Monday, July 23, 2007

Wandering in a spiritual wonderland

The ancient inhabitants called it Cartusia. I've always been fond of that Latin name. Bruno and his six companions entered this spiritual wonderland in 1084, in search of God. Today, the French name of this magnificent Alpine territory is Chartreuse. The peak in the middle of the photo is Chamechaude, which means "bald head". Bruno's descendants are called Chartreux [or Carthusians, if you prefer a more English-sounding term]. Ever since arriving in the Dauphiné, I've admired the tale of Bruno, with whom I sense a vague affinity. A few years ago, I made a small website on the theme of this hermit [display].

This morning, Natacha, Alain and I set out from the Grande Chartreuse monastery in order to climb up to the primordial spring whose waters have enabled generations of monks, over the last nine centuries, to survive and indeed thrive in this rugged wilderness.

The stacks of wood in front of the quaint old sawmill will be keeping the monks warm during next winter. In fact, the immense timber riches of the Grande Chartreuse belong now to the French Republic.

Alain found an iron nugget. What is this specimen of iron doing in such an unlikely place? My unpublished novel entitled God's Metal answers that question in a roundabout conjectural way.

Curiously, Bruno's superb spring is hardly mentioned in Carthusian literature. Natacha and I don't understand the reasons for this absence.

The splendid limestone fountain is full of icy water and fat tadpoles.

The ruins above the spot where the water comes to the surface resemble those of an ancient Greek temple. For the moment, we ignore the nature and purpose of the edifice that once existed here.

Walking upwards beyond the spring, we approached the aerial summits of the cliffs surrounding Bruno's great valley. The wind blowing up from the valley was focussed here into a gale-force blast that almost knocked me over from time to time.

This sign says that we're in the so-called desert of the Chartreux monks, where silence is the rule.

On the way back down, we passed alongside Carthusian settlements of an economic nature: the old farming installations that once enabled the monks to earn an income as graziers.

At the end of this lovely day, I was intrigued by the same questions that arise every time I visit Bruno's exotic wilderness, which is extraordinarily beautiful but harsh, particularly in winter. Why and how did a renowned middle-aged scholar [from the great medieval city of Reims] settle down as a religious hermit in such a remote place?

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