Calabria: Return to Solitude

The Calabrian period of Bruno's life is an obscure one for the historian not only because of the legends and the edifying embellishments added by hagiographers as in the other periods of his life but also because the history of Calabria and of Bruno's foundation were particularly eventful. When one remembers what happened to Bruno's relics during the four centuries following his death (more about that later), it can hardly be surprising that memories of his time in Calabria that could have survived have practically disappeared. There is always some loss when a religious Order gives one of its "holy places" to monks of another observance for more than three centuries. However, when a break in traditions has destroyed an entire past, usually certain documents are preserved with care: namely, the titles to properties and all the records relating to them. Most of those documents regarding the Calabria foundation disappeared after the several fires, the earthquake (February 7, 1783), the destruction and pillage during the Napoleonic wars, and many other lesser events. Those are sufficient to explain the loss. What survived destruction, in spite of all that, was kept, after the beginning of the nineteenth century, in the Great Archives of Naples, where, it was thought, they would be safe. But everything, down to the very last item, was burned during the events of 1943.

Another fact contributed more than a little to obscure this history. The hermitage of Calabria was lavishly endowed by Count Roger, and that wealth later became the cause of litigation. During the second half of the eighteenth century there was a long dispute between the Carthusians, who had taken possession of the property on February 27, 1514, and the treasury of Naples. The latter, for the purpose of robbing the Carthusian Order of its property, tried to prove the deeds granted by the Norman princes were invalid. The quarrel was no help to historical objectivity, especially when one of the parties had the advantage of the power of the state. Today, however, some specialists have undertaken an impartial study of the documents of donation. They have not finished their work, but it is now certain that most of the deeds that were contested by the treasury of Naples are completely authentic.

Even with all these misfortunes, the historian of Saint Bruno still has some good fortune. When, on February 27, 1514, the Carthusians regained possession of the monastery of Calabria from the Cistercians, who had occupied it since 1193, Dom Constantius de Rigetis, who was born at Bologna and professed at the Chartreuse of Montelli, was sent as rector of the revived house. A year later, when the Chartreuse of Calabria was sufficiently restored, he was appointed there as a regular prior. Now Dom Constantius could work full time, systematically gleaning the archives of the monastery. With filial devotion, he sought out and compiled everything that referred to Bruno and the first years of the foundation. As he discovered the manuscripts, he copied them with scrupulous accuracy, described them with objectivity, and distinguished their various sources; and, if he had to interpret any passages, he indicated his theories and corrections honestly, clearly indicating his own commentaries. Constantius' work has survived in the form of two copies. One of them seems trustworthy — the one that comes from Dom Severus of Trafaglione, a Carthusian of Naples, in 1629; the other, which is incomplete and much more doubtful, was recopied in the eighteenth century by Tromby in his Storia. A critical study of the text confirms what is already known about Dom Constantius: "He was a man of great prudence and religion, moderately well educated in human letters, known for his propriety and piety" (vir fuit magnæ prudentiæ, et religionis, et litteris humanis mediocriter eruditus, gravitate et pietate præcipuus) : he was an honest worker, sincere, exacting, precise, very careful to be accurate. It was fortunate for the historian that Constantius undertook that research in the archives of the monastery of Calabria and that it has been preserved. The authors of Aux sources de la vie cartusienne write: "Without Constantius the face of Saint Bruno and the history of his foundation could never have emerged from the fog of hagiographical legend."

It was necessary to explain the difficulties that face the historian of the Calabrian period of Bruno's life, so that the certainties finally acquired may be seen at their full value and clarity. All those documents were patiently taken up again, studied, and compared by recent historians of the beginnings of the Grande Chartreuse, and a collection of very certain facts has emerged, even though numerous items remain obscure.

What was the condition of Calabria when Bruno went there to plant his new foundation? Something was said earlier about that, but it will be useful to reconstruct the circumstances of the time. He was confronted with difficulties that were very different from those he had found at Chartreuse. There the planting of his hermitage was given extraordinary assistance by Hugh of Grenoble, who understood the plan and took it on as his own project, supporting it with all of his authority, generously advising and giving aid. But Bruno worried about nature, climate, and the location, and many of the difficulties actually assisted his plan for absolute solitude. In Calabria, it was men rather than nature that obstructed his plan. The political and religious milieu Bruno was in had great influence upon his foundation. There will be more said of that later for the better understanding of his work.

Between 1057 and 1060 two of the "Norman princes", Robert Guiscard and his younger brother Roger, in spite of their weak forces, quickly conquered Apulia and Calabria, which theoretically belonged to the Greek Empire. In 1060 Robert and Roger undertook the conquest of Sicily, where they met both Greeks and Arabs, and it took them twenty years to bring their efforts to a successful conclusion, the last battle being fought in 1091. After conferring upon himself the title of duke of Apulia, Robert ruled as suzerain over the conquered lands; and Roger, with the title of count, ruled Sicily and Calabria under the suzerainty of his brother. In 1085 the conquest of Sicily was sufficiently advanced and consolidated for Duke Robert to decide to take the war into the Greek Isles. He died on Corfu, and, on July 17, 1085, his son Roger Borsa became duke of Apulia. Duke Roger was the suzerain of his uncle, Count Roger, at the time Bruno established his hermitage in Calabria.

In 1091 Count Roger completed the conquest of Sicily and began to organize his new lands. While doing this, he was revealing exceptional gifts for ruling.

He had to get different ethnic elements to coexist peacefully, though they had opposed each other up to that time: Catholic Latins, Greek Christians, and Muslims. His religious policy, however, tended to favor the Latins over the Greeks, even the Greek Catholics. So it was that certain Greek bishoprics, whether because of retirement, as at Reggio, or by normal succession, were transferred to Latins. Count Roger had the Greek monks emigrate from Calabria, where he believed they had too much power, to Sicily where they would be a counterbalance to the Islamic presence.

At the time Bruno was looking for a hermitage in Calabria, therefore, it was a place favorable — almost too favorable — for Latin monasticism. Roger had despoiled the Greek monks of their possessions in Calabria and given them to Latin monks. It can be said 'that the Latin monks appeared as destroyers of earlier Greek monasticism.

How did the sovereign pontiffs react when faced with what might be called the Norman princes' invasion of southern Italy? It is best not to consider the political war games of our times. Actually, relations between the popes and the new masters of southern Italy were not always easy. It is true, nevertheless, that at the beginning of Urban II's pontificate, when Emperor Henry IV was threatening the whole peninsula with his military expeditions, the Norman princes were faithful to the Pope. Immediately after his election in the spring of 1088, Urban II judged it possible and wise to go to the south and make contact with the Normans. When Henry IV forced him to leave Rome in the summer of 1090, he returned to the territory of the Norman princes to seek and find asylum. He stayed there for three years (1090-93).

Bruno's decision to begin the hermitage, therefore, came at a time when Urban II and Count Roger wanted to give each other clear pledges of friendship, and when the papal court was not looking with disapproval upon the policy of Latinization, which Count Roger had introduced in the monastic life in Calabria. Bruno himself had just one idea: namely, insofar as circumstances would allow, to find in Calabria, where he was obliged to settle, the solitude and peace that he had enjoyed in Chartreuse.

But where? Did Bruno think he would ever find a place in Calabria so perfect, so suitable to his idea of eremitical life as Chartreuse? Biographers have undertaken to explain, or simply to praise, Bruno's choice of the region of La Torre. Some of them relate that Urban II had put Bruno in charge of an important mission to the Norman princes. Duke Roger, aware of Bruno's plans for a hermitage, had been waiting to furnish the hermits with the perfect place they were looking for; but when, at last, Bruno did not find a place suitable for his foundation in Duke Roger's land, Count Roger offered him great benefits if he would remain in his estates. Others created a legend — a gratuitous one common in the folklore of hermits — that Count Roger, while hunting, came upon Bruno, who was praying in the forest. Still others, more seríous, maintained that Bruno had lived for a while in Count Roger's court before deciding on the place. That is not unlikely, unless they want to prolong his stay there. Certainly Bruno had to make some contact with Count Roger and his court so that he could look over his lands and then, after making his decision, to arrange for the administration.

But probably things happened very simply, as things do whenever a founder looks for a place suitable for a foundation: he travels around the area where he expects to find what he wants, examines all the possibilities, then makes a choice and finally arranges to possess it. The only anecdote that might be added to that in Bruno's case is that Urban II met Count Roger in the little town of Mileto at the beginníng of June 1091. No doubt Urban told him about Bruno's plan and asked him to take care of it. The wilderness of La Torre is just a few kilometers from Mileto.

Nevertheless, according to the document of confirmation that was set down by the Bishop of Squillace on December 7, 1091, it is certain that the wilderness of La Torre was granted (and very probably Bruno and his companions had settled there) before December 7, 1091.

The place where Bruno established his new hermitage was called Saint Mary of La Torre. It was a wilderness, located at an altitude of about 2,600 feet, midway between the two seas and between the towns of Stylum and Arena. The deed of donation added to this two and one half square miles of land adjoining the wilderness, including the forest, meadows, pasture land, water, mills, and all seigniorial rights. A look at a map of the area will cause surprise that Bruno preferred this small place of relative and threatened solitude to others more remote in the mountains of Calabria. Was it because of prudence, since the peace of the country was uncertain? Was it for security while living among a divided population, one part of which—the Greek element — was in fact being abused for the benefit of the other — the Latin element? Perhaps the wilderness of La Torre already included some monastic buildings erected by the Greeks. Stylum, in fact, was one of the places that supported the Greek resistance to the Normans at the time of the 1060 conquest. At any rate, Saint Mary of La Torre did not offer the same natural protections for the solitude of the hermits as the Chartreuse did. In his letter to Raoul le Verd, Bruno used a rather unenthusiastic phrase to describe his solitude: "I live ín a wilderness located in Calabria, sufficiently distant (satis remotam) from any center of human habitation." Comparing it to the location of the Chartreuse would have strengthened his description.

When he left for Saint Mary of La Torre, Bruno did not go alone. He had companions, just as he did when he went up to Chartreuse. Who were they, and where did they come from? In the letter to Raoul le Verd, he said he was living "with my brothers in religion, some of whom are filled with knowledge", which shows that the group had attained a certain number of hermits. The letter dates, at the earliest, from 1096, and at that time the small community must have numbered fifteen to twenty members. When Saint Bruno died, there were thirty. Thanks to Constantius, there are two lists of Bruno's companions in Calabria: one is a necrology of the foundation (which also contains the profession of faith that Bruno made before he died), and the list of thirty hermits who took their oath to blessed Lanuino in 1101. None of the names of the first six companions from Chartreuse appear in it, though that does not absolutely exclude the possibility that some of the hermits from Chartreuse had accompanied Bruno or joined him in Italy. It appears that Lanuino was one of the first of Bruno's companions in Calabria: he was a Norman, a Norman who was very skillful in business, as will be observed. But was this Norman among the noblemen? Did he come from Chartreuse with Bruno? Did he come from France when he found out that Bruno was going to found a new hermitage? Perhaps what happened was very simple: when Bruno's plan became known, given his buoyant personality and the attraction that many felt for the eremitical life, some of the Norman emigrés (including Lanuino) might naturally have revealed themselves to him and asked to accompany him. Seemingly there were both laymen and clerics among them, as at the foundation of Chartreuse. The Chronicle Magister, which did not waste words, tells about the foundation of the house at Calabria in this fashion: "Bruno ... withdrew to the wilderness of Calabria, which is called La Torre, and there, with several (quampiurimis) laymen and clerics, he led the solitary life, according to his plan, just as he had done before."

The central fact, which is well established, is that before the end of 1091 Bruno had founded the new hermitage of Saint Mary of La Torre, and he was living there with several companions, both laymen and clerics. He lived there for ten years.

Consequently the historian faces an important question that concerns not just the Carthusian Order but anyone who has followed the development of Bruno's rare, unqualified attraction for solitude with God. On account of the doubt about the authenticity of the documents of the donations in Calabria, papal documents, and civil deeds as well, it can be maintained—depending-upon two documents, one of 1098 or 1099 (the famous document that had been de-livered by Count Roger when he returned from the siege of Capua), and the other of June 4, 1102 (concerning the traitors from the siege of Capua)—the group of monks that Bruno had himself established in Calabria were somewhat different from those at Chartreuse. There were two houses one mile apart: the true and strict hermitage of Saint Mary of La Torre, and a place called Saint Stephen, which might also have been a hermitage but more probably had been a monastery of cenobites for the religious who were not suited for the eremitical life and for novices to receive their first formation. If so, Bruno's original plan for absolute purity, for a complete contemplative life, had been greatly modified. He would have come closer to some of the communities combining hermitage and cenobium that already existed in the Church, like the Camaldolese. Bruno himself would then be responsible for the rapid evolution of Saint Mary of La Torre, because the cenobium (which was actually founded twenty years after Bruno's death) developed to the detriment of the hermitage, so much so that in 1193 William of Messina asked that the Chartreuse of Calabria be received into the Cistercian Order.

Recent research by the Carthusian Fathers has definitely established that the two documents were spurious and that there was never a cenobium at Saint Mary of LaTorre during Bruno's time. The house of Saint Stephen was not founded until twenty years after Bruno's death. Meanwhile, in 1114, the monastery of Saint James had been founded at the village (casale) of Montauro, having a church dedicated to Saint James, where Count Roger had given a large area to the hermits of Saint Mary of La Torre in 1094. At the request of Lanuino, the second master of the wilderness, the Pope erected a monastery there, which was intended for religious who found the strict rule of the hermitage had become too difficult, as well as for the old and the sick. There, too, candidates for the eremitical life were to spend one year of probation before being admitted to Saint Mary. This foundation originated thirteen years after Bruno's death. But it does not present the same problems as Saint Stephen: Saint James of Montauro is located near the town of Squillace on the Ionian Sea, twenty-five miles from Saint Mary of La Torre, so there could have been no confusion possible between the hermitage of Saint Mary and the cenobium of Saint James.

One important fact emerges from those studies: while Bruno was living, the only institution that existed in the wilderness of La Torre was Saint Mary, and it was a hermitage.

Now that this point of history has been clarified, the way is open again to recreate the milieu in which Bruno lived and led his companions to live at Saint Mary of La Torre. Everything comes together to provide a glimpse of Bruno's perfect loyalty to himself and to the grace of a purely contemplative life. The documents, both papal and episcopal, reveal the admiration and esteem that Bruno enjoyed: his extraordinary goodness, which is legendary; his sensitive and solid friendships; his great devotion; his love of solitude and peace; his human and spiritual enthusiasm among his brethren and contemporaries, especially the papal court and Count Roger. Even making allowances for the inevitable exaggeration that is typical of such documents, the man who was the object of so much reverence, respect, and affection was certainly an exceptionally religious person, and his ideal of a life entirely consecrated to loving God and to pure contemplation awakened a profound echo in the soul of those who came into contact with him.


- Prologue ->
- I Bruno's Childhood ->
- II Master Bruno ->
- III Bruno Confronts Archbishop Manassès -_
- IV From the Garden of Adam's House to Sèche-Fontaine ->
- V The Solitude of Chartreuse ->
- VI Solitude in the Court of Pope Urban II ->
- VII Calabria: Return to Solitude -_
- VIII The Contemplative Life in Bruno's Letters ->
- IX Calabria and Chartreuse ->
- X The Death of Bruno ->
- Epilogue: Bruno after Bruno ->

 

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