The English Carthusians and the Art of Abstinence

May 27, 2020, 12:00 PM

Julian Luxford discusses the art and architectural dimensions of Carthusian life.

The Carthusian order was founded in the late eleventh century in France. It spread rapidly and widely, and experienced great popularity during the later Middle Ages, when dozens of new charterhouses were founded against a background of sharp decline in monastic foundation in general. The main reason for Carthusian popularity was the order’s consistent adherence to the eremitic precepts and form of living established by its founding fathers. Manifest holiness generated a powerful reputation and patronage to match. The Carthusians also proved adaptable, managing to integrate into urban environments from the thirteenth century onwards without seriously compromising their principles.

This talk covers the art and architectural dimensions of Carthusian life with particular reference to the ten foundations of the order’s English Province. While these monasteries are all largely destroyed, enough survives to give a clear picture of the distinctive layout and elevation of their essential buildings and the sorts of embellishment they received. A fairy large number of Carthusian books and documents has also come down to us, some containing illumination, drawings and seals. Examples of this material that illustrate Carthusian ritual, customs and spirituality will be selected for discussion.