Carthusian nuns as lovers of Christ

Carthusian nuns as lovers of Christ
Vocations supplement 2024
Take a risk for Christ

If you have ever drunk the colourful French liqueur Chartreuse, you already have a connection to the life of the Carthusians.

The order’s name and also the liqueur derive from the Chartreuse Mountains in France, where their first charterhouse – the technical name for a Carthusian monastery – was founded in 1084 by St Bruno of Cologne.

What was St Bruno looking for in founding the first hermitage? The Statutes of the Order – its rule – sum it up in one sentence: “To the praise of the glory of God, Christ, the Father’s Word, has through the Holy Spirit, from the beginning chosen certain men and women, whom he willed to lead into solitude and unite to himself in intimate love.”

The example of the first community and their devotion to the hermitic way of life soon had a real influence and from 1115, several communities asked to join the way of life established by St Bruno.


Around 1145, the nuns of Prébayon, Provence, in the south of France, living under a local rule were attracted by this new way of life and asked for affiliation with the Carthusians.

They were welcomed into the Order by St Anthelm, the seventh prior of Chartreuse, and so gave birth to the women’s branch of the Order. Since then, the nuns have formed a unique Order with the Carthusian monks, under the direction of the same Minister General, the Prior of the Great Chartreuse.

For several centuries, the Carthusian nuns had a greater share of community life than the monks, but successive constitutions gradually reinforced the same principles of solitude and poverty.

This way of life has been hard won, with the Carthusians suffering vicious persecution during the Reformation in Britain and the French Revolution”

In the renewal sparked by the Second Vatican Council and following urgent requests from the nuns to be able to lead the Carthusian life in its fullness, there was an evolution towards a more solitary life, so that today the life of the nuns is identical to that of the monks.

Since 1973 they also have their own General Chapter, celebrated at the Great Chartreuse every two years, as well as their own complete Statutes, they remain in organic and spiritual union with the monks.

Today, 21 charterhouses continue the tradition begun almost 1,000 years ago, 16 for monks and five for nuns.

The continuation of this way of life has been hard won, with the Carthusians suffering vicious persecution during the Reformation in Britain and the French Revolution. Today there are six charterhouses in France and one in Britain.


Their way of life appears very alien to our modern, interconnected age, in which we are hardly ever disconnected from our social networks and our minds are never at rest.

By contrast, the Carthusians spend most of their lives as hermits living in a cell with a garden, where they spend time in contemplation and eat their meals.

The cells are organised around a cloister and there is an element of community life. For instance, the nuns come together for community prayer and Mass, while once a week they enjoy a Sunday meal together.

But this austere life is not a hide away from the world. As the Carthusian nuns’ website says, “Choosing a solitary life does not make us desert the human family”.

“Union with God, if true, does not close us in on ourselves, but instead opens our minds and expands our hearts, to the point of embracing the whole world and the mystery of Christ’s Redemption.

Solitary prayer is the gift that God and the Church has entrusted to the monks and nuns”

“Separated from all, we are united with all: and so it is in the name of all that we stand in the presence of the living God.”

Solitary prayer is the gift that God and the Church has entrusted to the monks and nuns, and through which they cooperate in the unceasing work of Christ: “My Father works and I too work” (Jn 5,17).


The Carthusian nun, while being faithful to the call received from God, “also gives her life for her brothers and sisters in the world, because the prayer of each is for all, and the prayer of all is for each, on earth and in heaven”.

“The Holy Spirit awakens Christ’s prayer in us through faith and love. Because we are members of his body, our prayer is his, our silence announces his good news and our vigil his coming.”

Although at present there is no charterhouse in Ireland, the order hopes to found one for English speaking nuns and are raising funds for that purpose.