13 July 2011

The Cell

Apart from unessential modifications imposed by climate, circumstances or requests made by benefactors, all the Charterhouses which were created in the course of nine centuries of history, were built according to the same fundamental principles: a group of individual cells for the Fathers, as far removed as possible from noise, and separated even from the cells of the Brothers, whose rhythm of life differs, however slightly, from that of the Fathers. The Fathers' cells open on to a cloister, which leads to the places where they meet as a community: the church, the chapter-room, the refectory. Although the Church with the Eucharistic Presence is the Holy of Holies of the monastery, and of the heart of each monk, the cell in fact is really for each of them their personal 'hermitage', where most of their life unfolds. "This is holy ground, a place where, as a man with his Friend, the Lord and His servant often speak together." In his cell, the monk prays, celebrates the hours of the Divine Office which are not celebrated in the church, and reads and meditates; there, too, he takes his meals, works, and sleeps.

We must therefore describe the Father's cell in more detail. Exteriorly, it looks like a little cottage, with a small garden adjoining. Inside, the main room is the cubiculum; this is large enough to include a place reserved for prayer and the recitation of the hours of Office, with a stall like those in the church, and a prie-dieu and Crucifix. For when the monk recites the Office in his cell, he follows the same movements as when he is in the choir stalls in the church: he begins when the bell rings, he stands, kneels, bows, and covers his head with his hood. The monastery is then transformed into a huge church, where praise and prayer rise, as it were, with one unique voice. Near the oratory is a bed in the form of a chest: a canvas covered a straw mattress, with bolster, sheets, and a woollen blanket. There is a table in the window-recess, on which the religious takes his meals, brought to him from the kitchen, and passed through a hatch beside his front door. And finally the cubiculum contains a little workspace, having for all furniture a table, a desk and a few books. A small stove provides heat in winter.

To the fore of the cubiculum is a smaller room, called the Ave Maria, because it contains a statue of Our Lady; here the monk recites an Ave Maria before entering the cubiculum. Alongside each cell is a covered walkway, and a small garden and workshop, for relaxation or manual work.

The Statutes of the Order state: "The cell is as necessary for the salvation and life of the monk as water for fish and the sheepfold for sheep." The monk only leaves it at times fixed by the Rule or with the prior's permission, or through necessity. It is in his cell again that, every year, for eight days, the monk makes a more strict retreat.

-Saint Bruno and the Carthusians-