1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Chartreuse, La Grande

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CHARTREUSE, LA GRANDE, the mother house of the very severe order of Carthusian monks (see Carthusians). It is situated in the French department of the Isère, about 12½ m. N. of Grenoble, at a height of 3205 ft. above the sea, in the heart of a group of limestone mountains, and not far from the source of the Guiers Mort. The original settlement here was founded by St Bruno about 1084, and derived its name from the small village to the S.E., formerly known as Cartusia, and now as St Pierre de Chartreuse. The first convent on the present site was built between 1132 and 1137, but the actual buildings date only from about 1676, the older ones having been often burnt. The convent stands in a very picturesque position in a large meadow, sloping to the S.W., and watered by a tiny tributary of the Guiers Mort. On the north, fine forests extend to the Col de la Ruchère, and on the west rise well-wooded heights, while on the east tower white limestone ridges, culminating in the Grand Som (6670 ft.). One of the most famous of the early Carthusian monks was St Hugh of Lincoln, who lived here from 1160 to 1181, when he went to England to found the first Carthusian house at Witham in Somerset; in 1186 he became bishop of Lincoln, and before his death in 1200 had built the angel choir and other portions of the wonderful cathedral there.

The principal approach to the convent is from St Laurent du Pont, a village situated on the Guiers Mort, and largely built by the monks—it is connected by steam tramways with Voiron (for Grenoble) and St Béron (for Chambéry). Among the other routes may be mentioned those from Grenoble by Le Sappey, or by the Col de la Charmette, or from Chambéry by the Col de Couz and the village of Les Échelles. St Laurent is about 5½ m. from the convent. The road mounts along the Guiers Mort and soon reaches the hamlet of Fourvoirie, so called from forata via, as about 1510 the road was first pierced hence towards the convent. Here are iron forges, and here was formerly the chief centre of the manufacture of the famed Chartreuse liqueur. Beyond, the road enters the “Désert” and passes through most delightful scenery. Some way farther the Guiers Mort is crossed by the modern bridge of St Bruno, the older bridge of Parant being still visible higher up the stream. Here begins the splendid carriage road, constructed by M. E. Viaud between 1854 and 1856. It soon passes beneath the bold pinnacle of the Oeillette or Aiguillette, beyond which formerly women were not allowed to penetrate. After passing through four tunnels the road bends north (leaving the Guiers Mort which flows past St Pierre de Chartreuse), and the valley soon opens to form the upland hollow in which are the buildings of the convent. These are not very striking, the high roofs of dark slate, the cross-surmounted turrets and the lofty clock-tower being the chief features. But the situation is one of ideal peace and repose. Women were formerly lodged in the old infirmary, close to the main gate, which is now a hôtel. Within the conventual buildings are four halls formerly used for the reception of the priors of the various branch houses in France, Italy, Burgundy and Germany. The very plain and unadorned chapel dates from the 15th century, but the cloisters, around which cluster the thirty-six small houses for the fully professed monks, are of later date. The library contained before the Revolution a very fine collection of books and MSS., now mostly in the town library at Grenoble.

The monks were expelled in 1793, but allowed to return in 1816, but then they had to pay rent for the use of the buildings and the forests around, though both one and the other were due to the industry of their predecessors. They were again expelled in 1904, and are dispersed in various houses in England, at Pinerolo (Italy) and at Tarragona (Spain). It is at the last-named spot that the various pharmaceutical preparations are now manufactured for which they are famous (though sold only since about 1840)—the Elixir, the Boule d’acier (a mineral paste or salve), and the celebrated liqueur. The magnificent revenues derived from the profits of this manufacture were devoted by the monks to various purposes of benevolence, especially in the neighbouring villages, which owe to this source their churches, schools, hospitals, &c., &c., built and maintained at the expense of the monks.

See La Grande Chartreuse par un Chartreux (Grenoble, 1898); H. Ferrand, Guide à la Grande Chartreuse (1889); and Les Montagnes de la Chartreuse (1899)  (W. A. B. C.)