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St. Bruno icon



St. Bruno icon
© Cecilia Lawrence
November 5th, 2018
6 x 8.5 inches
Ink, watercolor, gold leaf
About 6 hours

“Had I but wings like a dove
to fly away and find my rest,
I would flee far away
and encamp in the wilderness.
The world and all its allurements will pass away,
but whoever does God's will shall live for ever.”

~ from the Responsory of St. Bruno


I was commissioned to make an icon of St. Bruno, the founder of the Carthusian Order. I have depicted him wearing the habit of a Carthusian monk and holding a Romanesque-style crucifix in one hand and a scroll bearing the symbol and motto of the Carthusian Order. Their motto is Stat Crux dum volvitur orbis which means “The Cross stands while the world turns.” The Crucifix represents his ascetic life as a hermit and his total devotion to poverty, humility, and silence out of love for God.


Saint Bruno (c. 1030 – October 6th 1101 A.D.), or Bruno of Cologne was born in the city of Cologne, Germany to a prominent German family. Little is known of his childhood, except that his parents must have valued his intellectual gifts as they sent him to the renowned cathedral school of Rheims when he was still a young child. Bruno always had a great affection for Rheims, so that he was later surnamed “Gallicus” (“the Frenchman”) by others. While studying under Master Heriman in Rheims, he mastered the trivium (grammar, rhetoric, and logic) and the quadrivium (arithmetic, music, geometry, and astronomy), which were the pillars of medieval learning and the preparation for the study of philosophy and theology. It was in these latter two that Bruno especially excelled. He studied the Sacred Scriptures and the writings of the Fathers of the Church. With his formal education finished, he returned home to Cologne and was ordained to the priesthood and made a canon of St. Cunibert’s when he was about 25 years old. In 1056, Bishop Gervais invited him to return to Rheims to direct the cathedral school alongside his former teacher Master Heriman. Bruno was then made a canon of Rheims—a highly distinguished position. When Heriman resigned his office of director of studies to pursue a stricter monastic observance, Bruno succeeded him in the position.

As the director at the cathedral school of Rheims, Bruno was beloved by his pupils, many of whom later became eminent bishops and clergy in the Church (including the future Pope Urban II). Upon Bruno’s death in 1101, a number of his former students warmly testified to his wisdom, goodness, and learning. One student later wrote, “I, Rayner, one of the venerable Bruno's old pupils, wish to offer my prayers to Almighty God that he will give the crown to this faithful man whom he endowed with such grace and piety. I shall preserve his memory in a special way because of my debt to him and my affection for him.” And another: “From the beginning of my religious vocation I, Lambert, abbot of Pouthières, was a pupil of Bruno, that remarkable teacher in the science of learning. I will never forget my good father, to whom I owe my formation.” And Abbot Peter of Saint Jean-des-Vignes at Soissons wrote: “Learning of the death of Bruno, your holy father, the master from whose lips I was taught the holy doctrine, I was saddened, but I also rejoice because he has found rest and now he lives with God, insofar as I can judge from the purity and perfection of his life, which I knew very well.” And one Prior Maynard of the monastery of Corméry wrote:
“In the year of the Incarnation of our Lord 1102, on the calends of November, I received the scroll, and in it I read that the soul—blessed, I hope—of my dear teacher Bruno had finished his life of a pilgrim on this earth and entered the kingdom of heaven on the wings of his virtues, still persevering in true charity. Certainly I rejoice over the glorious end of such a man. But, since I was planning to come to him in the near future so that I might see him and listen to him, to confide the whole state of my soul to him, and consecrate myself to the Holy Trinity under his direction along with you, I am also perplexed about what to say upon receiving the news of his unexpected death and I have not been able to restrain my tears. I, Maynard, unworthy prior of numerous monks in this monastery of Corméry, came from the city of Rheims. I followed Master Bruno's courses for several years, and, with the grace of God, I profited from them very much. I thank Master Bruno for my formation, and, because I cannot give him my testimonial in this life, I have now decided the least I can do is give it in behalf of his soul. This is why, along with all who loved him in Christ, I shall cherish his memory as long as I have breath.”

He wrote a number of works as a teacher, two of which come down to us today, his Commentary on the Epistles of St. Paul and a Commentary on the Psalms. For eighteen years between 1057 and 1075, Bruno ably taught and administered the educational duties and responsibilities of being the director of the cathedral school of Rheims. He not only maintained but also increased the prestige of Rheims, increasing her reputation for learning and holiness. When the holy Archbishop Gervais died on July 4, 1067, he was succeeded by the eminently worldly and crafty Manassès of Gournay, who had obtained the See of Rheims through simony, even remarking at one point that, “Rheims would be a good See if one did not have to sing Mass there.” He began to harass the monks of Saint Rémi by preventing them from choosing an abbot so that he could amass the wealth of the abbey for himself. The monk complain to the Pope, but Alexander II died in early 1073, and was succeeded by Pope Gregory VII. When he learned of the matter, Pope Gregory VII wrote Manassès of Gournay a stern letter telling him to desist.

Manassès seemingly complied, and even named Bruno chancellor in 1075 as a way to gain the approval and acclaim of the people. Bruno’s new duties consisted of looking after the daily administrative details of the diocese of Rheims. Bruno remained chancellor for the short period between the years 1076 and 1077. He resigned out of disgust for the intrigues of Manassès of Gournay, who continued to prey on the clergy and monasteries under his jurisdiction. Bruno and two other canons from Rheims delivered the complaints of the diocese to the papal legate, Hugh of Dié. At the Council of Autun in September of 1077, it was discovered that Manassès of Gournay’s administration was fraught with corruption and violence. He had sold sacred offices to the highest bidder, extorted money from the clergy, had used violence to impose his will, and threatened excommunication on anyone who opposed him. After learning of this, Archbishop Manassès of Gournay was suspended from his position, as he had refused to come and answer the charges against him. The enraged Manassès responded by confiscating the goods of those who opposed him and then burning down their homes. Bruno was then sent to appeal the case directly to Pope Gregory VII in Rome with the recommendation of the papal legate, who said of Bruno that he was “a teacher with integrity in the Church of Rheims.” Pope Gregory reviewed the case himself, but decided to take a course of clemency and mercy. He restored Manassès to his office as Archbishop once the latter had sworn an oath of fidelity. Manassès then returned to Rheims. He, however, was not finished with his intrigues. He tried to turn the Pope against Bruno and the other “exiles” from Rheims, but the Pope wasn’t fooled. The Pope empowered Hugh of Dié to convoke a council to look into the Archbishop’s excesses. The Council of Lyons took place in February of 1080. Manassès again refused to come and submit himself to judgement. He was deposed, and Pope Gregory VII confirmed it. The Pope did offer Manassès a chance to save his reputation and mend his ways, on condition that he restore what he had stolen and withdraw peacefully to a life of prayer in a monastery. But Manassès refused. The people of Rheims finally rebelled and expelled him from the city. The former archbishop then fled to the excommunicated Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV, who was a staunch and fervent enemy of the Pope.

On the expulsion of the evil archbishop, Bruno and the other exiled canons were finally able to return from to Rheims. As the Archbishopric was now vacant, the people and the clergy clamored to elect Bruno as the successor to the See of Rheims. But, as one Eulogy recounted: “Bruno had the approval of the city. He was the consolation and the pride of the people. Everything was in his favor, and we preferred him to anyone else. Our choice was right, because Bruno was a good man; but, although he was expert in every branch of learning, eloquent, and very wealthy, he disdained everything for the sake of Christ, undertook to follow Christ alone, and went to the wilderness with several followers.”

Speaking of the secret call to solitude that God had placed in his heart, Bruno later wrote a letter to his friend Raoul le Verd where he said, “You remember that day when we were together — you, Fulco le Borgne [the one-eyed], and I — in the little garden beside Adam's house, where I was staying. We talked for some time, I think, about the false attractions and the perishable riches of this world and about the joys of eternal glory. With fervent love for God we then promised, we vowed, we decided soon to leave the fleeting shadows of the world to go in search of the good that is everlasting and receive the monastic habit. We would have carried out our plan promptly had Fulco not gone to Rome, but we put it off until he would return. He delayed, other reasons came up, his courage cooled, and his enthusiasm waned.” Following this inner prompting, Bruno refused the dignity and honor of the episcopal See, and instead decided to leave Rheims at the age of 50 with two friends, Raoul and Fulcius. Initially he had planned on becoming a hermit under the direction of St. Robert of Molesme (the future founder of the Cistercians) near Molesme at Sèche-Fontaine. But eventually he abandoned this plan, as he felt that God was not calling him there. He continued on with his six companions to the Bishop of Grenoble, St. Hugh of Châteauneuf. In a later Life of St. Hugh of Grenoble, the author recounts the meeting between the bishop and Bruno:
“The leader was Master Bruno, renowned for his religious fervor and his learning, a model of virtue, dignity, and maturity. His companions were Master Landuino (who was prior of Chartreuse after Bruno); Stephen of Bourg and Stephen of Dié (formerly canons of Saint Ruf, who joined Bruno with the consent of their Abbot because of their desire for the solitary life); and then Hugh, whom they appointed their chaplain, the only one who exercised the ministry of a priest; and two laymen, Andrew and Guérin, whom we would now call brothers (conversi). They were looking for a place suitable for a hermitage and had not yet found one. Hoping to find it at last, they came to see Hugh, desiring to enjoy some spiritual conversation with him as well. He received them with joy and respect. He looked after them and helped them fulfill their vow. With his personal advice, assistance, and guidance they entered the solitude of the Chartreuse and settled there.

About this time Hugh had a dream. He saw God building a dwelling place for his glory in this solitude, and there were seven stars showing him the way. Seven! Bruno and his companions numbered exactly seven. So he welcomed the plans of this first group as well as those who came later, and he gave the hermits the benefit of his counsel and generosity until he died.”

The holy bishop aided them in their quest to become hermits totally dedicated to God by granting them a plot of land in the lower Alps of the Dauphiné, called Chartreuse, not far from Grenoble itself. This land grant was officially ratified bu Bishop Hugh on December 9, 1086.

They settled at Chartreuse and first built a little oratory and individual cells built apart from one another so that they could pursue a life dedicated to solitary contemplation, study, and meditation. With the help of the inhabitants of Chartreuse, they were able to obtain wood for building the hermitage and baked bread which was brought to them by the charitable villagers. Their first church was built of stone and dedicated to the Holy Virgin and St. John the Baptist. When the brothers weren’t praying and studying, they tended to the livestock, cultivated their meager crops, cut wood, repaired and maintained the buildings, prepared their food and performed other various chores as their needs required.

Guibert of Nogent, writing around 1114, describes the Carthusian life thus:
“The hermits' church is built almost at the edge of the monolith. Beyond it arranged in a curve is a group of dwellings where thirteen monks are living. Their cloister is convenient enough for the practices of the cenobitic life, but they do not live in a cloistered community like other monks.... Within the precincts of the cloister each one has his own cell, where he works, sleeps, and eats. On Sunday he receives from the bursar his bread and vegetable for the week. Water for drinking and other purposes comes from the spring through a conduit that makes its round of the cells and supplies each one through an opening in it. On Sundays and solemn feast days they eat cheese and fish, when some good people bring it to them: they do not buy them .... When they drink wine, it is so diluted with water that it has lost its strength, being scarcely better than water. Their cloth of their monastic habits is of poor quality. They gather in the church at set times, which are not the same as ours ....

They are ruled by a prior, with the Bishop of Grenoble, a very religious man, serving as their abbot.... They cultivate a little land for wheat, but the sale of the flocks they have assures their subsistence.... The place is called Chartreuse.... Below this mountain there is a group of dwellings where some twenty devout laymen live and work on their own. These hermits, too, dedicate themselves to contemplation with so much fervor that they never deviate from their reason for being there, and, despite the austerity of their manner of life, the passing of time has not diminished their zeal.... Though they are poor, they have a fine library: one would say they work with so much zeal to acquire eternal nourishment that they need less by way of earthly nourishment.”

The Abbot of Cluny, Peter the Venerable (d. 1156), wrote this of the Carthusians:
“Among all the European forms of our monastic foundations in the region of Burgundy, there is one that surpasses many of the others in holiness and spiritual valor. It was founded in our own time by some Fathers, wise and holy men of great courage: namely, master Bruno of Cologne, master Landuino of Italy, and some others, fine men, as I said, and God-fearing.... They fast almost continuously.... Like the Egyptian monks of old, they dedicate themselves constantly to silence, reading, prayer, and manual labor, especially copying books. In their cells, at the sound of the church bell, they pray part of the canonical Hours: namely, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, and Compline. For Vespers and Matins they all assemble in the church. . . . They change the daily routine on certain feast days . . . when they take two meals and, like the monks who are cenobites rather than hermits, they sing all of the Hours in the church, and all without exception go to the refectory for their meals, one after Sext, then again after Vespers.... They remain very recollected. They recite the Office with their eyes cast down toward the ground and their heart fixed upon heaven. By the gravity of their demeanor, the sound of their voice, and the expression on their faces they show they are totally — interiorly as well as exteriorly — absorbed in God.... The Carthusians practice great detachment, wishing to have nothing except what is prescribed.”

Bruno had only been at Chartreuse for six years when he was summoned to Rome by his former student who had been recently elected as Pope Urban II. Pope Urban was persecuted on all sides by enemies of the Church, especially by the Holy Roman Emperor and his puppet anti-pope. Driven into exile, Pope Urban began calling his friends and allies to his side to help him in governing the Church. As the Chronicle Magister writes, “Master Bruno, ... having left the world, founded the wilderness of Chartreuse and governed it for six years. On the formal order (cogente) of Pope Urban, whose master he had been, he came to the Roman Curia as an aide to the Pope, to be a spiritual light for him and his counsellor in the affairs of the Church.” When the order reached Bruno, he complied immediately, but was dismayed when the other hermits who had joined him decided to disband. Before he left, Bruno donated the land to another monastery, and before he left, the other hermits changed their minds, accepted his counsel, and continued their eremitical life at Chartreuse, and regained the property. With this settled, Bruno left for Rome, traveling through the dangerous areas held by the anti-pope and the Emperor. Generously, Bruno sacrificed his love for solitude and his love for his life’s work of being a hermit and, in his 60s, traveled to Rome to be once more a part of the intrigues and dangers of the political world that he had shunned for love of God. He reached Rome in March of 1090. Bruno’s first thought for his sons at Chartreuse. He asked the Pope to write to the monastery to restore the property, and the Pope complied, and wrote this:
“ Urban, Bishop, servant of the servants of God, to Our very dear son Seguin, abbot of Chaise-Dieu, and to his whole monastery, greetings and apostolic benediction. The Roman Church should come to the aid of those who work tirelessly in obedience and lighten their cares. We have called Our very dear son Bruno to serve the Apostolic See. Since he has come to Us, we cannot — because we should not — permit his hermitage to suffer any harm. So, We ask your charity, and in asking it We instruct you to establish the hermitage again with its former condition. As regards the deed of donation, which Our son Bruno wrote with his own hand returning the property to you while his brethren were dispersed, return it as you love Us so that they can be established again in their former freedom. The brethren who were dispersed are together again under the inspiration of God, and they want nothing except to persevere in their vocation in the same place. For the respect which you owe to Our directives, do not delay beyond thirty days of receiving this letter to restore the above-mentioned deed.”

Abbot Seguin restored the deed promptly, in a document dated September 15, 1090, in which he wrote:
“I, Brother Seguin, Abbot of Chaise-Dieu, make known to all for now and for the future that, when Brother Bruno was called to Rome by Pope Urban and he saw the property of Chartreuse being abandoned because his brethren were leaving it, he gave the property to us and to our monastery. But now, to respond to the request of our father, Pope Urban, and made aware as we were by a report from Bruno that he, their prior, had strongly encouraged his brethren to remain in that place, I, Brother Seguin, abbot of Chaise-Dieu and with the agreement of our monks, have returned to Brother Landuino, whom Master Bruno as he was leaving named prior of the other brothers, and to all the brethren who live under his authority, the gift that Bruno had made to us in our Chapter, in the presence of the chapter members that we assembled, Bishop Hugh of Grenoble presiding. In favor of them and their successors I relinquish all authority over the property of Chartreuse so that they may use it as they wish, and to them I cede all my rights. As regards the deed that Bruno had drawn up for us, if it has not been returned to them it is because the brethren present in our Chapter have not been able to find it. But it is agreed that if this document is ever found, it belongs to them by right.

In the year of the Incarnation of our Lord 1090, on the fifteenth of the calends of October, I, Brother Seguin, Abbot of Chaise-Dieu, sign this document and affix my seal, Archbishop Hugh of Lyons present and presiding.”

Bruno stayed with the Papal court only for a short time. The Pope had to flee from Rome in 1090 and retreated to the south of Sicily, where he sought refuge with the Norman lords of Apulia, Calabria, and Sicily. Bruno was unable to stand the commotion, noise and intrigues of court life for long. He refused the bishopric of Reggio which the Pope offered him. The Pope honored Bruno’s sincere desire for solitude, and allowed him to go his own way, but instead of sending him back to Chartreuse, Bruno was sent to Calabria to form a hermitage there. The Norman Count Roger I of Sicily and Calabria was his patron, and gave him some land in a forested valley in the region of La Torre, near Mileto. Bruno called his new hermitage “St. Mary of La Torre” and settled there with some other hermits (both laymen and clerics) in 1091. He lived there for 10 years. Speaking of this life to his friend Raoul, the Provost of the Chapter of Rheims, he wrote:
“I am living in a wilderness in Calabria, sufficiently distant from any center of human population. I am with my religious brethren, some of whom are very learned. They persevere in their holy life, waiting for the return of the master, ready to open the door for him as soon as he knocks. How can I speak adequately about this solitude, its agreeable location, its healthful and temperate climate? It is in a wide, pleasant plain between the mountains, with verdant meadows and pasturelands adorned with flowers. How can I describe the appearance of the gently rolling hills all around, and the secret of the shaded valleys where so many rivers flow, the brooks, and the springs? There are watered gardens and many fruit trees of various kinds.

But why am I giving so much time to these pleasantries? For a wise man there are other attractions, which are still more pleasant and useful, being divine. Nevertheless, scenes like these are often a relaxation and a diversion for fragile spirits wearied by a strict rule and attention to spiritual things. If the bow is stretched for too long, it becomes slack and unfit for its purpose.

Only those who have experienced the solitude and silence of the wilderness can know what benefit and divine joy they bring to those who love them. There strong men can be recollected as often as they wish, abide within themselves, carefully cultivate the seeds of virtue, and be nourished happily by the fruits of paradise.

There one can try to come to clear vision of the divine Spouse who has been wounded by love, to a pure vision that permits them to see God. There they can dedicate themselves to leisure that is occupied and activity that is tranquil. There, for their labor in the contest, God gives his athletes the reward they desire: a peace that the world does not know and joy in the Holy Spirit.”

Bruno maintained his life of solitude and contemplation in the wilderness at La Torre, only leaving when affairs forced him. He baptized Count Roger’s son (the future Roger II) in 1097 at Melito. Bruno and Count Roger struck up a good friendship. The Norman count had a great deal of respect for Bruno, and often generously aided him and his brother hermits. Bruno, for his part, visited the Count when he was sick. The Count died on June 21, 1101, and a number of Bruno’s other close friends also died. Bruno soon too, fell ill, though his passing was very peaceful. A letter recalling his death says: “Knowing that the hour had come for him to pass from this world to the Father, [Bruno] called his brothers together, reviewed all the stages of his life since infancy, and recalled the special events of his lifetime. Then, in a profound, detailed discourse he expressed his faith in the Trinity, concluding with these words: "I believe also in the sacraments that the Church believes and holds in reverence, and particularly that the bread and wine which are consecrated on the altar are, after the Consecration, the true Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, his true Flesh and his real Blood, which we receive for the forgiveness of our sins and in the hope of eternal life." The following Sunday, the evening before the ninth of October in the year of our Lord 1101, his holy soul left his body.”

His sons mourned him greatly, along with the many bishops, clergy, and laymen who all attested to his great sanctity and holiness. A long scroll was sent about through a number of churches in Europe announcing his death, and 178 people signed the scroll with their regrets, sadness, promising prayers and recalling in verse or in prose their dear memories of Bruno. The hermits of Chartreuse, upon hearing of his death wrote: “More than any others we, the brothers of Chartreuse, are afflicted and deprived of our consolation by the death of our beloved father, the renowned Bruno. How is it possible to put limits on what we will do for this holy soul, so dear to us? The good that we owe him will always outweigh anything we could do for him. Now and always we will pray for him as our only father and our master. As is proper for sons, we will not stop the Masses and the spiritual practices that we customarily offer for the dead.”

Bruno was buried three days after his death in the cemetery of the hermitage of Santa Maria. He was beatified in 1514 by Pope Leo X and canonized on February 17, 1623 by Pope Gregory XV.

“From the frequent and pleasant reports of our most blessed brother, I know of your reasoned and truly praise-worthy discipline, carried out with unwavering rigor. Since I have heard of your holy love and constant pursuit of honesty and virtue, my spirit rejoices in the Lord. I rejoice and am drawn to praise and give thanks to God, and still I long to love Him. I rejoice, as I should, in the growing fruits of your strength, and yet I grieve and grow ashamed that I lie idle and senseless in the mire of my sins.

Therefore rejoice my dearest brothers, because you are so blessed and because of the bountiful hand of God's grace upon you. Rejoice, because you have escaped the various dangers and shipwrecks of the stormy world. Rejoice, because you have reached the quiet and safe anchorage of a secret harbor. Many wish to come into this port, and many make great efforts to do so, yet do not achieve it. Indeed many, after reaching it, have been thrust out, since it was not granted them from above.

Therefore, my brothers, you should consider it certain and well-established that whoever partakes of this desirable good, should he in any way lose it, will grieve to his death, if he has any regard or concern for the salvation of his soul.

My dearest lay brothers, of you I say: "My soul magnifies the Lord." For I have learned of the generosity of His mercy toward you from the report of your prior and dearest father; he rejoices and takes great pride in you. And let us rejoice that since you are unacquainted with the knowledge of letters, almighty God will inscribe in your hearts with his finger not only His love but also the knowledge of His holy law. By your work you show what you love and what you know. When you observe true obedience with prudence and enthusiasm, it is clear that you wisely pick the most delightful and nourishing fruit of divine Scripture.
~ From a letter to his Carthusian sons by Saint Bruno


:rose: The Feast of St. Bruno is celebrated on October 6th. :rose:

St. Bruno is a patron saint of the Carthusian Order, Germany, Calabria, and Ruthenia.

O God, who called Saint Bruno to serve you in solitude,
grant, through his intercession,
that amid the changes of this world
we may constantly look to you alone.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
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