Soldiermonks and hermits seeking the perfect life

The Cistercians were more positive in their dealings with the Templars. In 1119 Hugh de Payns, a knight from Champagne, organised his companions into soldier-monks. Their first duty was to protect pilgrims in the Holy Land, but they also had an office to sing. The Knights of the Temple found their vocation in fighting Muslims by day and praying at night. Bernard of Clairvaux considered them worthy to be celebrated in his De laude novae militiae (In Praise of the New Knighthood). Here he contrasted the secular knight, caught up in creature comforts, with the slim, spiritually sleek knight dedicated to the defence of Jerusalem.

After the fall of the city to Saladin in 1187, the Templars did their best to find new functions. Their headquarters in London and Paris and other major cities had already begun to function as depositories for the wealth of crusaders. The Templars came to be numbered among the first bankers of Western Europe. In the end the order's undoing was the result of its economic success. King Philip the Fair of France and his henchmen in 1307 trumped up charges against the Templars in order to get hold of their assets. For the first but not the last time in European history false propaganda was used to destroy a monastic movement.20

Monks were at risk because society invests its hopes and dreams in their words and actions. One movement which never disappointed its 'investors' was the Carthusians.21 Their founder Bruno, a teacher at Cologne, was fascinated by the stories of the hermits of the desert in Late Antiquity. In about 1080 he joined a group of hermits in the forest of Colan. From here he found an isolated spot in the Alps for his hermitage. Soon after he left for Calabria, but his successor Guigo, the dean of Grenoble, was elected prior in 1109. The house was moved down the valley after a terrible avalanche in 1132 and became what we know as the Grande Chartreuse. The Carthusians lived in individual cells as hermits and had their food brought to them by lay brothers who inserted the tray in a slot. The monks would meet once a day in church and on Sundays would have more extended contact. Communities remained small: twelve to fifteen brothers, who copied books as a form of manual labour.

The Carthusians came to be known in the later Middle Ages for their mystical spirituality. By the end of the thirteenth century some of them were abandoning their isolated locations and establishing monasteries in the

20 Malcolm Barber, The New Knighthood: A History of the Order of the Temple (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), and Desmond Seward, The Monks of War: The Military Religious Orders (London: Penguin, 1995).

21 There are few general treatments in English of the Carthusians, except for Robin Bruce Lockhart, Halfway to Heaven: The Hidden Life of the Carthusians (Kalamazoo, Mich.: Cistercian Publications, 1999). The series Analecta carthusiana, edited by James Hogg, has published hundreds of works of Carthusian life and spirituality.

midst of cities. Here they managed to continue to live as hermits and to impress their donors with their robust spirituality. The order was little interested in miracles or saints. The one Carthusian saint, Hugh of Avalon, who became bishop of Lincoln, 'thought miracles were the last thing to admire or wish to emulate'. For him 'the mysterious and wonderful works of creation' were 'the one universal miracle'.22

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