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St. Bruno was born at Cologne, in the year 1051, of a noble and virtuous family. He came to Paris under the reign of Philip I. where he began his studies, and went through a course of philosophy and theology, with the most brilliant success. He had even obtained a professor's chair, when his attainments, his merit, and his wisdom, procured him the offer of several ecclesiastical dignities.
He was at first a monk at Cologne, afterwards at Rheims; and was appointed chancellor of that church. Compelled to relinquish that appointment, through the tyranny of Archbishop Manasses, Bruno formed the resolution to retire from the world, and to seclude himself in some secret recess, for the remainder of his days. His first habitation was at Saisse-Fontaine, in the neighbourhood of Langres. From thence, in the year 1084, he went to Grenoble, and, accompanied by his disciples, presented himself to St. Hugues, the bishop of the city. He declared to him their determination of living in the most retired and penitent manner.
The holy bishop, "who had seen," he said, "seven stars glitter over the desert of Chartreuse," advised them to settle there, and put them in possession of that hermitage, which was nothing but a mass of mountains, almost inaccessible, and of caverns and precipices. This was the cradle of the order of the Chartreux, which, in process of time, extended itself over Europe.
In this solitude, St. Bruno and his companions built an oratory, and some sorry huts, which served them as cells. There they lodged in pairs, after the example of the ancient solitaires of Egypt, following the ordinances of St. Benedict, which they accommodated to their mode of living. The peace which St. Bruno experienced in this solitude, was at length disturbed by an order from Pope Urban II. formerly his disciple at Rheims, who compelled him to journey to Rome, to assist the holy chair with his council. On terminating the affairs which brought him to that city, the holy zealot, lost in the midst of a splendid court, surrounded with the intrigue and flattery of its parasites, refused the acceptance of several bishoprics, and returned to his seclusion in Calabria. He died in the monastery he had founded, in 1101, at the age of fifty. He was not canonized before 1514.
The habit of the Chartreux was white; and the singular obligations of this order were—incessant fasting—to observe the most rigorous silence—to pronounce only these words, "Brother, we must die;" to sleep in a coffin—and that each should daily dig his grave. These statutes were more philosophical than generally imagined, because they entirely separated mortals from the world, which the most painful reflexions first induced them to leave.
The retreat of St. Bruno, which excites the most lively interest in the beholder, and has engaged the attention of travellers of every age and country, is thus described by the poet Gray, in a letter to his mother, in whom it inspired more than common concern. "It is a fortnight since we set out from hence, upon a little excursion to Geneva. We took the longest road, which lies through Prance.] ST. BRUNO.
Savoy, on purpose to see the famous monastery, called the Grande Chartreuse, and had no reason to think our time lost. After having travelled seven days, very slow, (for we did not change horses, it being impossible for a chaise to go post in these roads,) we arrived at a little village, among the mountains of Savoy, called Echelles; from thence we proceeded on horses, who are used to the way to the mountain of the Chartreuse. It is six miles to the top: the road runs winding up it, commonly not six feet broad; on one hand is the rock, with woods of pine-trees hanging over-head; on the other a monstrous precipice, almost perpendicular, at the bottom of which rolls a torrent, that sometimes tumbling among the fragments of stone that have fallen from on high, and sometimes precipitating itself down vast descents, with a noise like thunder, which is still made greater by the echo from the mountains on each side, concurs to form one of the most solemn, the most romantic, and the most astonishing scenes I ever beheld. Add to this, the strange views made by the craggs and cliffs; on the other hand, the cascades, that in many places throw themselves from the very summit down into the vale and the river below; and many other particulars impossible to describe, you will conclude, we had no occasion to repent our pains. This place St. Bruno chose to retire to, and upon its very top founded the aforesaid convent, which is the superior of the whole order. When we came there, the two fathers, who are commissioned to entertain strangers, (for the rest must neither speak one to another, nor to any one else,) received us very kindly, and set before us a repast of dried fish, eggs, butter, fruits, and all excellent in their kind, and extremely neat. They pressed us to spend the night there, and to stay some days with them, but this we could not do; so they led us about their house,