(ca. 1032-1101) French hermit, ascetic, writer and founder of the Carthusian Order
“Only those who have known the silence and solitude of a hermit’s cell can understand its blessings and joys.”—Saint Bruno
Tradition holds that Saint Bruno's family name was Hartenfaust or Hardebüst. He was born into a family of wealth and influence in Cologne. He was educated in Tours, Paris and Reims and attended the collegial of Saint Cunibert, where he was an exceptional student. As a canon, he taught at this same prestigious institution, where he lectured in grammar and theology.
In 1056, Bruno was called to Reims by Bishop Gervais and he aided the master of the episcopal school there. Within a year, he was chancellor of the schools in that diocese. He was well-suited to this demanding job, which included oversight and direction of all the schools in the diocese, as well as his duties in teaching. Bruno was a very learned man and an accomplished writer. He apparently had some knowledge of Hebrew, Latin and Greek and much of theology and church history. He was by all accounts an exceptional teacher and quite learned in sciences and theology. Some of his students went on to be among the most respected minds in Europe at the time, including Pope Urban II, several bishops, cardinals and professors.
At Reims, the Archbishop of the diocese was Manasses de Gournai, a man who had some less-than-godly dealings, including a violent temper, and who was allegedly involved in simony and graft. Bruno helped to expose Manasses and bring him to the attention of the church. Manasses responded by destroying the homes and seizing all the possessions of his accusers, then appealing to the Pope. Bruno wisely moved away for awhile and in 1080 the Church finally censured the cruel archbishop. Manasses was eventually reinstated, but by that time, Bruno was far from the scene.
Bruno gave up his honors and titles and became a hermit under Saint Robert of Molesmes. Saint Robert (whose feast day is 26 January) was the founder of the Cistercian Order. In 1084, inspired by a dream, Bruno moved to La Grande Chartreuse, near Grenoble and Bishop Saint Hugh of Châteauneuf gave him a little strip of land. This forbidding, mountainous region seemed ideal for a life of extreme asceticism. It was in that desolate place that he and his six companions built a hermitage. The Latinized name for Grand Chartreuse is Cartusia (or Carthusia), and the order became known as the Carthusians. There, they lived in separate cells which were arranged around a common oratory. Carthusian monasteries are called Charterhouses in English.
At their hermitage, the Carthusian brothers lived a life of extreme simplicity and austerity, inspired by the Desert Fathers of Egypt and Palestine. In addition to their almost constant prayer and meditation, they copied manuscripts. Although the ravages of time (and an unfortunate avalanche) have destroyed most of the copywork that the Carthusian Brothers created, a few examples of their splendid work still exist.
In 1088, Eudes of Châtillon, a former student of Bruno's, became Pope Urban II. Faced with the daunting task of reforms set up by Gregory VII, the Pope longed for the wisdom of his former teacher. In 1090, he summoned Bruno to Rome and there, Bruno became his trusted adviser. The hermit was somewhat reluctant to leave his home of six years, but a few of the brothers from his community followed him to Rome, not wishing their teacher to set out alone. Bruno built a small hermitage for himself in the ruins of the baths of Diocletian.
Because of his humility and modesty, it is difficult to know exactly how much of a hand Bruno had in the Pope's dealings and decisions during the next years. It seems likely that his influence was significant. He was offered the post of Archbishop but refused that honor, despite pressure from the Pope and the Norman prince, Roger, Duke of Apulia.
Bruno then implored the Pope to allow him to return to a life of solitary meditation. The pontiff reluctantly allowed this, but with the provision that Bruno should stay fairly close at hand, where they could readily exchange ideas or Bruno could be recalled at need. This made it impossible for the saint to go back to his community at Chartreuse.
Bruno was given permission to build another Carthusian monastery in La Torre in Calabria and to retire there. There he lived out his last days in the sort of humble austerity to which he was accustomed. He was buried in appropriate fashion for a simple hermit, in a humble little cemetery at the hermitage of Saint Mary. Many miracles have occurred at his tomb.
Bruno was not formally canonized, but was so beloved by many people and his life was considered such a shining example of Christian obedience and simplicity that people all over Christendom have celebrated his feast day, 6th October. The cult of Saint Bruno was authorized by Pope Leo X in 1514 for the Carthusians, and was authorized for the whole church by Pope Gregory XV in 1623.
He is still a very popular Saint, and his relics attract a large number of people every years, as do the areas where he lived and worked. His aid is particularly sought in cases of possession.
Bentley, James, “A Calendar of Saints” (Little, Brown and Company, London, 1986).
Farmer, David Hugh, “Oxford Dictionary of Saints,” Third Edition (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1996).
Loxton, Howard, “the Encyclopedia of the Saints” (Brockhampton Press, London, 1996).
Watkins, Dom Basil, “the Book of Saints,” Seventh Edition (Continuum, New York, 2002).
McBrien, Richard P., "Lives of the Saints" (Harper Collins, New York, 2001).
Catholic Encyclopedia online: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/03014b.htm