In 1084, Bruno decided to withdraw to the “desert,” to an isolated wilderness where he might give himself up to spiritual devotions without danger of distraction from the clamor of the world. He founded a hermitage in the heart of the Chartreuse Mountains, in the Alps—the source of the name “Carthusian,” adopted by the religious of his order, as well as the “charterhouses,” which their monasteries came to be called. In the background, the painter Mignard depicts Bruno’s first six companions occupied in the various tasks of eremetical life. In 1090, Bruno founded a second charterhouse in a “desert” of Calabria, Italy. While building work was underway, Bruno lodged in a cave. Wishing to meet him, the lord of the domain, Count Roger of Sicily, scoured the countryside for days but could find him nowhere. And so he returned with his pack of hunting dogs. One of them tracked Bruno down to his cave, in rapt contemplation of God. Mignard pictures the hound here in the foreground. Before him, we find Bruno, his whole being turned toward the divine light which floods down over him through a fissure in the rock. The rosary hanging from the saint’s belt is an anachronism, a witness to the fact that this devotion, popularized by the Dominicans, was actually first conceived by the Carthusians. On the ground, in the opposite corner, a skull recalls the vanity of all human existence whose goal is not life in God. For, to a Christian, each vocation is a religious one: through faith working through love (Gal 5:6), to make of one’s existence on this earth a life that endures for eternal life. But the perfection of the vocation of each member of the Church is only fully realized through the complementarity of the gifts encompassed by the mystical Body of Christ. Thus, while some devote their lives to preaching the Gospel, while others witness to Christ’s charity in service of their brethren, and still others consecrate themselves to God through a consecration to one another by love in marriage—certain members of the mystical Body are called to withdraw from the world to act as perpetual witnesses of the Absolute, ensuring that Christ’s prayer to his Father is never extinguished from his Body.
Saint Bruno Praying in Desert (1638), Nicolas Mignard (1606–1668), Calvet Museum, Avignon, France. © DeAgostini / Leemage.