Monday, November 9, 2009

Chartreuse de Valbonne

I'm back in France following a three week tour through the US. My next few entries will alternate between recent experiences in France and some stories from my State-side visit.

The Chartreuse de Valbonne was founded by Benedictine monks in the 11th century. It was subsequently abandoned and re-settled several times until reaching its heyday as a monastery devoted to Saint Bruno. At that time, at least two dozen friars lived in private apartments. These were described as cells on the tour but were actually quite spacious and comfortable for the times. According to the customs of Saint Bruno, the brothers ate their meals standing up and slept in the fetal position. To lie fully extended on your back was to tempt death by assuming the position of your final rest.

Each of the cells was accessed from the grand cloister. Probably about 200 yards in length, it is perhaps the largest cloister in France. In addition to maintaining the large courtyard, the monks also tended to private gardens and cultivated the surrounding land. The chartreuse is fairly secluded withing the Valbonne forest, so most of their sustenance had to be home grown. They never ate meat, but occasionally caught fish from a nearby stream.

grand cloister

The large complex was built over the course of 800 years. Therefore the architectural styles are highly varied. The oratory appears renaissance Italian from the inside, with ornate marble stonework and elaborate wooden choir chairs. However, the outside looks more baroque, and the colorfully tiled roofs remind me of the cathedral in Vienna. The steep chapel spires also indicate a borrowed architecture, not common in this region of France.


Unfortunately, it was dark and rainy on the day we visited. Nevertheless, we risked a short walk through the surrounding vineyards to get a panoramic view of the complex. Set among the lush green forest and golden vines, the chartreuse is beautiful even on a dreary autumn day.
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This work by Ken Maschke is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.