Saint Bruno, Confessor

October 6

Today is the feast day of Saint Bruno.  Ora pro nobis.

Saint Bruno was born in Cologne in about the year 1030, of an illustrious family. He was endowed with rare natural gifts, which soon shone with outstanding brilliance in Paris, though he was studying among other gifted young men.

by Father Francis Xavier Weninger, 1876

Bruno, the celebrated founder of the Carthusian Order, was born at Cologne on the Rhine, of noble and virtuous parents, and was by them very piously educated. He was sent in his youth to Paris, where he progressed so much in all branches of learning, that he was made Doctor of Divinity, and was soon after raised to the dignity of canon at Rheims. A most horrible event took place at Paris before he left the city. A Doctor, who had always been considered very learned and at the same time very pious, died. His death seemed a very happy one, as it followed soon after his having received the holy Sacraments. But when the corpse was brought to the church, for the funeral ceremonies and the usual prayers, behold! the dead man arose during the Office of the Dead, to the great horror of all present, and cried, with a terrible voice: ” The Justice of God has accused me! ” On the second day, when the clergy had reached the same lesson in the Office, the body again moved, and cried in the same fearful tones: ” The Justice of God has rejected me!” On the third day, the same happened : the dead sitting up, cried with a still more awful voice: “The Justice of God has condemned me!” The feelings of all present may easily be imagined. There was not one among them who did not turn pale, and all left the Church in fear and trembling.

Bruno, with six of his friends, was present at this sad event, and his heart was deeply touched by divine grace. He was so much affected by this terrible judgment of the Almighty, that he resolved, from that hour, to retire from the world and work most earnestly at the salvation of his soul, that he might one day be able to justify himself before the throne of God. He informed his friends of this, and persuaded them, by the earnestness of his words, to make the same resolution. They delayed not in carrying out their intention; but immediately sold all they possessed, gave it to the poor, and taking leave of their acquaintances, they went, clad in the poor garb of pilgrims, from Paris to Grenoble. They related to St. Hugh, the holy bishop of that city, all that had happened, and acquainted him with their plans, and begged him to assign them a place in his diocese, where they might dwell in solitude, and by a pious life, merit the favor of the Divine Judge. Hugh had dreamed the night before, that seven bright stars had dropped at his feet; and when he saw these seven men, so humble and so filled with holy zeal, he doubted not that God, being pleased with their resolution, had, by this dream, foreshadowed their coming. Hence he received them very kindly, strengthened them in their resolution and brought them to a desert called the Chartreuse. Closed in by high mountains, this wilderness was so stony and barren, that it seemed hardly a fit dwelling for wild animals, much less for cultivated men. To St. Bruno, however, it appeared to be exactly the piace for his purpose.

He erected a small church there in honor of St. John the Baptist, and several poor huts, all separated from each other. This was the beginning of the Carthusian Order, which has since become so celebrated, and whose members have never abated from the fervor that distinguished the early founders. St. Bruno and his companions led a very austere life. The principal points which he observed and desired that they should observe, were: To live separated from all communication with men; to observe a continual silence, except when assembled at church to sing the praises of the Most High; always to wear hair-cloth, to abstain from meat and to fast daily; to occupy their time in prayer, singing the praises of God, reading devout books and manual labor. The holy Founder chose the Divine Mother as patroness of the Order, and St. John Baptist as its special protector, as his life might serve as a most perfect example to the hermits. The Evil One aroused many enemies to persecute the holy man and his companions; but St. Bruno continued undisturbed in the practice of what he had commenced out of love to God and for the salvation of his soul.

Having lived in this desert most austerely during six years, he was requested by Pope Urban II., who had known him well in former times, to come to Rome on account of some important affairs. The holy man was not less sorry than his disciples at this news; but he was obliged to obey the Pontiff. The Saint remained six years in Rome, as the Pope needed his counsel and knowledge for the benefit of the holy church. The Pope intended, as a recompense for his faithful services, to raise him to the dignity of Archbishop of Reggio in Calabria, a see which was at that time vacant. The humble servant of God refused with many tears to accept it, saying that he had already enough account to render for his own soul and could not become responsible for the many souls which so high an office would place under his charge. The Pope was touched, and not only desisted from his intention, but also allowed St. Bruno to leave the papal court, as he desired, and reside in a solitary spot in Calabria, where, as in the Chartreuse, he could serve God in peace and quiet.

The Saint, accompanied by several who were of the same mind with him, wandered through Calabria, until he found, in the diocese of Squillaci, a desert which suited his intentions. He soon had everything arranged in the same manner as at the Chartreuse, and instituted the same rules in regard to the life and occupation of the hermits. It was there that St. Bruno passed the remainder of his days in great holiness. A certain Count of Calabria, named Roger, whilst hunting in the forest, one day came upon the huts of the monks. He was astonished no less than edified at the austerity of their life, and made St. Bruno a gift of some land which was in the neighborhood. He also had a church built for these holy men, which was dedicated to the Blessed Virgin. The Almighty soon richly rewarded the liberality of the Count; for when he besieged Capua, and one of his subjects was plotting to betray him into the hands of the enemy, St. Bruno, who was far away in his solitude, appeared to the Count during the night, and apprised him of his danger.

Not long after this, the Almighty sent a dangerous sickness to the Saint as a messenger of approaching death. He received the holy Sacraments with great devotion, but first made a public confession of his faith, against the heresy which was just then making inroads on the holy Church, and admonished all present, to remain constant in the service of God. At last, clothed in his penitential garments, he took the Crucifix, and while he most devoutly kissed it, the Almighty released his soul from its earthly fetters, in the year 1101. A most miraculous spring gushed out near his tomb, the water of which cured the blind, the lame, the deaf and those who were afflicted with other infirmities. (1)

St. Bruno was buried in the little cemetery of the hermitage of St. Mary, and many miracles were worked at his tomb. He had never been formally canonized. His cult, authorized for the Carthusian Order by Leo X in 1514, was extended to the whole church by Gregory XV, 17 February, 1623, as a semi-double feast, and elevated to the class of doubles by Clement X, 14 March, 1674. St. Bruno is the popular saint of Calabria; every year a great multitude resort to the Charterhouse of St. Stephen, on the Monday and Tuesday of Pentecost, when his relics are borne in procession to the hermitage of St. Mary, where he lived, and the people visit the spots sanctified by his presence.

In 1984, German filmmaker Philip Gröning wrote to the Carthusian order for permission to make a documentary about them. They said they would get back to him. Sixteen years later, they were ready. Gröning spent six months living the life of a Carthusian monk and single-handed produced a stunningly elemental film throwing the viewer right into the daily tasks, prayers, rituals and rare outdoor excursions of the monks – without score, voiceover or archival footage. The film is called  Into the Great Silence.

Image: Hl. Bruno, der Kartäuser , artist: José de Ribera, circa 1643 (7)

Research by REGINA Staff


Sign up for REGINA's weekly newsletter

  1. You will usually hear from us about once a week, usually on Sunday. 
  2. At other times, we may send a special email. 

To subscribe, go here!