The name Carthusian is derived from the Chartreuse Mountains; Bruno built his first hermitage in the valley of these mountains in the French Alps. The word charterhouse, which is the English name for a Carthusian monastery, is derived from the same source. The motto of the Carthusians is Stat crux dum volvitur orbis, Latin for "The Cross is steady while the world is turning."
A Carthusian monastery (Ordo Cartusiensis) might best be described, paradoxically, as a community of hermits. The monastery is headed by a prior (there are no Carthusian "abbeys"), and is populated by choir monks and lay brothers.
Each choir monk (that is, a monk who is or who will be a priest) has his own hermitage, usually consisting of a small dwelling (traditionally a one-room lower floor for storage of wood for a heating stove, and for a workshop as all monks engage in some manual labor; and a second floor consisting of a small entryway with a picture or statue dedicated to Mary, mother of Jesus as a prayer spot, and a larger room with bed, table for eating meals, desk for study as all monks engage in study, and choir stall/seat and kneeler for prayer), set in a corner of a highly walled garden, wherein the monk may meditate and grow flowers or vegetables.
The individual hermitages are lined up so that the door into the garden of each may be reached by a corridor. Near the door is a turnstile, so that meals and other items may be passed in and out of the hermitage without the monk having to meet the bearer.
The monk lives most of his day here: he meditates, prays most of the hours of the Liturgy of the Hours on his own (yet still following the full ceremonial as if praying publicly), eats his meals, studies and/or writes (Carthusian monks have published scholarly and spiritual works), works in his garden, works at some manual trade, etc. He leaves the cell daily only for three prayer services in the monastery chapel (including the community and his own individual Mass), and occasionally for conferences with his superior. Additionally, once a week, the monks take a 4-hour walk together in the countryside during which they may speak (they go two by two, changing partners every half hour), and on Sundays and feastdays a community meal is taken silently. Twice a year there is a day-long community recreation, and he may receive an annual visit from immediate family.
They have no "active" ministry: they do no pastoral work, charitable work, or missionary work; they admit no retreatants (other than select persons who are contemplating actually entering the monastery as monks); they have no contact with the outside world. Their contribution is their life of prayer, which they undertake on behalf of the whole church and the whole world.
In addition to these choir monks there are lay brothers, monks under slightly different types of vows who spend less time in prayer and more time in manual labor and who live slightly more communal lives with one another. The lay brothers provide the material assistance to the choir monks: cooking the meals, undertaking physical repairs, providing the choir monks with books from the library, managing supplies and so on.
All of the monks live lives of silence: there is no "vow of silence," as is sometimes parodied, but as with many monastic groups, the monks cultivate a spirit of exterior silence (speaking only when truly necessary) to help achieve an interior serenity.
Carthusian nuns live similarly to the monks, but with some differences. Choir nuns tend to lead somewhat less eremitical (hermit-like) lives, while still maintaining a strong commitment to solitude and silence.
Today Carthusians live very much as they originally did, without any relaxing of their rule. Thus, there has been no "reform" movement as with other orders: there are no Carthusians "of the strict observance" or the like. Thus Pope Innocent XI coined the phrase Cartusia numquam reformata, quia numquam deformata. Literally this translates to "The charterhouse has never been reformed, for it has never been deformed".
The first Carthusian monastery or 'Charterhouse' in England was founded by Henry II in Witham Friary, Somerset as penance for the murder of St Thomas Becket. The best preserved remains of a medieval Charterhouse in the UK are at Mount Grace Priory near Osmotherley, North Yorkshire. One of the cells has been reconstructed to illustrate how different the lay-out is to monasteries of most other Christian orders, which are normally designed with communal living in mind. The Carthusian monk (or nun) lives a solitary life in a 'cell' (actually more like a small house), which typically consists of three small rooms on the ground floor - bedroom, study, and shrine - and a work area in the upstairs loft. Each cell has its own water supply and lavatory, and a tiny private garden planted with herbs and flowers. The garden would normally be cultivated by the monk as part of his daily duties.
The London Charterhouse gave its name to a square and several streets in the City of London, as well as to the Charterhouse public school (UK sense) which used part of its site before moving out to Surrey.
A few fragments remain of the Charterhouse in Coventry, mostly dating from the 15th century. This consists of a sandstone building that was probably the prior's house. The area, about a mile from the centre of the city, is a conservation area, but the buildings are in use as part of a local college. Inside the building is a medieval wall painting, alongside many carvings and wooden beams. Nearby is the river Sherbourne that runs underneath the centre of the city.
Only a single Carthusian Priory was founded in Scotland during the Middle Ages, at Perth. It stood just west of the medieval town and was founded by James I (1406–37) in the early 15th century. James I and his queen Joan Beaufort (d. 1445) were both buried in the priory church, as was Queen Margaret Tudor (d. 1541), widow of James IV of Scotland. The Priory, said to have been a building of 'wondrous cost and greatness' was sacked during the Scottish Reformation in 1559, and swiftly fell into decay. No remains survive above ground, though a Victorian monument marks the site. The names Charterhouse Lane and Pomarium Flats (built on the site of the Priory's orchard) recall its existence.
The London Charterhouse is famous for the deaths of the Carthusian Martyrs, hung, drawn and quartered in 1535 for refusing to accept royal supremacy over the church.
Today, the monastery of the Grande Chartreuse is still the motherhouse of the order. There is a museum on the Carthusian order next to the monastery of the Grande Chartreuse; the monks of that monastery are also involved in the production of the Chartreuse liquor. Although visits are not possible within the Grande Chartreuse, the 2005 documentary Into Great Silence gave unprecedented views of life within the hermitage.
There are 24 Charterhouses around the world, five of which are for nuns; altogether, there are around 370 monks and 75 nuns. Most of these Charterhouses are in Europe—including one in Sussex, England—but there are also two in South America, one in the United States and one in South Korea.
The Charterhouse of the Transfiguration on Mount Equinox near Arlington, Vermont is the only Carthusian monastery in the U.S., and for a time was the only Carthusian monastery outside of Europe. Founded in the 1950s, the monastery remains active enough that it is attempting a daughter monastery in Brazil.
Before the Council of Trent in the 1500s, the Roman Catholic Church in Western Europe had a wide variety of rituals for the celebration of Mass. Although the essentials were the same, there were variations in prayers and practices from region to region or among the various religious orders.
When Pope Pius V made the Roman Missal mandatory, in general, for all Catholics of the Latin Rite, it permitted the continuance of other forms of celebrating Mass that had an antiquity of at least two centuries. The rite used by the Carthusians was one of these and still continues in use in a version revised in 1981. Apart from the new elements in this revision, it is substantially the rite of Grenoble in the twelfth century, with some admixture from other sources. It is now the only formally observed rite of a religious order; but by virtue of the Ecclesia Dei indult (or "permitted exception") some individuals or small groups are authorized to use some other now defunct rites.
A feature unique to Carthusian liturgical practice is that whereby the bishop bestows on Carthusian nuns, in the ceremony of their profession, a stole and a maniple. This is by some interpreted as a relic of the former rite of ordination of deaconesses. The nun is also invested with a crown and a ring. The nun wears these ornaments again only on the day of her monastic jubilee, and after her death on her bier. At Matins, if no priest is present, a nun assumes the stole and reads the Gospel, and although the chanting of the Epistle was, in the time of the Tridentine Mass, reserved to an ordained subdeacon, a consecrated nun sang the Epistle at their conventual Mass, though without wearing the maniple. Even before the rite of the consecration of virgins was made more widely available as part of the liturgical reforms undertaken after the Second Vatican Council, Carthusian nuns retained this rite, administered by the diocesan bishop four years after the nun took her vows.
Today, there are up to 24 Charterhouses located around the Globe. They can be found in Austria, Italy, Germany, Slovenia, Spain, Brazil, Portugal, France, USA, Switzerland, South Korea, and Great Britain. One of them was recently built in Argentina, the construction work having started in 1997.