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The Seven Stars of the Carthusians

Hugh O'Reilly
St. Bruno is often pictured tonsured and in the habit of the Carthusian Order, which he founded in the 11th century. Some paintings identify him by a halo of golden stars, as at right. The stars relate to an episode in St. Bruno's Vita.

st brunocarthusians

St. Bruno founder of the Carthusians; below, a corpse proclaims he is condemned by God's 'just judgment'

funeral st bruno
In the year 1084 a small group of men had gathered together, asking divine inspiration for living a more perfect life of prayer and contemplation. They included St. Bruno, the leader, and some of the most learned men of the time: Landuin, the two Stephens of Bourg and Die, canons of Sts. Rufus, Hugh the Chaplain, as well as two laymen, Andrew and Guérin.

These seven men had attended a funeral in Paris of a noted scholar famous for upright living. While the corpse was being carried to church on a stretcher, it lifted its head and said, "I am condemned by the just judgment of God."

Amazed and fearful, the priests decided to delay the funeral until the following day, but on the next day the same thing happened again.

And again on the third day the corpse proclaimed, "I am condemned by the just judgment of God."

Then St. Bruno said to his companions: "If a man of such dignity and erudition, and who was reputed so upright in his life is damned, what can become of us miserable men?"

Bruno proposed that the seven of them should seek salvation by imitating St. Paul the Hermit and withdrawing from this corrupt world. That is how they came to visit the Bishop of Grenoble, Hugh of Châteauneuf, who was known for his holiness.

On the night before the visit, the Bishop had a dream in which God made Himself a fitting habitation among the Chartreuse Mountains, a rugged area north of Grenoble. Above the habitation was a circle of seven golden stars.

The next morning, the seven men – led by St. Bruno – came to visit the Bishop to ask for his advice about their desire to withdraw from the world to a life of prayer in some wilderness. Remembering the dream, the Bishop conducted them to that very site he had seen in his dream amidst those precipitous rocks and mountains almost always covered with snow in Chartreuse. In 1084 they set up what became the motherhouse of the Carthusian Order.

As the fame of St. Bruno and the Chartreuse monks grew, he attracted more and more men to the life of prayer, penitence and labor. Pope Urban II, who had been Bruno's pupil when he taught in Reims, called him to Rome to help the Pope in his difficult Pontificate. The Pope asked St. Bruno to become the Archbishop of Reggio di Calabria.

But the Saint refused. He agreed with Bl. Urban II to return to his life of prayer. However, the Pope asked St. Bruno to not go too far away. So, he went to a mountain cave in a desert place near Squillace in Calabria to continue the solitary life. That is why St. Bruno is also depicted at times with a Bishop's miter at his feet.

The friendship of Count Roger

One day in 1091 Count Roger of Calabria was hunting in those lands when his dogs began to bark around the Saint’s cave. The Count entered and found St. Bruno at his prayers. He was so struck by the Saint's holiness, that thenceforward he greatly honored him and his companions and supplied their wants.


Count Roger of Calabria discovers St. Bruno in a cave on his property

That same year the Count granted St. Bruno and his companions the lands around the caves they occupied.

St. Bruno went also to visit Count Roger's brother, Count Robert Guiscard, in Mileto to help Guiscard when sick (1098 and 1101), and to baptize his son Roger (1097), the future King of Sicily.

But more often it was the Count Roger who went into the desert to visit his solitary friends, and when, through his generosity, the Monastery of St. Stephen was built in 1095 near the hermitage of St. Mary, there was erected adjoining it a small country house where he would retire whenever he could escape his pressing affairs.

In the year 1098, this same Count Roger was besieging the town of Capua. One of his men named Sergius, a Greek by birth to whom he had given the command of 200 men, succumbed to a bribe and determined to betray him by delivering the Count's army to the Prince of Capua during the night.

It was on the 1st of March that he was to execute his intention. On that very night, St. Bruno, who was in the desert of Squilantia in Calabria, appeared to Count Roger and told him to fly to arms promptly if he did not want to be taken by his enemies unexpectedly.

The Count started from his sleep, and commanded his men to mount their horses to inspect the camp. They met Sergius and his men with the Prince of Capua, who, perceiving them, immediately fled out of the camp. However, Count Roger's men took 162 of the traitors, from whom they learned all the secret of the betrayal.

On the following 29th of July, Count Roger went to Squilantia and related to St. Bruno what had happened to him. The Saint said: "It was not I who warned you. It was the Angel of God, who is near Catholic Princes in time of war."

Thus does the Count Roger relate the affair himself, in a privilege granted to St. Bruno.

crest of carthusian order

The Carthusian Crest with its 7 stars
over a globe surmounted by a Cross:
"Stat Crux dum Volvitur Orbis
(The Cross stands while the world turns)


Blason de Charlemagne
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Posted October 22, 2022

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