1885 – † Jan. 22, 1962) bishop of Cochabamba, Bolivia, who as a thanksgiving for being cured of leprosy, dedicated the rest of his life to his ex-companion’s  with this terrible infirmity. The topic of interest now is of Theophan the Recluse (†1894), Russian Orthodox dimissory bishop of Tambov and  a hermit for 24 years.

To read the paper with full references please go to my Academia.edu site…

Theophan il Recluso
St. Theophan the Recluse

Throughout Christian history many monks have had to abandon the tranquility of their monasteries and serve the Church as missionaries, bishops and popes. There were also itinerants in withdrawal, when so many ecclesiastics of action took refuge in a cloisters to seek God in prayer, penance and solitude. In many cases, these retreatant’s exercised important apostolate’s as directors of souls or writers of texts on spirituality. Still fresh is the memory of Canadian Cardinal Paul-Émile Léger pss, whom Pope Paul VI allowed to leave his episcopal See and enter into seclusion in a distant African mission as chaplain for a leper colony in Yaoundé, Cameroon.  The author of this paper recalls Monsignor Tomás Aspe o.f.m., (Oct. 9, 1885 – † Jan. 22, 1962) bishop of Cochabamba, Bolivia, who as a thanksgiving for being cured of leprosy, dedicated the rest of his life to his ex-companion’s  with this terrible infirmity. The topic of interest now is of Theophan the Recluse (†1894), Russian Orthodox dimissory bishop of Tambov and  a hermit for 24 years.

Theophan is better known in the West through the various translations of his works on spirituality. His writings on prayer are particularly appreciated, probably because they are the fruit of what he himself experienced. His life has never been dramatic, nor full of great pastoral enterprises: from his childhood to his death it was calm and pious, we see that this life developed in a quiet channel of withdrawal – first as a student, then as a priest, teacher, bishop and monk. In his search for Christian perfection in solitude, he has developed a broad and fruitful apostolate as a father and spiritual master.

Georgy Vasilievich Govorov (Георгий Васильевич Говоров), was born in Chernavsk, province and diocese of Oryol, in the former Russian Empire. He was one of the 7 sons of a Russian Orthodox priest and, therefore was reasonably predestined towards an ecclesiastical career, as was common in Russia at the time of Tsar Peter the Great. At the age of 8, he began his studies at the parochial institute. He attended secondary school at the diocesan seminary in Oryol. As a child he showed great intelligence, and a strong tendency towards piousness and seclusion.  Due to his excellent gradings in his studies, he was granted a scholarship to the Ecclesiastical Academy (Faculty of Theology) of Kiev, where, among other things, he studied oriental languages ​​ascribable to his particular interest in Sacred Scriptures. At the age of 26 he made his monastic profession taking the name of Theophan. On 29 June, 1841, he was ordained a Hieromonk. For all these competences he was assigned as a teacher in seminaries for the clergy, and, as a “learned monk,” he was considered a safe candidate for the episcopate. He always retained his reserved character and his love for solitude. He had the opportunity to travel through biblical locations, where he also met various communities of Orthodox Christians, either subjects of the Ottoman or Greek Empire. He was quite unimpressed to say in the least “by the disorder and carelessness of those Christians”. He also traveled through Italy, which also did not leave an indelible impression. One should note that his views on the Roman Catholic Church were no more than ordinary or even vulgar; in fact, he never formed an original distinctive opinion on the topic.

As a teacher, he served in the diocesan seminary of Novgorod and at the St. Petersburg Theological Academy (Санкт-Петербургская духовная академия). He taught various biblical disciplines, patristics and moral theology. He fulfilled his obligations with true dedication and with the highest professionalism. In all likelihood, his notable morality served as the basis for the formation of his religious and theological persona; but this discipline did not conform to the classic code of scholastic moralists, but understood it as loyal adherence to the Gospel. Medieval scholasticism passed from the West to Russian theological schools by the Metropolitan of Kiev and Halych and All Rus’ Exarch of Ukraine, Pyotr Simeonovich Mogila, in the XV century for the Russian theologians.  In the XIX century they began to develop their own theology based on the Holy Scriptures and the Holy Fathers. The divisions of dialectics and Western rationalistic exaggerations were antithetical and totally unbearable to the Russian religious spirit.

As expected, Theophan was consecrated bishop on the 11 June 1859 and appointed to the See of Tambov in the Tambov Oblast of Russia. Here he encountered a wide sphere of labours, but also an immense load to cope with. Russian dioceses were not only geographically extensive – requiring long and exhaustive journeys – but also extremely complex due to the many parishes and varied kinds of institutions. He also had to face arbitrary bureaucracy and frequent clashes with the civil authorities; In addition to the endless pontifical liturgical functions to which a bishop is obligated. For a genuine man of religion, with a reflective spirit who is eager for knowledge, this life must have been extremely mortifying and frustrating.

One fact greatly impacted Theophan and was a catalyst for his final resolve. In 1861 participating in the exhumation of the mortal remains of the holy bishop Tikhon of Zadonsk, former Bishop of Voronezh from 1763 to 1767 and Wonderworker of All Russia. He was a person of great religious, moral and intellectual qualities, an erudite and zealous pastor. But despite his youth – he was in his forties, – he resigned from the Episcopal See due to his nerves which unbalanced his whole body, and secluded himself in the monastery of Zadonsk, his former diocese, where he had spent sixteen years in prayer, study and the apostolate for the direction of souls; he died in fame of sanctity on Sunday, August 13, 1783 aged 59. His uncorrupted remains were exhumed in 1861, with enormous competition from the faithful and devout people. This holy bishop is the protagonist of the chapter “At Tikhon’s” in Dostoevsky’s Demons.  Theophan knew the life and works of the dimissory bishop very well, who had reached sanctity in his retirement in a distant, humble and   disregarded monastery of Zadonsk. Having contemplated a great deal on the matter, Theophan finally decided to imitate Saint Tikhon, although not as an intervention for health reasons in this case. He obtained the desired retreat, and on 28 June, 1866 relinquished his Episcopal See to settle in the hermitage Vyshenskaia Poustinia, in neighbouring Tambov province. Until 1872 the Holy Synod had forced him to serve as Prior of the monastery, but finally obtained permission to remain in his valued seclusion. The hermitage consisted of two rooms and a small garden. He left there only on Easter night, to celebrate the Resurrection of Christ. Rotating only with his assistant, a monk, he lived like this until 6 January, 1894, when his assistant found him lifeless in his bed.

What was the life of the reclusive bishop? It was not like that of the ancient hermits, though it resembled it to some extent. He was, in fact, an intellectual ecclesiastic in solitude. In his private chapel, the canonical Hours were celebrated, which in the Byzantine rite had the form of liturgical celebration, and frequently added the Divine Liturgy, that is the Mass. He had free time and ambience for his personal prayers and study. He read and studied a lot (the library of “Tikhon”, by Dostoyevsky corresponding with the library of Theophan); he wrote and translated several works: he left us the complete version in contemporary Russian of the famous Philocalia. His library consisted of 3400 volumes, with several works on theology, texts of the Fathers, many works of Eastern and Western spirituality (he was well versed in St. Ignatius of Loyola and St. Francis de Sales), works of ancient and modern philosophy, various magazines and newspapers. He was interested in various sciences, for example astronomy; painted icons and performed various manual jobs. As director of consciences he received a lot of correspondence that he always answered promptly. His time was encumber with many pursuits.

The works written by Theophan compose a single set of publications: eight volumes of Biblical exegesis (except the letter to the Hebrews); collections of Sermons and Conferences; the complete Philocalia in contemporary Russian; twenty volumes of correspondence; Put’ko Spaseniyu (The Path to Salvation): Nachertanie kristianskogo nravoucheniya (Programming of Christian moral doctrine). This last work exposes the systematic theological, moral and spiritual thought of Theophan. Several authors have characterised it as moralist, which can be admitted if by morality we meant an order of life. However, the work is more than this, since we can take it as a treatise on Christian anthropology and systematic spirituality.

In this work, as in general, Theophan does not formulate any natural theodicy as a starting point: segments like the Three Cappadocians on the dogma of one and triune God, who has created man in his image and likeness. Man has been created with sanctifying grace, which is part of his nature; and the corruption of sin consisting in the loss of grace: so sin is an action against nature. The created man, being an image of God, was divine, and would have naturally sought to unite with God at his end. This would have been realised with the faculties that characterise it, which are consciousness and freedom. But as our nature is now corrupted and redeemed by Christ, morality must contemplate the subject on the real state of his existence, that is, within the economy of Salvation.

With original sin man lost his communion with God, so that the human spirit became a prisoner of his own soul and body. It should be noted that the author understands the human entity as a Platonic trichotomy: the body with life, the soul with feelings and freedom, and the spirit with reasoning. However, this trichotomy is not very clear in Theophan’s works, perhaps because of his past studies in scholastic theology of Aristotelian-Thomism, used in the Russian ecclesiastical schools until the last century. He regards the human spirit as the noblest part of ones being: there the faculties of reasoning, the conscience, the desire and the fear of God, and, and finally, sanctifying grace.

To recompose the character destroyed by sin, a Redeemer God and man was necessary: with God only Redemption would have been something purely imposed, with man alone it would not have been possible to restore grace. Consequently, we achieve salvation by grace, but with our own collaboration. Complete life is only possessed by the integral nature, which includes grace. Therefore, a morally good pagan does not live life completely. On the other hand, the salvation of Christ signifies for man the fulfilment of sins and the possibility of performing true human works according to the will of God.

The Theo-anthropos Christ has freely given himself as the fulfilment for sin. We need his grace to rebuild our destroyed nature. Christ announced to us the will of God: He is the head of humanity. To communicate his grace, he established his Church during Pentecost. We receive grace for Baptism. The laws of the Church are given by God and the bishops administer them. Christ is the only head of the Church: the bishops are his ministers. Theophan interprets the famous and controversial text of Matthew 16 as follows: the “rock” is the unquestioned faith of Peter in Christ incarnate, but the final interpretation of the text refers to the opinions of the Church. The supreme authority of the visible Church is the Council of Bishops, who care for the faith and administer grace; denying both the ecclesial democracy of the Protestants, and the principles of sobornost, -catholicity or communion-  as formulated by the Russians. In the Church there must be unity of thought, of will, of sentiments and of action. Everything prescribed by the Church must be observed, without distinguishing the necessary from the accessory.

Following this dogmatic exposition of redemption and of the Church, we see that Theophan here represents the traditional viewpoint of Russian orthodoxy which maintains its conservatism without distinguishing the value of the various ecclesiastical traditions. It is also remarkable that in his political vision he has not overcome the conservative concepts, so dear to the Russian monarchy, of православие, самодержавие, национальность, (orthodoxy, autocracy, nationality), concepts analogous to the many catholic fundamentalist environments.

According to Theophan, Christian life possesses certain conditions, which enable the necessary good works. These are conscience and conscious action: it is necessary to have the consciousness of being a servant of Christ. The object, purpose and circumstances of good works must be legitimate. God has manifested his precepts in nature: they are the natural laws, or revealed them: they are the positive laws. These positive laws may be divine – revealed directly or indirectly – or human – whether ecclesiastical or civil. The Gospel is the supreme law and therefore must be preferred above all other laws. Virtue consists in a state of mind that works in a Christian way. Sin, in turn, consists of a voluntary transgression and free from a precept.

In the categorisation and classification of sins, Theophan has followed the Catechism of Peter Mogila, who in turn composed it according to the Roman model that he became acquainted with during his studies with the Jesuits. The Christian must live by observing the Gospel, moved by the grace he obtains for the sacraments.

Finally, Theophan propounds the natural desire of man to unite with God and this he does through prayer. Starting from the oriental concept of the heart as the most intimate background of the human being, and of the mind as the cognitive element, formulates its definition of prayer: it is elevation of the heart and mind to God.

Distinguishing four degrees or types of prayer: oral, with formulas composed ex-professed, accompanied by fasting and prostrations; the prayer of the mind, in which feelings accompany every word; the prayer of heart, in which the formulas disappear and the human faculties remain silent, fatigue is not felt and feelings of piety and gratitude toward God emerge; finally, pure prayer of the spirit or contemplative, in which all human sentiments are silent.

Theophan warns with great acuity against various pseudo-charisms, especially against visions and miracles. We could say that he is extremely severe in the caution against spirits.

The illustrious and great Russian spiritual master, appreciated and read by generations of Christians and scholars interested in a systematic and logical spirituality, canonised by his Church years ago along with another great master, the staretz (стáрец)  Ven. Ambrose of Optina (1812-†1891).


  • The Spiritual Life and How to Be Attuned To It
  • Theofan, The Recluse (Saint), 2017. A Manual of Spiritual Transformation. Excerpts from the “The Path to Salvation”. Available at: http://www.holytrinitymission.org/books/english/salvation_theofan.htm [Accessed October 29, 2018].
  • Turning the Heart to God (Partial translation of The Path to Salvation)
  • Kindling the Divine Spark: Teachings on How to Preserve Spiritual Zeal
  • Theophan the Recluse. Four Homilies on Prayer. Retrieved 1 February 2017.
  • Theophan the Recluse. Psalm 118: A Commentary by Saint Theophan the Recluse. ISBN 978-1-928920-87-8.}
  • Theophan the Recluse (1992). Amis, Robin; Williams, Esther, eds. The Heart of Salvation: The Life and Teachings of Russia’s Saint Theophan the Recluse. Praxis Institute. ISBN 978-1872292021.

The Royal Monastery of Santa María de El Paular

Back here in Madrid they tell me that when the French refugees came into Spain, those who distil the famous nectar which bears the name of the Order, they examined El Paular with a view to establishing their industry there, but pronounced the buildings irreclaimable, and went instead to Tarragona on the Mediterranean. The Alpinistas who loved the old place were in despair; and in still deeper despair when the State, having purchased it, lay supine before the task of restoration.  In bitterness, they proposed that a subscription should be raised for its mortuary stone. On this was to be written “These are the last remains of the ancient Cartuja de Santa Maria del Paular which the Spanish Government took out of private hands in order to have the glory of letting it collapse under State neglect.” 

Ultima Cena
The Last Supper

N.B:  The Monasterio de Santa María de El Paular is a former Carthusian monastery located just northwest of Madrid, in the town of Rascafría, located in the Valley of Lozoya below the Sierra de Guadarrama.

Edited from Chapter IV of:

Byne, Mildred Stapley. Forgotten Shrines of Spain, pp. 117-147. Lippincott, 1926.

Best visited from Madrid, by the Guadarrama service of auto-buses leaving No. 5 calle de García Paredes for Rascafría at eight o’clock every morning [N.B.: Now its ALSA Bus No. 194a Buitrago-Lozoya-Rascafría]. Sociedad Castellana de Automóviles is written large above the door.  The ride takes from five to six hours, and the traveller should provide himself with lunch to eat en route.  From Rascafría to the monastery there is a walk of about a mile, a pleasant mile, with a boy from the garage to carry the valise. Another route, but only for good walkers, would be the steam tram from Cuatro Caminos to Colmenar el Viejo, whence they continue up the beautiful granite-walled Lozoya Valley; and Still another, but it means stiff climbing, Starts out from either Segovia or La Granja (guide necessary) over the Reventón Pass and descends the southern slopes of the Guadarrama Straight into El Paular. This, as said, is for practised mountaineers. The snow-clad Peñalara rises some five thousand feet above both Segovia and Paular, and the Pass is only some twelve hundred feet lower than the peak.

Monasterio de Santa Maria de El Paular
Monasterio de Santa María de El Paular, 28741 Rascafría, Madrid, Spagna.

For motoring there are several good roads out from Madrid as indicated in the Michelin Guide. Returning, one should pass through Manzanares el Real to see the fine old ruin of the Mendoza Castle. All the Guadarrama excursions offer glorious Alpine scenery. 

Knowing my delight in old cloisters certain Madrid friends who spend week-ends tramping or skiing over the Guadarrama Mountains had long been proposing that I walk with them from Colmenar up the valley to the monastery of El Paular.  Lilac time, they said, would be the best for showing off this pride of the Sierra. But pedestrianism appealed more down valley than up, so I decided to go by motor and leave the tramp for the return trip. Nor did the others protest when their projected walking feat dwindled into an ingloriously short Stroll along the level highway that led from Rascafría to the gateway of the Royal Carthusian Monastery of Santa Maria del Paular.


But the trip had taken long enough at that, for we started late; and no halt for lunch, balancing this on our knees as we joStled over the road.  When at last we stopped before the massive arch that marks the official entrance to the monastery the clock was striking four. Delaying a moment to splash dusty faces at the fountain in the outer court we passed under the arch and handed ourselves over to Justa.

Justa, be it known, is the quaint little body who presides over the gate, locking it at nightfall with a very large ancient key and opening it again at dawn to let out the shepherds and flocks that dwell within the farther court. For performing this service she receives gratis the cells and the big dark kitchen that once belonged to the fraile portero. By renting out the former to summer visitors and by cooking in the latter some very savoury dishes for them, she makes enough to support herself and daughter as well as to help four sons weighted down by the too abundant fruits of early matrimony. When it came to settling our bill Justa proved that she merited her pretty name. 

As to events en route to the monastery, never have I taken a trip so devoid of them—of cosas de España. Partly, no doubt, because our own party made up a good proportion of the passengers, and partly because we were too near the capital completely to escape the urban type. Nevertheless, there was unceasing talk, what Alphonse Daudet would have called the “note du Midi;” but in the matter of garrulity Spaniards far outstrip the Provençals. Everyone laughed and was gay; the amusement being provided mostly by two miserably underpaid school-mistresses who were taking a half-dozen urchins to a working-men’s camp in the mountains. “There’s the Madrileña for you!” exclaimed an old man admiringly. “Donde no hay dinero hay alegria.”[Where there is no money there is joy.]

As to the pueblos through which we passed, only La Cabrera, at the foot of a long spiny crest, offered entertainment. 

This was in the form of a wedding.  Bride and groom, arm in arm, were going the rounds from house to house, followed by youths with beribboned guitars and by all the girls and children of the village.  The bride’s artificial wreath of orange blossoms seemed to our modish eyes somewhat incongruous with her black cotton shirtwaist and skirt; but certainly no satin-trained, kid-gloved bride could have looked more radiant.  The thin-nosed priest with whom we chatted for a spell was full of admiration for the groom.  “A true caballero!” he pronounced him.  “The best guitarist of them all, and the best dancer, he himself leading off and calling all the changes in the figures.  That was the way they did it in Aragon!” From which it was not difficult to deduce that the priest was Aragonese. 

All along we were catching glimpses of the pretty Lozoya whose delicious water is brought to Madrid for a distance of about forty-five miles. Its source, La Laguna, lies nearly at the snowy top of Peñalara, eight thousand feet above the sea. The Marques de Santillana, who is not really of that distinguished Mendoza family whose title is rehabilitated in his person, but who is nevertheless an aristocrat and very public-spirited, built a large reservoir out at the Mendoza castle of Manzanares, and wanted to connect it with the Lozoya canal; but as the Manzanares water was declared by chemists to be inferior to the Lozoya, the engineer of the latter protested before the government to such effect that the Marqués had to build his own conduit all the way to the city, thus reducing somewhat the profits of his enterprise; but he really has no reason to complain; the Madrileños, though they say his water is fit only for washing, patronise most generously two other beverages which he has on the market — wine from his vast vineyards and milk from his model dairy. Both are sold from one and the same shop on the stately Castellana, and the sign over the door reads “Santillana’s wine and Cow’s milk.” 

The Lozoya, besides its gift of delicious water to the capital and toothsome trout to the up-lying pueblos, has created a verdant valley that gladdens the eye accustomed to travel through arid Castile — a valley that could support a far more numerous population than that gathered in the few red-roofed villages through which we passed. As far back as 1302 the Segovians discovered its charms and came over the lofty natural wall that separates Old from New Castile and founded five pueblos; since then the number appears to have remained stationary.  Being thus destitute of important towns and their correspondingly important possessions, the valley offered but poor pickings to the French hosts whom Napoleon led in person over the Somosierra Pass.  As the Somosierra road joins the Madrid highway at lead ten miles above the monastery, and as Napoleon was too eager to reach his goal that same day to allow any side-stepping, the rich Cartuja of Paular was left for the moment in peace. 

Battle of Somosierra Pass
Battle of Somosierra Pass, by January Suchodolski, 1860

“A secret nook in a pleasant land” is what nature destined the head of this valley to be, and any such nook was sure to fall to the monks sooner or later.  In this case neither cow, as at Gaudalupe, nor bull, as at Sigena, magnetised by a hidden image, scented it out for them. Royal invitation brought the Carthusians direct, but it must be admitted that one of their number had to keep nagging the royal personage in question in order to bring him to the point of giving the invitation due legal form.  The story is a first edition, as it were, of the Escorial legend.  Enrique II, making war against the French, burned a monastery of that austere and silent order which had been founded by San Bruno in the late eleventh century.  The royal conscience appears to have been more tender over this piece of military destruction than the imperial German conscience of our own time, for it bothered the offender all his life. We who look back on that life might consider the misdeed venial by comparison with others of the same authorship, for those were the days when this same bloodthirsty Enrique II de Castilla (el Bastardo) and his brother Pedro I de Castilla (el Cruel) were filling the land with internecine feuds. Be that as it may, it is the only sin for which the king tried to make reparation; dying, he enjoined upon his son to invite French Carthusians to come and settle in his hunting park at El Paular.  As the deathbed promise was promptly forgotten by Juan I de Castilla, the monks, who somehow got wind of it, sent one of their number from Scala Dei in Gascony to the court of Castile to nag the royal defaulter until the installation of Les Chartreux in Spain should become an accomplished fact. And just in time, too, for death had already marked King John. His successor, Henry the Ailing (El Doliente) was inclined to treat the new-comers handsomely, presenting them with his own hunting lodge and far-reaching pasture lands; while John II, he who held brilliant court in the Alcazar of Segovia, made them masters of the whole of the River Lozoya with exclusive rights to its coveted trout, and certain other benefits besides.  It was in his reign that the building of the monastery church began, and he himself, it is said, chose the architect and ordered the Retablo Mayor.  The royal privilege, dated May 15, 1432 opens as follows: 

The King, Don Enrique my great-grandfather, to whom may God give Holy Paradise, because of the memory of a monastery of the said Order of the Chartreuse which he had to bum during his campaigns in France, commanded, for the acquittal of his conscience, that the King Don Juan, my grandfather, to whom may God give Holy Paradise, should build a monastery in his kingdoms of Castile, complete according to the Order of the Chartreuse. 

This same monarch, it will be recalled, left his hunting lodge of Miraflores near Burgos to the same Carthusian order, but this establishment was quite independent of the group at El Paular. 

From Enrique IV de Castilla (el Impotente), the Guadarrama community received hard cash — eight hundred golden florins for the promise of burial within its walls.  What his successors the Catholic Sovereigns did for it I have not discovered, but their Gran Capitán, Gonzalo Fernández de Córdoba, gave the monks lands in Granada which he had recently received from the Crown; and as their grandson Charles V retired frequently to El Paular, submitting to all the rigours of the rule, we may presume that he too gave substantial recognition of his esteem.  Certain it is that long before, in 1460, the Carthusians in the Sierra had amassed such vast wealth that they talked of establishing a daughter house, and this project materialised as soon as El Gran Capitán presented the Granada land. There, in the Moorish city that was fast vanishing under Christian hands, the daughter house of Paular was begun in 1516. 

Richer and richer waxed the Order; at a time when the un-cloistered of the kingdom were sunk in abject poverty the cloistered ones were literally lining their homes with gold, as we shall presently see. “But their power was not due to their wealth,” Quadrado artlessly reminds us, “but to their superior virtues and the force of their prayers. To one of the Carthusians of El Paular who prayed unremittingly that the sins of Peter the Cruel” (sins which history shows to have been deep and black as hell) “might be graciously overlooked, that monarch appeared in a vision to express his thanks and to assure the intercessor that his term in purgatory had been made extremely short” (just a mere matter of form, as it were) “and that he was at that very minute enjoying the full delights of Paradise.” On another occasion it was Charles V, Still in the flesh, who benefited. While crossing the Mediterranean to make war on the African Moors a fearful tempest beset him. “They must all perish,” his captain announced. “Perish we shall not,” replied the monarch unperturbed. “At this very minute they are praying for me in La Cartuja del Paular, and their prayers are always answered.” 

What meanwhile were the monks in the silver poplar grove — the pobolar or paular— doing architecturally? Unlike the French orders that had entered Spain long before, they did not bring their own architects.  They accepted a Moor of Segovia, who built them a church of that typical “Catholic Kings Gothic” with which the cities of Avila and Segovia familiarise the traveller — the local granite style with coarsely carved portals and many escutcheons.  To the north of the church they laid out their cloister, which, by the precedent of Saint Gall, should have been to the south; nor does anyone know why they chose the less sheltered side. Around cloister and cells are grouped the usual dependencies — chapter-room, library, refectory, kitchens, pantries, wine vaults, infirmary; back of the convent group, an immense huerta, cattle sheds and mills and other isolated structures.  Between church and road they laid out a commodious guests’ cloister or patio with a fountain in the centre and double-storied apartments overlooking it. This outer patio is approached by a shady road that turns in from the highway, on one side a monumental fountain, on the other a chapel where royal visitors used to stop and pray before entering the monastery proper; now the Gothic chapel is a sheep-pen, and one passes it by without that formality, going straight on through the great Baroque arch to consult Justa on the very practical matter of food and lodgings. 

I have said that we arrived at the end of the afternoon, but in Castile a May afternoon ends in a long greenish twilight. The very moment for the cloister! declared those who had been to Paular before; and to the cloister they led me after but scant inspection of anything else.  Across the guests’ enclosure, through a vaulted passage from which, I believe, opened what was the prior’s residence, and across another court into the narthex of the church; here I wanted to stop and examine a crude but touching Mater Dolorosa above the door, but they said that could wait till tomorrow, soon I followed them through another and longer vaulted passage; suddenly we stepped into the delicious fragrance and almost unearthly quiet of the cloister. 

Well, indeed did it merit their affectionate memory. As we first saw it in the pale green Castilian twilight, with no sound but the whirr of homing sparrows that nest in the gargoyles or of storks flapping up in the belfry, the large lilac-laden quadrangle made an irresistible appeal. To add to its sweet melancholy it is called El Cementerio.  In it each monk dug his own nameless grave, wherefore it is quite fitting that it should contain not one but a whole grove of tall cypresses.  Of what was laid away below ground there is now only one outward and visible sign — the grave of a bishop of Segovia who in 1629 came over the mountain to consecrate the long-building church.  At his feet stands a lofty cross, half Gothic, half Plateresque, under a bright red tiled roof that makes a vivid spot against the sombre cypresses. Still another roofed structure is the central lavatory — that six-sided type that one associates with the Cistercian Order.  All the flower beds are outlined with aged box, and behind the box rise the lilacs that add so much to the May enchantment.  When I say that the cloister covers a fifth of an acre it means many lilacs. Indeed, Paular and the Cartuja at Jerez are the largest cloisters I have ever seen, and large perforce Paular must be not to seem crowded with its central well-house, its canopied cross, its episcopal tomb, and its many cypresses and lilacs.  For its perfume, its colour, its agreeably filled-out composition, it is an exquisite spot.

Closer examination proved the appeal of the cloister to be apart from and greater than its architectural deserts. The Moor of Segovia who planned it must have been a Christian, and his ancestors must have been living some five hundred years under Christian rule; he and they had forgotten the ivory boxes and miniatures and woven silks of Arab Spain.  He designed no Oriental capitals with hidden messages; merely good leaf ornament, good rib vaulting, good traceried openings to the gallery bays — all good though perfunctory late Gothic, Europe as distinct from Asia. 

The ensemble of the Cartuja as it revealed itself next day excelled, like the cloister, in the picturesque rather than the architectonic quality. It was not semi-military like Guadalupe with mediaeval towers standing sentinel to a whole village; nor elegant of line like Poblet; but what it does possess and in this it is unique, is a most domestic air; many chimneys, broken roof lines, many windows, even curtains at some.  One does not have to be told that Paular receives summer visitors.  Indeed some of the tenants in the guest-patio where Justa presides remain summer and winter, (and none of them observe the Carthusian vow of silence). Paular underwent much doing over in the Baroque period but on the outside at least this did not disfigure.  In the outer patio it is pleasant and playful.  Even before the painter gave it the finishing touch it must have looked naïve.  The cloister walk is divided into bays by absurdly massive granite columns, and its beamed ceiling supports a very low second story with very tiny windows. Scale, it will be seen, was happily discarded and the painter emphasised the fact by simulating classic pilasters over the fat columns, painting the walls orange and the casement frame bright green within a blue cartouche. In combination with the red of the sloping roof his colour scheme would make any twentieth-century painter of primitives envious.  The pavement of the gallery is in the same spirit, though I am sure it was never meant to be amusing. It is in fad the characteristic pavement of all Cartujas — grey and brownish river pebbles laid in thick cement, and enlivened by a large cinquefoil pattern in sheeps’ knuckles, blanched very white.  Like the child who prints the title to his drawing, the hermano who laid it spelled out, in knuckle-bones, the word Portería in front of Justa’s door, Hospedería (but he dropped his H) in front of the Stairs leading to the upper chambers, Botico at the pharmacy entrance, and a word that might have been Priorato but is now obliterated at the entrance to the vaulted passage I have mentioned.  In this corner his task appears to have finished, for here, with the knuckles left over, he outlined the date ano de mil 696. 

From this friendly outer patio the silence of Carthusian days has forever departed.  It is in fad a mildly noisy place throughout the day.  Through it pass all the herds of the present owner of Paular on their way to pasture, with their collar-bells tinkling and the shepherd’s dog barking at their heels.  Old Justa has to rise at four to let the first of them out, and, as she loves a clean doorway, she always has to ply her broom after they have passed.  This operation, necessary several times a day, is performed with many a sigh and many a Jesus or Madre de Dios or Ave Purísima.  Then there are the children of the administrador who lives in the rooms under the belfry, and the numerous offspring of the pareja (the two Guardias Civiles) who live in the farther court where the stables are, but who prefer to come and play around Justa’s lodgings; and the occasional automobile parties that come from Madrid to lunch in the patio, and leave papers and fruit-skins strewn about, to her great distress.  Taking it all in all, Justa pays for her rent-free cells and kitchen.  Never lived a more conscientious keeper of the gates, and no cleaner cloister ever presented itself to us moderns who have the curious fancy for invading such antiquated spots. 


According to an old history of El Paular written in Latin, and which José Maria Quadrado consulted when preparing his chapter for Recuerdos y Bellezas de España, the first architect employed by the Carthusians to build their Gothic church was a Moor of Segovia named Abderrhaman; or more accurately speaking, a Mudéjar, seeing that he was a Moor living under Christian rule; and in spite of retaining his Arab name, it would be safe to presume that he had embraced Christianity, in which case (we are still trying to be accurate) he would have been not a Mudéjar but a Morisco. Be that as it may, Abderrhaman Stood high in Christian favour.  He had worked on the royal Alcazar of Segovia, and came thence royally recommended to the monks.  That Moorish workmen in plenty were on the spot is borne out by many little devices peculiar to them; in the cornice running around the cloister, for instance, the granite has been tediously carved into the pointed pattern which Moors obtained in their own buildings by laying bricks with a corner out instead of the end, and projecting course beyond course.  Travellers familiar with Toledo or Zaragoza, to mention only two of the Mudéjar cities of Spain, will recognise the device.  Also, in church, in sacristy, everywhere in fact, there is a profusion of painted and glazed tiles; and until the middle of the eighteenth century there was a typical Mudéjar wooden ceiling over the single nave of the church.  This had been painted, probably, by the same Moors who decorated the celebrated series that perished when the Alcazar was gutted by fire in 1862. 

San Bruno di Colonia

This lamentable fire was caused, they say, by one of the guardians throwing his unextinguished cigarette into a pile of papers; in the case of the Paular church, it was the Lisbon earthquake of 1755 which gave the Baroque-obsessed monks the longed-for pretext for ripping out their wooden artesonado, raising the height of the church walls, and ceiling them in with a thin brick and plaster vault — from the outside a wretched botch. No doubt other wooden ceilings originally covered the various dependencies but they met the same fate. If any other feature besides the wooden covering proclaimed that Moors worked on the church it is now lost to sight.  The honest granite walls were smeared inside with plaster and painted with counterfeit Corinthian pilasters; the thin plaster vault serves as a field for gorgeous sun-bursts, garlands, cupids, and what not.  The architectural impression is that of a profane setting — something to be hastily removed after the act is over and the curtain drops.  The air of sanctity is forever gone. 

In the matter of flaring gold altars, however, the church escaped lightly as compared with the sacristies and added chapels.  Only two were set up, these separating the coro of the lay brothers from that of the professed, or sacerdotes, and the two connected by an airy gilt arch on which rests, tip-toe, an equally airy Virgin brilliantly painted and gilt — Una Purísima, as they call these fairy-like creatures, carved or painted.  Is it not of a Carthusian painter of this very convent that they tell the irreverent joke about the naming of his picture? He turned out religious paintings in a flood; the abbot, dropping into his cell, saw a haloed head blocked out on the canvas and asked who was the subject. “Que sé yo?” shrugged the frocked artist (who, we suppose, had special permission to speak). “If it comes out with a beard, San Antón; if not, La Purísima Concepción.”  Looking over the great number of canvases falling to shreds on the humid church wall, and the dull ugliness of most of the saints depicted, one regrets that so many of them grew a beard in the course of the work. The Virgins are often insipid, but the male heads are more often repulsive. 

The stalls, both of the lay brothers’ coro and the priests’, long ago disappeared; they were taken to Madrid about 1887, shortly after the state purchased the monastery, and placed in San Francisco el Grande, and it goes without saying that the immense silver brasero which used to stand before the prior’s seat has followed them.  This, we are told, was a gift to the monastery from one William Godofin (Godolphin), English ambassador to the court of Castile, who lost his title to nobility in England for having turned Catholic, but who received a far grander title from the Spanish monarch, Philip IV; the crime of one land being the virtue of the other.  The two works of art the church still possesses it owes to the defiant qualities of stone and iron—the alabaster retablo mayor and the iron reja which separates the space reserved for the villagers from that of the lay brothers.  The reja, or grille, recalls that made by the same great iron-smith, Fray Francisco de Salamanca, for the church at Guadalupe. 

Of the retablo Baedecker tells us, quoting no doubt some authority who had consulted the convent archives, that “The earliest and largest work of sculpture imported from Italy into Castile (about 1490) is the marble retablo of the Cartuja of El Paular.  This work, executed in Genoa to the order of John II, includes fifty-six groups and thirty-three statuettes.”  Other writers repeat the story, adding that it cost the king eighty-thousand ducats to bring his kingly gift from Genoa to the foot of the Peñalara. 

The eye however does not instantly second the documents.  One is disturbed by suggestions not of some other atelier in Italy than Genoa, but of one in Spain itself. The Paular retable in fad bears very close kinship to the great gilded retable in the Cartuja de Miraflores, near Burgos.  This Carthusian monastery was also a pet of this same John II.  Now the Burgos piece was begun in 1486, presumably in Burgos, by the native son Gil de Siloe, who learnt his art in the vigorous Gothic school created right there in Burgos by the numerous Flemings and Germans who had flocked into Castile as a result of close political and trade relations between Spain and the Lowlands.  This school flourished all through the fifteenth century and even later; it kept a tinge of Gothic long after Genoa and all Italy had passed the climax of the Renaissance.  Now the so-called Ligurian product in Paular has even more than a tinge of the old Gothic style, and it is high time some competent critic thrashed out the matter.  We are bound to suppose that the archives were rightly kept; yet there is something mysterious about this port of Genoa.  At this very moment I am impatiently awaiting a suit ordered long ago, which the Madrid tailor assures me will be of the very best English cloth; but every time I clamour for a fitting he explains that the cloth has not yet left Genoa! 

Numerous chapels, a sacristy and ante-sacristy were added to Abderrhaman’s simple Gothic church; its single apse was swamped under Baroque hexagons and octagons. The sacristies are full of gilded baubles; brocade altar cloths and thick Spanish carpets lie rotting in the damp and dust, a sorry ending for what had aimed to be so fine.  The Baroque purse was bursting; the monks had to erect a tabernaculo behind the High Altar.  This the good Quadrado indignantly labels as a veritable scandal in art.  It consists of two polygonal chambers, barbaric, overloaded, coarse. It seems as if it was reserved for the Carthusians, who had taken the vow of silence, to scream loudest in their art.  How to describe the tortuous forms of heavily gilded carvings and the mosaics of coloured marbles which these two small chambers of the tabernacle contain!  Against each of the eight sides of the larger is set a bumpy gold altar, and in the small space left in the centre rises a lofty baldachin on twisted columns running up into the cupola.  Under the baldachin stands a Grecian tempietto, and this once held an enormous silver custodia which Pons says was as bad as the worst the place contained; further, to provide the precious metal for it a magnificent Gothic custodia was melted down.  What bits of wall were left visible in the octagon and cupola were painted by Palomino, another Baroque painter who like Carducho stood in high favour with monks and monarchs.  Less choked up is the adjacent polygon, but its ornament is even coarser — highly coloured colossal saints and angels of Barclay Street style, poised above shiny altars, all restless, all theatrical, all dripping gold, all giving a portentous idea of the kind and quantity of rubbish that these servants of the lowly Nazarene had accumulated on the eve of their disbandment.  Nor did the seventeenth-century coenobites who so lavishly patronised the gaudy Baroque school have the excuse of the newly rich with whom nowadays we associate unbridled ostentation.  The friars (we forbear referring to their vow of poverty) had been handling wealth, and great wealth, for centuries. 


After the tabernacle, the homely honest kitchens of the monastery are a grateful sight.  Presses, grinding-stones, chopping-blocks, oil-jars, are still in place; the long-handled scoops still protrudes from the baker’s oven.  Maybe even a petrified loaf like the Pompeian is waiting to be drawn out.  This big outer kitchen where all the more menial culinary work was done is separated from the refectory by another with a capacious fire-place to one side and a lofty ventilator in the centre, like that of the canons’ kitchen at Pamplona.  Ventilator and vault offer a neat piece of brickwork to a knowing eye, but the average organ is more interested in focusing the tiny patch of blue visible through the high-up aperture. Stripped bare of every accessory, the pantries opening from it fallen into heaps of debris, this spot brings a pang to a domestic soul.  How much less sacrilegious it would have been to dismantle the vulgar tabernaculo and leave the honest kitchens intact — rows of bright copper pots and pans against the whitewashed walls, glazed earthen jars of savoury herbs on the shelves, blue and white Segovian plates in the tile-lined cupboards, and a thousand and one obsolete culinary devices in their appointed places.  But obviously this could not be!  The looters, it is to be presumed, were the villagers, and these had too much sound sense to take a gilded simpering saint instead of a decent self-respecting saucepan.  To see the old kitchen restored would be a joy to us from whose cramped homes this unit has almost disappeared; but no archaeology saturated restorer would deign to dedicate his lofty talents to such a mean and commonplace rehabilitation. 

The caretaker, who lives in the guests’ patio under the belfry (and who spurned us until we claimed friendship with Don Enrique de Mesa, the poet of El Paular), gave us an insight into the restoring architect’s modus operandi.  It was not until rain was pouring into the gaping church roof, and vaults were falling everywhere that the State could be prevailed upon to reclaim El Paular.  But the architect sent to arrest the imminent disintegration decided that the prime necessity was to hie himself to pleasant Alicante on the Mediterranean and procure a certain stone peculiar to that region, have it carved there for a cornice for the church, and then laboriously hauled on ox-carts to Paular; by which time he had used up the slender appropriation accorded him.  There the work of reclaiming stopped short, and his carved blocks lay for years on the ground. 

Don Enrique de Mesa
Don Enrique de Mesa Rosale

Another government architect now has the matter in hand; some of the blocks are lifted into place; the church has a new shiny lead roof; the belfry steeple, which long ago was struck by lightning and had toppled over into the sacristy, has been dug out of the mess, and the sacristy roof has been ceiled in.  Less necessary we should say was the painting of the cloister vaulting — a bright yellow.  As for the rest, kitchens, refectory, library, and cells, the State does not own them.  From the private purchaser of 1840, after the Disestablishment Act, it acquired only the church and the four vaulted walks of the cloister; and as the descendants of that purchaser have no use for cells or kitchens, these must be left to fall although they are in fact an integral part of the monastic fabric.  “But what can we do?” the Spaniard asks desperately. “So many beautiful architectural monuments to care for would embarrass even a richer state than Spain.”  He is right, no doubt; yet Paular is a case of spoiling the ship for a halfpennyworth of tar.  A very little more money would have bought the cells and kitchens as well, and a little good will would have invited the Carthusians back.  Not to restore them their once vast tracts of land and their feudal lordship, but to concede to them the privilege of going on voiceless if they wished, and manufacturing meanwhile the excellent paper for which they were famous, or the delicious Chartreuse liqueur whose secret they alone possess.  This would have been one way of prolonging the life of a historic monument, and without expense to the state. 

One of our party, Don Manuel, had first come to Paular in 1883 while it was still private property with administrator and farm hands on the premises.  After the church and cloister were bought as a Monumento Nacional, years elapsed before the government appointed a guardian.  When tardily he assumed office all was disorder and litter.  The monks had walked out, leaving their altars spread, lamps trimmed, books on shelves, correspondence and expense-accounts in neatly tied little packets, and but little had been disturbed by the first purchaser.  But during the subsequent period of neglect the wind that came in through gaping roofs sent letters and leaves of old books scurrying through the corridors.  Don Manuel still treasures a yellowed cramped bit of writing he picked out of the lilac branches one spring day — a letter from a monk who had gone to the branch house in Granada to his old companion in Paular, giving him a remedy for colic.  The date is 1690.  “We who have not the good fortune to pass the long summer among the cool healthy pines of El Paular,”  writes the Carthusian from Andalusia, “frequently suffer from dolores cólicos.  We apply the following remedy which, with God’s help, never fails to bring relief — And here begin the boiling of herbs and grinding of coral and other beneficent substances which made up the antique pharmacopoeia. 

Today not a book nor paper can be found.  The farthest corner is denuded and bare. In the monks’ cells the flooring has been torn up and the staircase torn down. Staircase? Yes, for every Carthusian cell was a miniature duplex apartment.  So small indeed that its cubic content could hardly bring more than three thousand dollars a year in New York to-day!  The general living room was walled off so as to form a spacious inglenook around the large open fire, and here the white-robed fraile could read (or doze?) free from draughts, his book shelves handy at each side of the hooded chimney, and a bracket worked in the plaster to hold his candle.  In fact his abode was literally a combination of the cloister and the hearth.  From this same nook a window opened into the lilac cloister, and on its broad blue-tiled ledge the silent occupant could lean and gaze into his future grave.  Over the nook and looking down into the general room through three arched openings was the chamber, its staircase supported on a fine brick arch.  The fraile’s garden was high-walled, thus sparing him the unholy human temptation to bid his neighbour the time o’ day; and each garden had its own water supply brought in stout earthen tubes laid clumsily against the wall.  Those who have visited the so-called cell of Chopin and Georges Sand at Valldemosa will recall this characteristic Carthusian arrangement of maisonette with its own plot of ground.  Not precisely the rigours of the earlier coenobites; we suppose that such amenities as fireplaces and board flooring did not come till the period of relaxation, and we find that precisely because the cell represents relaxation, the weakness of our common flesh, it touches our human sympathies deeper.  Though we are “not by nature of monk’s kin,” our hearts go out to the white-garbed silent individual who was so ruthlessly evicted in 1835 from his comfortable little bachelor home. 

In the early seventeenth century Vicente Carducho, the fashionable classic painter, was employed by the monks of El Paular to paint fifty-six large frescos in the cloister. The subject was the life of Saint Bruno, founder of the Order.  Our friends tell us these were removed by the government to Madrid (and later to Coruña) but that until recently the rich gold frames that held them were still in place.  Though we have not seen the paintings in question, we mention them because of the paragraph Don Antonio Pons dedicates to the matter in his Viaje de España.  Pons had good taste and good sense.  In an age still addicted to a hollow imitation of classic he was old-fashioned enough to announce his preference for earlier and sincerer periods.  In Christian art at lead he wanted what was begotten of Christianity.  Unable to admire the cold academic perfections of Carducho, he flattered the abbot by finding a pretty raison d’être for them.  “A great sacrifice does a man make,” he wrote, “when he gives up his liberty and submits to another’s will; but even a greater sacrifice, one almost beyond human power, when he deprives himself of the society of his kin and determines to live apart and guard a silence little short of perpetual, for he opens his mouth only to sing the praise of the Lord. Such privation appears insupportable and incompatible with human nature.  The Padres Cartuxos of El Paular have found a mitigation of this hard life and one dill within the rigour of their rule, in the sight of pretended human beings; they get recreation for their souls in the lively action of painted scenes.”  Thus was the good Pons kindly to his hods who had strayed into the abhorred realms of modern fresco painting, and non-committal to the painter he could not honestly admire.  Carducho was by no means the word painter of his perfunctory age; and we hope his scenes of the life of Saint Bruno were not repulsive like his Carthusian martyrs which make the cloisters of the Granada monastery unpleasant to pass through; but good or bad, we are glad his decorations are gone from El Paular.  It needs no other colouring than the pale tints of the lilac blossoms, and the rich sad green of cypress and boxwood. 

As further compliment to our friend the previously mentioned poet of Paular, the custodian threw open the gates of the frailes’ huerta or orchard for us.  I fancy that those who do not know the poet might accomplish the same result by transfer of some “coin of the realm.”  Nor would they regret the price.  The huerta is vast — “twice five miles of fertile ground with walls and towers girded round,” but the sheer wall is softened in aspect by a heavy mantle of ivy and bittersweet and clematis.  Its cardinal avenues cross in a rond pont featured with inviting benches in the lee of magnificent elms and oaks; but this is not the best of the huerta; off to the right, beyond fruit orchards and plots bursting with succulent vegetables are the trout-breeding ponds, and across them is the best view to be had of the church, apse-end, but with the ugly bulge of the tabernacle lost; all magnificent against the undulating snow line of the Peñalara, and the picture, with stately storks sailing above to their home on the belfry, is perfectly reflected in the still water.  If the custodian be favourably impressed with his visitors he will let them linger here, which is far more satisfactory than strolling through at his heels; whatever espionage is necessary being done by the blue-smocked peasants who now cultivate the land for other consumers than the white-garbed disciples of Saint Bruno. 

Across the road is another finca—the abbot’s casa de recreo, more delightful in that it is more sylvan, with the little Lozoya scampering musically through it.  This too is private property.  The owner, a Madrid doctor, has not returned to it since the death of his wife and only son some years ago; but Señorita A, who knew them well and had spent many a trout-fishing season there in the master’s happier days, took us over and introduced us to Juana, his housekeeper.  Juana and her husband, kindly and courteous like all their class, invited us to enter at will, and showed us the old mill where the monks made their paper, with the big presses still in place. Paper for the firát edition of “Don Quixote,” they say, was made right there by the monks in the house beyond the stone bridge. 

With another of the party I outstayed the rest at El Paular.  One dawn, a week after they had left on their tramp to Cercedilla, Justa rose and unlocked the gate for us in the bright crisp moonlight of three A.M. and we walked out to Rascafría to catch the four-o’clock mail-cart.  Our adieus were the merest whisper, for the sanctity of the hour and the place forbade speech.  Once out on the road I cast many a glance back at the moon-bathed old pile rising above the long wall of the huerta.  Buried away there in the Guadarramas it had given me generously of that mystic calm which we rightly associate with such retreats.  A thousand pities it could not have been saved out of the wholesale monastic wreckage! 

Back here in Madrid they tell me that when the French refugees came into Spain, those who distil the famous nectar which bears the name of the Order, they examined El Paular with a view to establishing their industry there, but pronounced the buildings irreclaimable, and went instead to Tarragona on the Mediterranean. The Alpinistas who loved the old place were in despair; and in still deeper despair when the State, having purchased it, lay supine before the task of restoration.  In bitterness, they proposed that a subscription should be raised for its mortuary stone. On this was to be written “These are the last remains of the ancient Cartuja de Santa Maria del Paular which the Spanish Government took out of private hands in order to have the glory of letting it collapse under State neglect.” 

As we have seen, the State acted before the moment of utter ruin and has saved, if not a whole monastery, at least a mountain cloister rich in lilac perfume, and cypresses, and immortal green twilight, and peace.  

Restoration and conservation of the monastery

The monastery of Santa María de El Paular has been in the State’s possession since 1876.  In 2014, the convention for the concession of the USUFRUCT which was signed in 1954 for 30 years and renewed in 1984 in favour of the Benedictine Order concluded. The Ministry of Culture is working on a proposal for the definitive integral management that will be presented soon.

Since 1978, its conservation was assumed by the Ministry of Culture, through the IPCE. One of the objectives of the Master Plan developed in 1996 was the restoration and adaptation of the cloister, which was directed by the architect Eduardo Barceló.

Other activities in the monastery within the master plan consisted of the conservation of library, cells, mill and archaeological remains, and restoration of roofs, sacristy, choir stalls, main altarpiece and cover.

The Ministry of Culture is considering the possible involvement of the Community of Madrid for public and museum management of the monastery, since this community has also performed in the same different performances between 1998 and 2007, both in the architectural work and movable heritage, worth around 3 million euros, which have complemented those made by the Ministry.

The Eremitic Charism

Religious consecration is expressed and realised through the profession of the three evangelical counsels – chastity, poverty and obedience – and has the “duty of making somehow present the way of life which Jesus himself chose and indicated as an absolute eschatological value.” (John Paul II, Vita Consacrata, 29).  Consecrated persons remind all the baptised who, whilst not explicitly called to effectively and materially live the evangelical counsels, must nevertheless embrace them both emotionally and spiritually (cf. 1 Corinthians 7:29-31), knowing that it is the best form of life, as it is the one who has chosen Christ and that it will be the condition of all in eternal beatitude..

But the fame of him went abroad the more, and great multitudes came together to hear, and to be healed by him of their infirmities.  And he retired into the desert, and prayed. (Luke 5:15-16).

Very many great saints avoided the company of men wherever possible and chose to serve God in retirement.  (The Imitation of Christ Book I, Ch. 20).


In this teaching we will try to illuminate the specific elements of eremitical life:

    1. In part one – we will review the various forms of Christian consecration.
    2. In part two – we will specify the various forms of religious consecration.
    3. In part three – we will study the ecclesial texts on the eremitical life.
    4. In part four – we will present the particular charism of urban eremitism.


A. The Baptismal Consecration

All Christians, thanks to Baptism, are consecrated to the Father by Christ, through the Holy Spirit:

For every high priest taken from among men (cf. Hebrews 5:1-5), is ordained for men in

Baptism of Jesus

the things that appertain to God,and hath made us a kingdom, and priests to God and his Father” (Revelations 1:6; cf. 5:9-10). The fact the baptised are consecrated by rebirth and by the anointing of the Holy Spirit, to be a spiritual home and a holy priesthood, and thus be able to offer in spiritual sacrifice all the human activities of the Christian, and announce the wonders of him who from the darkness He has called them into his marvellous light (cf. 1 Pt 2, 4-10)” (II Vatican Council, Lumen Gentium, 10). Baptismal consecration enables Christians to live as children of God, exercising the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity.


B. The priestly consecration

At the Last Supper, in conjunction with the Eucharist Christ instituted the ministerial priesthood:

During the Last Supper, Christ entrusted this sacrifice to the Church – the sacrifice of the new and eternal Covenant – as a Eucharist: the Sacrament of his Body and his Blood

Presbyteral Consecration


under the species of bread and wine “in the manner of Melchizedek” (Psalms 110:4; cf. Hebrews 7:17). When he said to the Apostles: “Do this for a commemoration of me (Luke 22:19; 1 Corinthians 11:24) He commissions the ministers of this particular sacrament within the Church, which must be continued for all time, renewing and implementing the sacrifice He had offered for the redemption of the world, and these same ministers He orders to operate – by virtue of their sacramental priesthood – in his stead: “in persona Christi” (Letter of the Holy Father Pope John Paul II To Priests for Holy Thursday 1985).


The priestly consecration enables some Christians to serve the people of God with the love of Christ the Good Shepherd, in whose name we proclaim the Gospel, celebrate the sacraments and guide communities.

“The laying on of hands by the bishop, with the consecratory prayer, constitutes the visible sign of this ordination.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1538).

C. The Religious consecration

The lay faithful have as their specific but not exclusive characteristic, activity in the world; the clergy, ministry; consecrated men and women, “special conformity to Christ, chaste, poor and obedient.” (John Paul II, Vita Consecrata, 31). “This call is accompanied,

Consecration of a Virgin

moreover, by a specific gift of the Holy Spirit, so that consecrated persons can respond to their vocation and mission.  For this reason, as the liturgies of the East and West testify in the rite of monastic or religious profession and in the consecration of virgins, the Church invokes the gift of the Holy Spirit upon those who have been chosen and joins their oblation to the sacrifice of Christ.” (John Paul II, Vita Consacrata, 30).


Religious consecration is expressed and realised through the profession of the three evangelical counsels – chastity, poverty and obedience – and has the “duty of making somehow present the way of life which Jesus himself chose and indicated as an absolute eschatological value.” (John Paul II, Vita Consacrata, 29).  Consecrated persons remind all the baptised who, whilst not explicitly called to effectively and materially live the evangelical counsels, must nevertheless embrace them both emotionally and spiritually (cf. 1 Corinthians 7:29-31), knowing that it is the best form of life, as it is the one who has chosen Christ and that it will be the condition of all in eternal beatitude..


By simplifying one can classify the various forms of “special consecration” having the experience of Christ as a guideline (A: Christological classification), or by way of assuming profession through the counsels of the Church (B: Canonical classification).

A. Christological classification

The form of life embraced by Christ was lived by Him in divine perfection, so those who follow in his footsteps through a special consecration can imitate only one aspect; this explains the great variety of charisms, which are the origins of the forms of consecrated life “in the strictest sense”.  We can group the variety of charisms into three great scions:

1. The contemplative consecrated life:

a.  This form of consecrated life imitates and represents Christ, who retires to pray in solitude.

b.  It gives pre-eminence to the relationship with God, and in organising one’s daily life as a direct function of the meeting Him in solitude, in silence and prayer (Sacred liturgy and prayer).

c.    Comprising:

  i.  Religious Communities (Benedictines, Camaldolese, Carmelites, Carthusians, Clares).

ii.  Hermits.

2.    The active or Apostolic consecrated life

a.  This form of consecrated life imitates and represents Christ, which inaugurates the Kingdom of God with his public ministry with preaching the Gospel, of liberation from evil and healing from disease.

b.  It gives a place of importance to the direct relationship with our neighbour, in order to serve them in their spiritual needs (education, evangelisation) and their corporal (poverty and sickness).

c.  Comprising:

  i.  Community Religious (e.g.: Camillians, Franciscans, Jesuits, Dominicans, Salesians, Comboni Missionaries and the Canossians, etc.).

ii.  Consecrated Virgins.

3.  The secular consecrated life

a.  This form of consecrated life imitates and represents Christ who shares in all (particularly the humble and ordinary thirty years of His life in Nazareth) the condition of life of His contemporaries, working for the salvation of the world in an unseen manner (such as yeast leavening in dough) doing every single thing in filial communion with the Father’s will.

b.  Establishes to live in the various activities of the world, with the goal (assumed with faith and love, but without publicly declaring their specific consecration) to guide them according to the will of God and in the evangelical spirit.

 c.   Those who embrace it live at the same time:

      i.  Community aspects:

–   They are placed in Institutes with regular meetings for training, sharing and decision-making;

       –    They have daily contacts in their work environment;

     –    They can live in fraternities or with a family (where no one, however, will know that they are consecrated persons).

   ii.  Solitary aspects:

    –  They do not ordinarily share in the daily prayers and fraternal life of the members of their own Institute;

    –  They can live alone.

B. Canonical classification

Code of Canon Law

Since the life of special consecration belongs to the Church as a constitutive and precious reality, the Pastors have established some norms to favour authenticity and stability; these norms are gathered in the Code of Canon Law, Book II (the People of God), Part III: Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life (canons 573746).


Starting from the canonical norms we can classify the various forms of consecrated life considering


a.  The method of adopting the evangelical counsels; from this perspective we can discern:

i. Religious Institutes, in which the three evangelical counsels are decide on by public votes.

ii.  Secular Institutes, in which the three evangelical counsels are taken with votes that remain reserved.

iii.  The consecrated Virgins, who publicly assume only the vow of chastity.

iv.  Societies of apostolic life, in which the evangelical counsels are not generally adopted by votes.

b.  Relations between consecrated persons; from this point of view we can distinguish those who live:

i.  In brotherhood, as in religious Institutes of active life and in Societies of apostolic life.

ii.  In community, reserving spaces and times appropriate to solitude, as in religious institutes of contemplative life.

iii.  In solitude, separated from the world and from other solitary (hermits in the strictest sense of the word).

c.  The ecclesiastical authority competent in admitting consecrated persons; from this point of view we can distinguish the forms of consecrated life by right:

i.  Diocesan, when they are recognised by the diocesan Bishop (Religious institutes at the beginning of their experience or small in numbers; Consecrated Virgins; Hermits).

ii.  Pontifical, when recognised by the Apostolic See (Religious institutes whose charism leads them to operate beyond the boundaries of the Diocese, and who are numerically important).

Live in Solitude


Hermits are consecrated persons who have a contemplative charism, who live in solitude (both with regard to the world and with respect to other hermits) and who take the three evangelical counsels by professing them publicly in the hands of the diocesan Bishop.


The Magisterium of the Church offers us the following three texts on the eremitic life.  Code of Canon Law, can. 603 – (January 25, 1983)

§1. In addition to institutes of consecrated life, the Church recognizes the eremitic or anchoritic life by which the Christian faithful devote their life to the praise of God and the salvation of the world through a stricter withdrawal from the world, the silence of solitude, and assiduous prayer and penance..

§2. A hermit is recognized by law as one dedicated to God in consecrated life if he or she publicly professes in the hands of the diocesan bishop the three evangelical counsels, confirmed by vow or other sacred bond, and observes a proper program of living under his direction..

Catechism of the Catholic Church, pt. I., sec. II., ch. III., n. 921. (October 11, 1992).

921. They manifest to everyone the interior aspect of the mystery of the Church, that is, personal intimacy with Christ. Hidden from the eyes of men, the life of the hermit is a silent preaching of the Lord, to whom he has surrendered his life simply because he is everything to him. Here is a particular call to find in the desert, in the thick of spiritual battle, the glory of the Crucified One..

John Paul II, Vita Consecrata, nos. 7 and 42 – (March 25, 1996)

7. Men and women hermits, belonging to ancient Orders or new Institutes, or being directly dependent on the Bishop, bear witness to the passing nature of the present age by their inward and outward separation from the world. By fasting and penance, they show that man does not live by bread alone but by the word of God (cf. Matthew 4:4).

Such a life “in the desert” is an invitation to their contemporaries and to the ecclesial community itself never to lose sight of the supreme vocation, which is to be always with the Lord.

42. […] Hermits, in their profound solitude, do not withdraw from ecclesial communion but serve that communion by their specific charism of contemplation..

From these ecclesial texts, which proffer both an instruction and a rule, we can draw a profile of the eremitic charism, i. considered in the particular commentary, ii. in its ecclesial relationship and iii. in its spirituality.


a.  For a consecrated person to be a hermit, he must live “through a stricter withdrawal from the world“ (can. 603 §1). This separation makes  this particular exterior solitude possible, which implies detachment from creatures and hidden from the eyes of men: it is the “desert” of the Catechism n. 921.  External solitude favours external silence..

monastic seclusion
Monastic detachment

b.  Exterior silence supports inner silence, that is the contemplation and peace that derive from detachment (not thinking about it, not worrying, not desiring) from creatures; this separation cannot and must not be absolute (we have need of others and this is also true for hermits that the heart of Christian life is the love of God, verified with the love for our neighbour), but if it is not an effectual detachment, then there is no eremitic life.

c.  Interior silence facilitates the reciprocity of love with the Lord, which is the vocation of every Christian (cf. Ephesians 1:4-5), but the hermit must do so  progressively:

  • profound: is the “personal intimacy with Christ” of which the Catechism speaks, n. 921;
  • exclusive: “because He is everything for him” (Catechism n. 921); the hermit together with his vocation receives a particular grace which enables a maturity in divine love by withdrawing from human affairs as much as possible and to immerse oneself totally in the relationship with God in Christ;
  • continuous: this continuity is indicated “to be always with the Lord” in Consecrated Life n. 7 and in “continuous prayer” in canon 603 §1. .

From the relationship of love with the Lord Jesus, which inserts us into His Mystical Body, which is the Church, the hermit therefore obtains the necessary ecclesial relationship.


Public profession of a hermit

a.  The hermit receives everything that enables him to be a disciple of Christ from the Church: the proclamation of the Gospel, the grace of the Sacraments, the service of the Pastors who guide him in the truth and in the will of God and a reciprocal edification of mutual love within the Communion of Saints.


b.  From the Church the hermit receives the authoritative instruction to enable him to live his particular vocation authentically (cfr. three specific ecclesial texts mentioned above, together with all the fundamental indicators that are given for each form of consecrated life).

c.  The hermit receives from the Bishop of his local Church (Diocese):

  • the last discernment of his vocation;
  • the approval of his Rule of Life (canon 603 §2);
  • the possibility of publicly professing the three evangelical counsels into his hands (canon 603 §2);
  • the possibility of living in obedience, and having him as a legitimate Superior (canon 603 §2).

d.  The hermit donates to the Church:

  • the spiritual service of intercession incorporating prayer (similar to Moses on the mountain) and sacrifice (similar to Christ on the Cross);
  • a testimony of the priority of the love for God and of the “temporary nature of our current times” (Vita Consecrata, no. 7).


Celtic Cross - spirituality
Celtic Cross – Early Celtic Christianity had a very clear concept of Spirituality

a.  The hermit believes that love received from God and given back to Him is the supreme vocation of man.  He believes that only in a relationship with Christ can this vocation be fulfilled.


b.  The hermit accepts the need to be separated from the world as a mysterious initiative from God, trusting that with his vocation He gives the necessary help.  He believes that Christ “satisfies” his transformation into being a saint in love; he is confident that becoming increasingly holy gives conjointly to the Church and world, a help that is incalculable.

c.  The hermit bravely embraces the mortifications that are tied to his vocation (penances established by the Rule and unforeseen penances), knowing that he has to combat relentlessly denying his self admiration, therefore like Jesus and Mary becoming a absolute filial “Yes” with the love of the Father.

d.  The hermit remains ever vigilant to be humble (in his life everything is a gift where nothing is acquired once forever), faithful (obedience to the Rule is the surest way to persevere in God’s will) and grateful (even when the way it is narrow, God  has reserved the best part for him: Luke 10:42, a most magnificent inheritance: Psalms 15:6).



At first sight the hermit’s life and the city seem to be self-contradictory, for the simple

Florence a city with urban hermits.

reason, that a city is composed of many people who live together, whilst a hermit is called to live in solitude.


In reality solitude is also possible in a city because:

  • many people do live alone (32% of housing stock in the Canterbury Kent area are single occupancy); this may be by choice (young people who leave the parental home to be self-sufficient) or by necessity (separated or divorced people, the elderly);
  • being immersed in a crowd can produces the experience of anonymity: people who intersect each other have no name and mostly do not forge personal relationships, even when an exchange of information or services occurs.

The hermit can live alone in the city because:

  • they can find sufficiently quiet self contained accommodation;
  • they can limit their “outings” to the strictly necessary (especially with online shopping using companies like amazon etc.);
  • they can go quite inconspicuously through a crowd (“relatively” but not entirely, due to their dress, nevertheless most people are mostly in a hurry and are concerned about their own affairs).

It is clear, however, that the city is not the best place for a hermit because:

  • it is not possible to enjoy complete silence;
  • There are several circumstances for distractions or interruptions;
  • there is a need to take into account additional stress because:
  • i.the possibilities of getting around are reduced because of the need for solitude;

ii.  lack of beneficial contact (for body and soul) with nature.


Since the city is not the ideal environment for eremitic life, why do some hermits choose to live in the city?

To this question we can apply two answers:

1. From a personal point of view, a hermit chooses the path to live in the city het recognises that this is God’s will for him.

2. From a design point of view in that Divine Providence is realising for the salvation of all men, we can surmise that the good Lord places hermits right inside a city for:

  • to remind men, who are so often absorbed by earthly and material things, that the greater gain in life (Matthew 16:26) is to fashion a love story with God, a love story:
  • to which the hermit dedicates his total existence;
  • that, alone, it will allow him to authentically love his neighbour;
  • to witness to the disciples of the Lord and to all those who seek God, that solitude and silence:

i.  are necessary for the interior life and for the prayer of everyone;

ii.  that it is also possible in a city, dependant upon the particular circumstances of each individual;

iii.  to suggest that purely out of necessity solitude can become a way of peace, communion and productiveness, if lived in the intimate friendship with Christ;

iv.  stand before God, with continuous tenaciously in prayer and sacrifice, interceding for the benefit of all (Psalms 105:23; Code of Canon Law, can. 603 §1).


The eremitical life in the city, although difficult, is possible:

The Venia is performed as a mark of humility
Venia is performed as a sign of humility

1. Because the good Lord through our vocation always gives us the grace to bring to fruition.

2. Expand on a Rule of Life (Code of Canon Law, can. 603 §2) with the consensus of the diocesan Bishop, who for the hermit becomes the ecclesial reference point, both for discernment and for any obedientiary restrictions.


3. Cultivating the “separation from the world” by means of:

  • a solitary dwelling;
  • the predisposition to concentrate the necessary egress throughout one half of the day, morning or afternoon;
  • of an entire day in the desert once a week;
  • a vigilant economy regarding meetings, relationships with family members, using the telephone, radio, newspapers and computer (for work) and not having television.




Plan of the Sceilig Mhór Lavra or Hermitages. Drawing by J.R. Allen (1881) .

The Lavra or Laura were clusters of anchoritic cells or caves, inhabited by monks who, although living alone, gathered as disciples around the figure of an Elder, to regularly share experiences and prayer, especially the solemn liturgy of Saturday and Sunday. The term laura in Greek (Λαύρα ) means “narrow lane or alley” and was chosen based on the network of paths that connected the the individual cells of the hermits with one another to a central community site with a church and a refectory at its center.



The Lavra, whilst respecting the specific aspects of the eremitic vocation, offers the hermits who adhere to it:

1. moments of community prayer and Lectio Divina;

2. an organic path of doctrinal and spiritual formation;

3. a simple, regular and concrete opportunity for fraternal sharing;

4. mutual economic support.


Since every hermit has made a vow of obedience to the diocesan bishop, it is up to them to approve the constitution of Lavra and to watch over the activities.  Owing to the fact that “separation” is the specific charism of a hermit, association with the Lavra must not lead to any canonical constraint, not even for a simple association of the faithful.


Recommended Reading:

The Eremitic Life Paperback – 1 Jun 2006

In Praise of Hiddenness Paperback – 1 Jun 2006

Silence Paperback – 15 Dec 2010

When Silence Speaks: The Spiritual Way of the Carthusian Order Paperback – 21 Aug 2015

Book Review: Sun Dancing – Geoffrey Moorhouse

Sun Dancing: Life in a Medieval Irish Monastery and How Celtic Spirituality Influenced the World

Subject: Monastic and religious life–Middle Ages, Celts, Monastic and religious life, Middle Ages, Civilization, Skellig Michael (Monastery : Ireland).

“As I climbed the path winding up to the ancient constructions near the top of the cliff, I sensed that I was on the threshold of something utterly unique, though I was by no means a stranger to monasteries, which I had visited throughout Europe, and even farther afield at one time and another.  But nothing in my experience had prepared me for this huddle of domes, crouching halfway to heaven in this all but inaccessible place, with an intimidating immensity of space all around, where it was easy to feel that you had reached a limit of this world.  A holy place, to be sure, which would still have been so, even if it had never known the consecrated life of prayer.”  From the Author’s Notes – Sun Dancing Copyright © 1997 Geoffrey Moorhouse. All Rights Reserved

This is a Secular History; and as such must be read with spiritual rationality.

The Hibernian Monks of the Middle Ages are credited with saving Western civilisation.  So what is known of their everyday lives? The spiritual struggles? Their achievements? Or the inconceivable physical travails that they underwent?

Sun Dancing‘s is an insightful chronicle that express an exceptionally powerful regimen of cenobitic life, it elucidates upon one of the most arcane but seminal epoch of the Celtic narrative.

Sun Dancing makes manifest the sedulousness and devotion for God of the Hibernian Monks from 1430 years ago.  Their exemplification in these disciplines are extremely impressive.  It is the Hibernian monks who safeguarded the book of the Bible for us as the Roman Empire fragmented and Europe retrogressed into philistinism and savagery.   It brings to the forefront the history of the cenobites  of Hibernia, the men who created the Book of Kells.  The Irish monks of this period practiced a most uncompromising and rigorous form of self-mortification and self-abnegation in the history of the church perhaps even more so than the Carthusians today.  The practice of “penance” as practiced by the monks in this book is based on the idea that a Christian can partially “atone” for his own sins.  Some christians today would see this as a challenge of the atonement accomplished by Christ on the Cross, claiming that salvation is achieved by ‘sola gratia’ grace alone.  The Penitential of Finnian prescribes penances with a view to correcting sinful tendencies and cultivating the contrary virtue, it shows wide learning and draws on the teaching of St John Cassian on overcoming the eight evil tendencies – gluttony, fornication, covetousness, anger, dejection, accidie (laziness), vainglory and pride”.  Irish asceticism was a copy of the Thebaid.  The daily routine of monastic life was prayer, study, and manual labor.  With regard to food, the rule was most exacting, as was the way of life. The diet of monks living on the North Atlantic islands was somewhat different from that of those who lived on the mainland. Having less arable land available to grow grain, vegetable gardens were an important part of monastic life. Of necessity, fish and the meat and eggs of birds nesting on the islands were staples.  A system for collecting and purifying water in cisterns had been developed. No more than twelve monks and an abbot lived here at any one time. A hermitage is on the South peak.

I found Sun Dancing to be well researched and communicated for both monastic and lay persons alike.  It contains an indelible exemplification inimical to the sin of spiritual pride.  Commencing with the saga of the monks of Sceilig Mhichíl (Skellig Michael) west of the Iveragh Peninsula in County Kerry, in a fictional style, using archival elements leading us to a more concise chapter containing many historical facts.  The year 588 A.D., sees Fionán of Clonard, a monk of the community of Saint Brendan of Clonfert The Navigator, with twelve brother monks, setting off, looking to institute a new community in the desert.  Arriving at Sceilig Mhichíl somewhere between the 6th and 8th century (The first definite reference to monastic activity on the island is a record of the death of “Suibhini of Skelig” dating from the 8th century; however, Saint Fionán is claimed to have founded the monastery in the 6th century); it is a forbidding rock island with an area of 21,9 hectares approx; The topography of Skellig Michael with its iconic twin peaks and valley (Christ´s Saddle) is entirely controlled by bedrock geology.   Irish Monks would live there for the next 600 years.  This book is the amazing story, from a historical point of view and from records of how they lived, and what daily life was like.

Dom. Ugo-Maria

<img src=”https://domdotugo.files.wordpress.com/2018/04/book_r52.jpg&#8221; class=”alignnone size-full wp-image-719″ height=”363″ alt=”Sun Dancing: Life in a Medieval Irish Monastery and How Celtic Spirituality Influenced the World” width=”240″>

The Consuetudines of Guigo I

Translation in English from the Latin, Click below.

The Consuetudine of Guigo I, 5th Prior of the Carthusian Order

Guigues du Chastel

Fifth prior of the Grande Chartreuse, legislator of the Carthusian Order and ascetical writer, born at Saint-Romain in Dauphiné in 1083; died 27 July, 1137.

He became a monk of the Grande Chartreuse in 1107, and three years later his brethren elected him Prior.

To Guigues the Carthusian Order in great measure owes its fame, if not its very existence.

When he became prior, only two charterhouses existed, the Grande Chartreuse and the Calabrian house where St. Bruno had died; nine more were founded during his twenty-seven years’ as Prior. These new foundations made it necessary to reduce to writing the traditional customs of the mother-house. Guigues’s  “Consuetudines”, composed in 1127 or 1128, have always remained the basis of all Carthusian legislation.

After the disastrous avalanche of 1132, Guigues rebuilt the Grande Chartreuse on the present site.

A man of considerable learning, endowed with a tenacious memory and the gift of eloquence, Guigues was a great organizer and disciplinarian. He was a close friend of St. Bernard and of Peter the Venerable, both of whom have left accounts of the impression of sanctity which he made upon them. His name is inscribed in certain martyrologies on 27 July, and he is sometimes called “Venerable” or “Blessed”, yet the Bollandists can find “no trace whatever of any ecclesiastical cultus”.

Guigues edited the letters of St. Jerome, but his edition is lost. Of his genuine writings there are still in existence, besides the “Consuetudines,” a “Life of St. Hugh of Grenoble”, whom he had known intimately, written by command of Pope Innocent II after the canonisation of the saint in 1134; “Meditations”, and six letters (P.L., CLIII). These letters are all that remain of a great number, many of them addressed to the most distinguished men of the day. Guigues’s letters to St. Bernard are lost, but some of the saint’s replies are extant.


Taken from the study notes prepared for the Novices by the Ven. Fr. Dom Ugo Ginex ESB in March 1989 and edited by Brother Pablo di San Martin.

God be Praised.

Christian monasticism began in the Egyptian deserts. In Lower Egypt a semi – eremitical monasticism flourished while Upper Egypt saw the growth of a more cenobitic form under the leadership of Pachomius. It is my experience that the literature that witnesses to these forms of monastic life deserves our attention today. In this paper I hope to share something I have tasted or glimpsed. It is not the product of a thorough and organised study; I am in no way an expert. But I do believe that their tradition is ours, and to meet them is to know ourselves better.

Taken from the study notes prepared for the Novices by the Ven. Fr. Dom Ugo Ginex ESB in March 1989 and edited by Brother Pablo di San Martin.

God be Praised.

Christian monasticism began in the Egyptian deserts. In Lower Egypt a semi-eremitical monasticism flourished while Upper Egypt saw the growth of a more cenobitic form under the leadership of Pachomius. It is my experience that the literature that witnesses to these forms of monastic life deserves our attention today. In this paper I hope to share something I have tasted or glimpsed. It is not the product of a thorough and organised study; I am in no way an expert.[1] But I do believe that their tradition is ours, and to meet them is to know ourselves better.

The literature of Pachomian monasticism[2] is quite primitive, by our standards of literary sophistication, and in some ways it is similar to the style of the New Testament, particularly the Synoptic Gospels. This is true not only of the literary style which tends to be associative in its construction, but of its purpose as well, which is to invite the next generation into the experience of those who are writing, the experience of being transformed by the Spirit, by the Gospel. The purpose of the writings is not information but formation and transformation. When we go to these records of the past we go to enter into their experience of the Spirit so we can discover and live more consciously our own experience, for there is but one Spirit.

Pachomian monasticism presents us with perhaps the earliest model, of which we have record, of monks coming together, not around the abba for spiritual formation, but together to seek God in community. In this Pachomius gave concrete expression to a form of monastic life which had gradually been evolving, an expression of the evangelical value of community, where the primary relationships of the monks are with one another. These two models, on the one hand, the monks gathered about the spiritual father and on the other, the monks who have come together to form a community,[3] at this early stage in monastic history had this essential difference: the young monks who grouped themselves about the spiritual father came to learn to be monks, so that having been formed by the abba they could leave him to live as monks on their own. This eventually gave rise to a cenobitic form of monasticism, but one in which each monk’s relationship with the spiritual father was primary. Pachomius, however, took the Jerusalem community of Acts 2 and 4 as the model for community. Those who came to him came not for a time, but they gave the whole of their lives and all that they had to seek God in common, and to love and serve one another, as they saw that these are inextricably bound together for those who seek to live the Gospel.[4] The essential aspect of Pachomian life was κοινωνία [koinonia], unity in love. In this especially, Carthusian monasticism can look to Pachomian monasticism, for we, as they, have come together to seek God in community, and to love and serve one another. The opening chapter of the Rule of St. Augustine emphasizes the goal of unity in love.

  1.  Before all else, beloved, love God and then your neighbor, for these are the chief commandments given to us. (cf. Matthew 22:36-40; Mark 12:28-34)
  2. The following are the precepts we order you living in the monastery to observe.
  3. The main purpose for your having come together is to live harmoniously in your house, intent upon God, with one heart and one soul (Acts 4:32).[5]

Pachomius’ great charism was to be the center of a community, to teach monks to love and serve one another; but like most of us he learned through trial and error.

The Coptic Lives[6] report that when his first group of followers joined him, he understood that the will of God for him was to serve the others. So he took the burden of all the practical necessities upon himself and freed the others to study the Scriptures. Pachomius, through the whole of his life, was one to be very patient with the newcomer and there are many examples of how he would not demand something of a young monk, even though it was something quite important, until he could see the monk was ready to meet the demand. His patience in this initial venture lasted something like five years. When he saw that his monks were not maturing as monks he, after a night in prayer, drew up three rules: common prayer, common meals and common work. They refused and he expelled them. The second time young monks joined him, he was more conscious of their spiritual formation and made these demands at once.

From the beginning of their lives together, Pachomius consciously set about teaching the monks to love and serve one another, arid established a community wherein each monk had the responsibility of serving the rest in a specific capacity.[7]  The first member of the Pachomian community, however, was always God. This is everywhere in the writings, and on his deathbed the Life has Pachomius say, “I am going to the Lord who has created us and brought us together.”[8]

The Pachomian monks understood well that their lives were part of a continuing history.  This history began when God first spoke to the human race and one of its members responded; since that moment the dialogue has never stopped. Just as the Word of God was the source of Abraham’s life of faith, the Word of God was the source of their own lives and faith. They express this clearly when, in the Prologue to The Life of Pachomius, they locate monastic life within the whole of salvation history. It is a response to the creative Word of God and results from the fervor of the Church, especially of the martyrs.

True is the Word of God, who made all things, the Word that came to our father Abraham, in order to show him his favour, concerning the sacrifice of God’s only son.  The Lord said, “Truly I will bless you and multiply you as the stars of heaven in multitude;” and again “Because in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed.”  For this Word, speaking after Moses his servant and the other prophets, appeared as man and as Abraham’s seed, and fulfilled the promise of blessing to all the nations, saying to his disciples, “Go forth and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  And, as the gospel spread throughout the earth by divine assent and with proof of his faithfulness, pagan kings stirred up a great persecution against the Christians everywhere.  Because many martyrs along with Peter, the archbishop of Alexandria, through many and sundry tortures were crowned with a victorious death, the Christian faith gained much ground and was strengthened in every land and every island throughout all the churches.  As a result monasteries started coming into being and places for ascetics who prided themselves in their chastity and the renunciation of their possessions. When monks who were former pagans saw the struggles and the patience of the martyrs, they started a new life.  Of them it was said, “Destitute, afflicted, ill treated, wandering over deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.”  Thus they found retreats with proper piety and a harder regimen, holding before their eyes day and night not only the crucified Christ, but also the martyrs whom they had seen struggle so much.[9]

The Life also presents Pachomius himself, and therefore the monks who joined him, as part of an ongoing tradition, begun in the Old Testament and continued in the New.

The life of our truly virtuous and most ascetic father Anthony was like that of the great Elijah and Elisha and of John the Baptist.  The most holy archbishop Athanasius gives as much written evidence about him after his death, and at the same time states that the behaviour of our holy father Amoun, the chief abbot of the brothers on Mount Nitria, and of Theodore, his companion, was the same. And we know that, since grace poured from the lips of the Blessed one who blesses all – for he visited the earth, and instead of filling it with grief and sighs, he infused it with an intoxicating spirit – throughout the country from among those who took to monastic life many became admirable fathers, as has already been said, and their names are in the book of the living. In Egypt and in the Thebaid not many had turned to the monastic life up to the time of the persecutions by Diocletian and Maximian, but after that, the bishops led people to God according to the teachings of the apostles and the repentance of the nations yielded a rich harvest. There was a man name Pachomius, born of pagan parents in the Thebaid, who, having received great mercy, became a Christian. He made progress and achieved perfection as a monk. It is necessary to recount his life from childhood on to the glory of God, who calls everyone from everywhere to his wondrous light.[10] 

Because of the primitive style of the Pachomian Literature and its fairly unsystematic development, much of the wisdom it contains is perhaps less accessible to us than it would be if it were arranged in accord with the patterns of our Western logic. Of course, the price of this logic would be the beautiful simplicity that is everywhere in the writings.  When I first read The Life of Pachomius , though I was quite taken with the charm of the work, I wasn’t sure anything relevant or unified would emerge. For this reason I would like to suggest an approach which I believe can be quite helpful in getting closer to the heart of Pachomian monastic life.  If we choose a specific topic, such as common life, ascesis, prayer, leadership, obedience or poverty and read through the Pachomian works in search of what each has to say about, or how it presents or understands whatever is being considered, and do the same for another topic on the above list, very soon we can see how all aspects of their monastic life are complementary and support its single aim solidly and practically.  Also by noticing how the Rules are lived out in incidents related in the Life, we see how the strict or even harsh sounding rules actually were applied in genuinely human and loving ways.[11]  In the remaining section of this paper, in a modified way, I hope to illustrate this method with examples from the Pachomian sources.

In the Life , it says of Pachomius, “When he started reading or reciting God’s words by heart, he did not do it in the fashion of many other people, but he strove to comprehend inside himself each and every thing through humility and gentleness and truth, according to the Lord’s word, ‘Learn from me because I am gentle and humble of heart.'”[12]  This paragraph can be taken as a paradigm of the Pachomian approach to the Scriptures and to prayer.

Pachomius and his monks shared the dynamic concept of the Word of God of the ancient Hebrew.  They believed that it effected what it asserted, and they desired to be transformed by this living Word.  The Word of God, they understood, had been planted in their hearts at baptism; when they read the Scriptures, they read to uncover the Word which had been hidden there.[13]  Pachomius’ way, as shown above, is also the way given in the Scriptures. If the Lord said, “Learn from me because I am gentle and humble of heart,” then Pachomius, even in his approach to the Scriptures and to the Lord, will make every effort to be humble and gentle and true.  Lastly, the paragraph refers to reciting the Scriptures.  Meditation for the Pachomian monk was reciting the Scriptures he had memorised.  The incoming novice committed to memory at least the Psalter and the New Testament.[14]  Pachomius taught the unlettered Copts to read precisely so they could read and memorise the Scriptures.[15]

It is hard to separate the Pachomian concept of Scripture from their concept of prayer, for there was little or no difference.  The one was the other.  Meditation on Scripture actually meant reciting memorised passages not just with the lips and mind, “but with attention of the heart as well.  The monks memorised the Scriptures in pericopes which they called “by hearts.”  (This phrase, “by hearts,” eventually became a technical term so that they will describe their night office as consisting of “six by hearts.”)[16]  Prayer to the Pachomian monk was the continual recitation of Scripture.  His way of fulfilling the New Testament mandate, “Pray always,” was very simply to recite or meditate Scripture all day and all night, if possible.

So when the monk was at work or on his way to the assembly or to his cell at night, he was to meditate on some text from Scripture which, because of his memory, he had always at hand.  There are many precepts in the Rules which explain this. Here are some examples:

When he hears the sound of the trumpet summoning him to the assembly he is to leave his cell immediately, meditating on something from scripture to the very door of the assembly hall. (3)

The one who hands out sweets to the brothers should meditate on something from the Scripture as he does so. (37)

When the assembly is dismissed, all leaving for their cells or for the refectory shall meditate on something from Scripture. (28)

(On leaving the monastery for work) . . . they shall not speak together, but each one shall meditate on something from Scripture. (59)

Perhaps the most developed expression of this is found in The Book of Our Father Horsiesi who is exhorting a community which had lost its fervor to return to the way Pachomius had given them:

Let us cultivate the reading and the learning of the Scripture, and let us always be employed in pondering on them, knowing that it is written: From the fruit of his mouth a man will be filled, and the wages of his labour is returned.  These are the things that lead us to eternal life, which our father Pachomius handed down to us and commanded to be meditated upon perpetually in order that what is written may be completed in us:  These will be the words which I give you today into your hearts and into your minds. . . . Consider with how many testimonies the word of the Lord exhorts us to meditate on the sacred scriptures, that by faith, we may possess what we say. . . . Timothy too, while still a boy was learned in sacred letters so that he arrived at faith of the Lord and Saviour by way of them. . . . (51)

The Word of God in the Scriptures is given so that we may uncover the Word God has spoken in our hearts in baptism. Prayer or reciting the words of Sacred Scriptures is the way to the Word in our heart. Likewise, ascesis was seen in its relation to what God has already done in baptism, for all the fruits of the Spirit are given to us in this sacrament.[17].  Ascesis is the cultivation of these fruits; ascesis is a means to uncovering the Word in our hearts.  In his Catechesis Concerning a Spiteful Monk, Pachomius writes:

My son, flee concupiscence.  It beclouds the Spirit and prevents it from getting to know the secrets of God.  It makes you foreign to the language of the Spirit and prevents you from carrying the cross of Christ.  It does not permit the heart to be attentive to honouring God.

It is precisely in the fight against concupiscence, or anything which distracts the attention of the heart from God, that ascesis has its place.  Thus ascesis is always an act of love which has its source in God’s love.

Perhaps here we can examine a few of the Pachomian statements on the asceticism of silence.  In speaking of prayer we already mentioned one (see rule 59 above).  There are others:

Those at work shall speak of nothing secular; they shall either meditate on holy things, or for that matter, keep silence. (60)

As for the bakery: no one may speak during the evening kneading, nor in the morning, those who are busy with the baking or with the boards; but they shall recite together until they have finished.  If they need anything they shall not speak, but shall rap sensibly. (ll6)

While they are sitting at home they are not permitted to engage in secular talk; but if the housemaster has taught something from Scripture they ought, on the other hand, to ruminate on it among themselves, relating what they have heard, or what they can remember. (122)

It is true that not every rule that mentions silence explicitly orients the silence to the Word of God, but most do; it is quite evident that in Pachomian life the ascesis of silence was seen as a main support for meditation on the Scriptures.

The Pachomian understanding of leadership was, in part, that the leader was the one whose responsibility it was to be watchful or vigilant for the spiritual wellbeing of all. Horsiesus addresses the superiors:

All those to whom the care of the brothers has been entrusted will prepare themselves for the coming of the Saviour and his dreadful tribune.  For if to give a report for one’s self is full of danger and fear, how much more painful it will be to answer for the fault of another and to fall into the hands of the living God.

We also have a God given responsibility, the training of the brothers. (10, passim)

Or, looking at it the other way round, Pachomius’ understanding of the superior’s role can also be seen in his advice to the Spiteful Monk:

If you cannot get along alone, join another who is working according to the Gospel of Christ, and you will make progress with him.  Either listen [i.e., to the Word of God], or submit to one who listens, or be strong and be called Elias, or obey the strong and be called Eliseus: for obeying Elias Eliseus received a double portion of Elias’ spirit.

In short the advice is, if you can’t hear the Word of the Lord spoken in the Scripture yourself, go and find a man who can, and then listen to him. The other side of the coin, then, is that one who is a leader has the responsibility of hearing the Word of God for those who have submitted themselves to him.

There is a story by which I hope to tie these elements together.  It is rendered in different translations dating from different periods.  Each edition reflects the viewpoint of its own time, as they altered texts freely in those days to assert what they wanted to say.  Taken together these texts are quite interesting because they show how the aspects of monastic life I have already mentioned, scripture, prayer, ascesis and leadership, serve one another and form a whole.  They also vividly depict evolving concepts of the rule and obedience, and show how it is part of human nature to become alienated in the course of time from its original inspiration.  The original understanding was that obeying the rule was an act of love and that God dwells in the heart of one who loves.  This concept was so pure that it was rapidly lost.[18]

The monks are making bread and chatting as they work, instead of reciting the Scriptures.  Pachomius learns of it and blames Theodore, the monk in charge at the time, severely reprimanding him.  If the monks chat and do not recite the Scriptures, Theodore is responsible and Theodore must do penance.  This is the earliest account.  In the second version, Pachomius still “blames Theodore but asks him why he did not see that the “brothers respect the rule, since the rule is given them for the good of their souls.  The idea of serving the rule usurps the primary place that reciting the Scriptures had held.  In the third account, Pachomius does not “blame Theodore (by the time of this account he has to respect the authority of his assistant) but tells him to teach the brothers that the rule has been given for the good of their souls and they should obey it.[19]  In the latest version, Pachomius asks Theodore whether the brothers realise that when he (Pachomius) gives them a rule, it is God speaking to them through him.  The rule of silence gradually becomes identified with the will of God and its original purpose, to recite the Scriptures, is no longer mentioned.  On paper, at least, their silence has grown empty.

There are many lessons we can draw from this incident and the differing historic interpretations. There is only one, however, that I want to focus on here. It is the understanding and practical insight that is inherent in the earliest account. In it all the elements, the common work, the ascesis of silence, the role of the leader or superior, Theodore, and his responsibility of watchfulness for all, the recitation of the Scriptures, all of these are seen in their relationship to the end of monastic life, the transformation of the monk, by the Word of God, in Christ. In my judgement, it is this evident comprehension of the unity of our life, which they were able to effectively portray and hand down that makes the legacy of Pachomius valid for us today.


  1. My introduction to Pachomian monasticism came through the tapes of a seminar Father Armand Veilleux, OCSO, gave at Gethsemani Abbey.  The seminar contained three evening lectures to the whole community and six morning lectures given to the seminar participants only.  My notes then will read “tape 1 evening” or “tape 6 morning” according to when the lecture was given.
  2. There are four basic texts in the Pachomian corpus that I refer to.  Unfortunately only one has been published in English to my knowledge.  It is: The life of Pachomius: (vita prima Graeca).  Author:  Apostolos N Athanassakis; Society of Biblical Literature.  Editor:  Missoula, Mont: Published by Scholars Press for the Society of Biblical Literature, ©1975.  There are many extant Lives, from both Coptic and Greek sources.  This first Greek Life or G1, is the only Life available in English.  References to the Coptic Lives in this paper are taken from information that Father Armand Veilleux gives in the seminar and will be noted accordingly. Each paragraph in the Life is numbered and all references to it will be identified in the note or the text by this paragraph number, not the page number.

  3. The other texts of the Pachomian corpus to which I refer, I have seen only in translations that have been made and circulated privately.  There is, however, an edition being prepared by Father Veilleux which I’m currently unable to source, I have though added a link to Father Veilleux’s web page. The texts I cite are:
  4. The Book of Our Father Horsiesi, Sister Mary Charles Walsh, OSB, trans. Horsiesus was a successor to Pachomius after the latter’ s death, and this work is a call to communal conversion during a period of strife and decadence.  Like the Life it is subdivided into numbered sections and my references are to those numbers.

  5. The Rules of St. Pachomius, Dom Amand Boon, ed., Pachomiona latina, Louvain Bureau de la Revue, 1932.  Jerome translated a Greek translation of the Coptic original of the Pachomian Rules into Latin.  The text I use is an English translation of Jerome’s text.  Also extant are fragments of the Coptic Rules. Like the two preceding works each rule is numbered and I cite Jerome’s numeration.

  6. Catechesis Concerning a Spiteful Monk (from Oevres de S. Pachȏme et de ses disciples, Louvain: CSCO l60, Coptic Series No. 24, L. Th. Lefort, translator and editor, 1956).  Written by Pachomius himself, this catechesis was composed not for his own monks but for a monk from outside the community.  The monk was brought to Pachomius because he bore a grudge toward one who “darted a word” at him (tape 6 morning)

  7. 3.  Keating, Thomas, “The Two Streams of Cenobitic Tradition in RSB,” Cistercian Studies XI, 1976:4, pp. 257-68. This article cites the evolution of both forms, complete with appropriate diagrams and mention of Pachomius.

  8. 4.  An example of how much the monks were for one another what the abba was in the semi-eremitical tradition is found in this item from the Rules:  In the morning, in the individual houses, once the prayers have been finished, they shall not return to their own cells, but they shall share among themselves what they have heard the Masters giving out; then they shall go to their cubicles. (19)

  9. 5.  Constitutions of the Nuns of the Sacred Order of Preachers (Polygot Vatican Press, 1930), p. 1.

  10. 6. Tape 2 evening. An altered account of this is in the Life, para. 24-5, 37.

  11. 7. Life, para. 28.

  12. 8. Tape 3 evening.

  13. 9. Para. 1.

  14. 10. Para. 2.

  15. 11. The monks did not eat meat.  Note, however, the following incident from the Life:  There was another brother who was mortally ill and bedridden in a nearby cell.  He requested from the father of the monastery to be fed a small portion of meat — the length of his illness had reduced his body to skin and bones —, and because the meat was not given him, he told one of the brothers, “Support me and take me to our father Pachomius.” When he approached Pachomius, he fell on his face and told him the reason.  Pachomius realised that the man deserved the request, and he sighed.  At meal time Pachomius was served his portion, as were all the other brothers.  He did not eat, but said, “You are respecters of persons.  What has happened to the scripture, ‘Love thy neighbour as thyself’?  Do you not see that this man is practically dead?  Why did you not take good care of him at all before he made his request?  And you will say, ‘We neglected him, because that sort of food is not customary among us.  ‘But does the disease not make a difference?  Are not all things pure to those who are pure?  And if you were unable to see without my advice that this would be good, why did you not tell me?” Tears came to his eyes, as he was saying these things. For tears are a mark of sensitivity. And even if tears do not come to a man who is sensitive while something is happening, there is such a thing as inner weeping. When they heard these things they hastened to buy the meat in order to feed the enfeebled man. Then Pachomius himself ate the customary boiled vegetable. (53)

  16. 12.  Para. 9.

  17. 13.  Tape 2 morning.  Horsiesi , para. 49, “… Let us follow the odour of wisdom always hiding her words in our hearts.”

  18. 14.  From the Rules:

  19. No one whosoever shall be in the monastery who . . .does not retain something from Scripture: the minimum is the New Testament and the Psalter. (l40)
    If someone comes to the gate of the monastery wishing to renounce the world and be added to the number of the brothers … he shall remain outside for a few days, at the door, and be taught the Lord’s prayer and as many psalms as he can learn. (49)

  20. 15.  Whoever has come into the monastery uninstructed shall first be taught what he must observe, and when so [in]formed, he has agreed to it all, they shall give him twenty psalms, or two of the Apostle’s epistles, or some other part of scripture.  And if he is illiterate he shall, at the first, third and ninth hours go to the teacher so delegated and stand before him; and shall learn with the greatest of eagerness and gratitude.  Afterwards the fundamentals of syllable, verb, and noun shall be written out for him, and even if unwilling he shall be compelled to read. (139)
  21. No one whosoever shall be in the monastery who does not learn to read. . . . (l40)

  22. 16.  Tape 2 morning.

  23. 17.  Tape 2 evening.
  24. 18.  Father Veilleux makes this statement joining obedience, love and God’s indwelling presence on tape 3, evening.   The bread making incident is related in this connection on the same tape.

19.  Life, para. 89