So our Mass goes back, without essential change, to the age when it first developed out of the oldest liturgy of all. It is still redolent of that liturgy, of the days when Cæsar ruled the world and thought he could stamp out the faith of Christ, when our fathers met together before dawn and sang a hymn to Christ as to a God. The final result of our enquiry is that, in spite of unsolved problems, in spite of later changes, there is not in Christendom another rite so venerable as ours. ~Fortescue
This post on the Carthusian liqueur(s) is offered for the sake of completeness and as a sequel to the post on the Carthusian Monks, since they are the ones who make the excellent liqueur(s).
CHARTREUSE: The Queen of Liqueurs
Monks collecting the herbs needed to make Chartreuse
Chartreuse is the “mysterious elixir that prolongs life” with its unique green color
and is shrouded in secrecy and mystique. This liqueur is made by legendary
Carthusian monks, contemplatives of the strictest Order in the Catholic Church.
Connoisseurs all over the world are familiar with its very distinctive and
mythical taste. This liqueur (one and only in its category) is
considered by many “a wonder of nature,”
“an unequaled masterpiece,” “peerless,” “a noble liqueur, rich, and satisfying,” a liqueur of which “one knows not how to write all its virtues.”
For many, it is also the liqueur “for
men who like to play with fire!” Yet, those sophisticated people who have
had the opportunity to taste it agree that Chartreuse is much more than that.
With the revival of the cocktail culture and craft
bartending, this iconic liqueur has once again become a favorite. If you
haven’t tried it, you must! If you hear someone ordering one “neat,” it is a
good bet that the person works in a restaurant/bar. Within the past decade, this Carthusian liqueur has
come out of the woodwork and has become the go-to drink for bartenders.
“Chartreuse fever” started slowly, but has come on strong, and bartenders have
gone from pouring one bottle of Chartreuse a month to four or five a week.
Aged green Chartreuse
Chartreuse has a very strong characteristic
taste. It is sweet, but it becomes spicy and sharp. You can certainly taste the herbs when you taste it, yet it is also balanced by sweetness; its aroma and flavor are of the
utmost complexity. According to many, at first taste, Chartreuse tastes very
much like its color – green (herbal/vegetal) – and it is very intense (110 proof!). If you combine
half jigger of Chartreuse with two jiggers of gin, your drink will still taste
like Chartreuse! Chartreuse has a mystifying
flavor that refuses to be conquered.
Your first whiff of Chartreuse may well leave
you dazed, confused, and captivated because you will smell dozens of plants/herbs,
which makes Chartreuse so deliciously intriguing. As is the case with other
liqueurs, the flavor is sensitive to temperature. If taken straight, it can be
served very cold, but is often served at room temperature (we assume that this
is how the monks drink it, and it is the most traditional way to drink it).
Chartreuse transitions in flavors and scents: a sweet licorice, peppermint, and pure black and white pepper notes can
be detected. Chartreuse is spicy without being harsh; it is sweet without
tasting like candy; and it is a blast of flavor, but never overwhelming. It is
always perfectly balanced. Chartreuse is certainly everything other liqueurs
try to be, but it stands alone as “the most
distinctive liqueur you can serve or give” and one that needs no matches,
chemicals, water, or sugar (as other liqueurs might). It is absolutely perfect just the way the Carthusian monks have always made
The Carthusian Order was more than 500 years
old when, in 1605 in Vauvert, a small suburb of Paris, the monks received a gift
from Francois Hannibal d’Estrées, Marshal of King’s Henri IV artillery: an
already ancient manuscript from an “Elixir” soon to be nicknamed “Elixir of Long Life.” This manuscript
detailed a blend, infusion, and maceration of 130 herbs, which was so complex
that only bits and pieces of it were understood and used. At the beginning of
the 18th century, the manuscript was sent to La Grande Chartreuse in Grenoble, where an exhaustive study of the
manuscript was undertaken by Frère Jerome Maubec who finally unraveled the
Then, in 1737, a practical formula for the
preparation of the Elixir was drawn up. The distribution and sales of this new
medicine were limited. One of the monks of La
Grande Chartreuse, Frère Charles, would load his mule with the small
bottles that he sold in Grenoble and other nearby villages. Today, this “Elixir of Long Life” is still made only
by the Carthusian monks following that ancient recipe. This “liqueur of health” is all natural
plants, herbs and other botanicals suspended in wine alcohol – 69% alcohol by
volume, 138 proof. This elixir was so tasty that it was frequently used as a
beverage rather than as medicine, which led to the adaptation (in 1764) of the
ancient elixir recipe to make a milder beverage: this is what is known today as
Chartreuse” – 55% alcohol, 110 proof. The immediate success caused
the liqueur to be consumed far beyond the area around La Grande Chartreuse.
When the French Revolution erupted in 1789,
members of all Religious Orders were expelled, and the Carthusian monks were
forced to leave France in 1793. They made a copy of the manuscript kept by one
of them who remained in the Monastery, while another monk was in charge of the
original. This monk was arrested and sent to prison in Bordeaux, but fortunately
he was able secretly to pass the original manuscript to one of his friends, Dom
Basile Nantas. Dom Basile, convinced that the Order would never come back to
France and unable to make the Elixir himself, sold the recipe to Monsieur
Liotard, a pharmacist in Grenoble. Mr. Liotard never produced the Elixir. When
Monsieur Liotard died, his heirs returned the manuscript to the Carthusian
monks who had returned to their Monastery in 1816.
In 1838, the Chartreuse distillers developed a sweeter form of Chartreuse: “Yellow Chartreuse” (40% alcohol, 80 proof). In 1903, the French government nationalized the Chartreuse distillery and confiscated the monks’ property, expelling them again. This time, the monks, along with their secret recipe, went to Tarragona, Spain where they built a new distillery and began producing their liqueurs with the same label.However, an additional label said Liqueur fabriquée à Tarragone par les Pères Chartreux (“liquor manufactured in Tarragona by the Carthusian Fathers.” For eight years (from 1921 to 1929), the monks produced an additional liqueur in Marseille (France). The liqueur from Tarragona was nicknamed “Une Tarragone.” The one from Marseille was then officially called “Tarragone.”
*The gift of the manuscript in 1605
Végétal (138 proof) finally made in 1737
Chartreuse (110 proof) in 1764
*Yellow Chartreuse (80 proof) in 1838
*A “White” Chartreuse (60 proof) between 1840
and 1880; then from 1886 to 1900
*After 1904, the liqueur made by the monks in
Tarragona nicknamed “Une Tarragone”
*V.E.P. (very prolonged aging) introduced in
du 9ème Centenaire” (94 proof) developed in 1984 to commemorate the 900th
anniversary of the foundation of the Carthusian Order
*The “1605” version (112 proof in 2005 to
commemorate the gift of the recipe by Marshall d’Estrées.
“Liqueur des Meilleurs Ouvriers de France”
All of these liqueurs are made by the monks and
are based on that ancient manuscript from 1605. Only two monks are allowed to
know the names of the130 herbs and plants used to make Chartreuse. Eighteen
tons of them are delivered to the Grande-Chartreuse Monastery every year. In
the “Herb Room,” the herbs and plants are dried, crushed, and mixed in
different series and are then kept in a bag carefully numbered and taken to the
distillery in Voiron. Each series of herbs and plants macerates in alcohol, and
each maceration is then distilled for about 8 hours.
Since the 19th century, the monks have used the
copper stills. Most of the distillation of the liqueurs today is done in the
stainless-steel stills, which have been designed especially for Chartreuse, in
order to enable a very accurate control of the distillation process and, just
as important, to allow the monks to monitor the distillation from the
Monastery, which is 15 miles away from the distillery.
Heated by steam, the alcohol and the essence of
the plants evaporate to the top of the swan neck, and then are cooled down in
the condenser becoming an alcoholate. A last maceration of plants gives its
color to the liqueur. A final control is made by the monks before the liqueur
can be put to age in the oak-casks of the maturing cellar. Built in 1860 and
enlarged in 1966 it is the largest liqueur cellar in the world: 164 meters
long. Chartreuse ages in oak casks from Russia, Hungary or France. After
several years, the monks will test the liqueur and decide if it is ready to be
bottled – only they can make this decision.
The sales of the liqueurs allow the Carthusians
the funds necessary to survive. The
fabrication of the liqueur Chartreuse is a great source of revenue and means of
support for the monks, and the surplus of their income is distributed in
The foundations of
the Carthusian Order were laid in the year 1084. St. Bruno and six friends (one
priest among them) were the first Carthusians who bound themselves to perpetual
silence. The Carthusian monk was originally known as “the Poor of Christ,” and his favorite occupation was/is the copying
of books and manuscripts. The first constitutions (Customs of the Grande Chartreuse) were written down 44 years after
the founding of the Order.
Silence is to be broken only in the case of the sudden illness of a brother, or of
fire, or of any other unexpected danger, and even then only few words are to be
used. They eat neither butcher’s meat, poultry, nor game. Their diet consists
of fish, eggs, milk, cheese, butter, bread, pastry, fruit, vegetables. They
drink water, but never take tea,
coffee, or chocolate because such things were unknown to St. Bruno.
St. Bruno and his spiritual descendants did but
literally carry out the command “Watch and pray.” And these faithful watchmen were
put to the test in England (under Henry VIII); not even the evil pens of
Cromwell’s infamous agents of destruction could write a single bad word against
their character, though many indeed were the complaints against their
conscientious steadfastness. Sebastian Brant said what was as true of the English
as of the foreign Charterhouses: Degener
nunquam fuit ordo visus Cartusianus. (“The Carthusian Order was never seen
The Carthusian holiness was scarcely
attainable, the stern loneliness of the Carthusian rule hardly endurable … but
from king and subject the Order met with reverence. But it may be asked, what
was there in the Carthusians to cause [King] Edward I, the chief feature in
whose character was not religious devotion, as well as [King] Henry II, to
appeal to their prayers, especially when engaging in an arduous venture?
The answer lies in the frequently quoted
sentence of St. Bernard, Otiosum non est
vacare Deo, sed negotium negotiorum omnium (to be occupied with God is not
idleness, but the business of all businesses) for no other monks so fully
carried out the sentiment therein expressed. The slightest acquaintance with
mediaeval literature suffices to make manifest the extremely personal worship
of those times. The Blessed Trinity was indeed a living reality to men then;
the language of their devotional writings, deeply reverential as was the spirit
that animated it, was as familiar as if addressed to a well-beloved friend,
whom, separated from them by some ordinary circumstance, they would see again.
In those days, there was an extraordinary earnestness in all that men thought
and did, so that they could easily appreciate and reverence the ardent devotion
of the Carthusian, who spent himself in an exclusive service to that adored and
Divine Friend. The Carthusian life had nothing, humanly speaking, to show for it;
but to the believer in prayer it was not waste of time, being indeed one long
form of prayer.
many cases the adoption of St. Bruno’s habit was an act of love. It was more;
it was a supreme act of love, fulfilling an ideal of self-surrender so awful
that it is little wonder if the Order, though winning an acknowledgment of its
holiness, could win no place in the heart of the nation. The saints while on
earth may be beloved; the saints in heaven are only approached through the awe
and mystery of heaven, and these monks, it would seem, were already half-way to
the far-off country.
is a high sacrifice; but it is a question whether to give up all that makes
life worth having be not a higher, for it is a sacrifice of longer agony, a
living death. In common with the monks of other Rules, the Carthusian, in
taking the irrevocable vows, literally left house, and brethren and sisters,
and father and mother (and even, it is to be feared, wife and children
occasionally), and lands for Christ’s sake. Yet he [the Carthusian] gave more
than they, for to them the chance was still open to distinguish themselves as
preachers, and as teachers through the medium of books, and to gain through the
medium of their intellectual gifts a power in the world of letters at least;
but even this privilege and solace of the ascetic life he [the Carthusian] laid
down on the altar of his solitude; preaching was forbidden to the son of St.
Bruno, and learning must be for him strictly a means to the spiritual
perfection of himself and his brother recluses.
It was in
the spirit of the Magdalene, who poured out the precious ointment on the person
of her Lord instead of spending the price of it on the poor, that the
Carthusians made, without regard to the possible good they might do for their
fellow-men, a free-will offering of themselves for the service of God, the
supremely Beloved alone. The purpose that they fulfilled was to inculcate a
lesson on the world; their mode of teaching it contained exaggerations; but
since man ever perceives most clearly what is presented to him in an
exaggerated light, exaggeration may have been useful, especially when the
tumults of much war and the perpetual din of arms in the strife of might
against right so often led him to forget to listen to the voice of
righteousness. The lesson that they set forth was that God has the first claim
above all human beings to the highest love, and that to give that love rightly
must entail sacrifice—no new lesson indeed, but that which beyond all other
Orders they realized.
fugit et prophanat
Et suam vitam,
nihil ista curat,
Dulce nil Christo
sine, nil amœnam .
Veste procedit cito
gestans, oleo decoras,
He flees the impurities of the secular world,
and does violence to his own life:
he takes no care for this; nothing is sweet
nothing pleasant to the Carthusian.
In the wedding-garment the Carthusian
goes forth to meet the Bridegroom,
with outstretched hands bearing
lamps properly fed with oil.
**Women, indeed, are utterly refused to be admitted on any
pretext within their bounds, knowing that, as instanced in Holy Writ, no wise
man, prophet, or judge, not Samson, David, nor Solomon, not even the very first
man formed by God, could resist the attraction of a wily woman.
Antiquary, July 1884 (The Rules of the Carthusian Order)
No monastic Order has stamped its individuality
on its buildings so completely as the Carthusian. In the case of the
foundations of other Orders, it may be difficult, not unfrequently impossible,
to determine from the existing remains to which of the various monastic bodies
the building belongs. In spite of marked differences of plan and arrangement, on
which there will be an opportunity of speaking hereafter, it is not always
possible to distinguish a Benedictine foundation from a Cistercian, or
Cistercian from a Cluniac, or any of these from a house of the Austin Canons.
But a Carthusian house is unmistakable. It never can be taken for anything but
what it is.
All the other chief
monastic Orders were by principle cœnobitic
- the common life was the rule; privacy was not in any way contemplated. … The
exact opposite of this form of religious life was that of the hermit, or
solitary, occupying his single cell, apart from other human habitations,
cultivating his own small patch of ground alone and unassisted, often with his
separate small chapel or oratory for his daily devotions.
The Carthusian system was a union of these
two; the cœnobitic or common life, and the solitary life: the life of the
hermit and that of the member of a religious community. St. Bruno's ideal was a
combination of the virtues of each mode of life, with an avoidance of the evils
which experience had proved each was liable to. He desired, by his rule, to
unite the strict austerity of the solitary with the mutual charities of the member
of a brotherhood. The severity of his rule (in the words of
Archbishop Trench) exceeded that of all which had gone before, while it hardly
left room for any that should come after to exceed it.
This object [of the founder] was, first, the eternal
salvation of their [monks’] souls, and then the benefit of the world by the
books, to the copying of which, by the rule of their founder, they were
commanded to devote the chief part of their time, each new copy of a holy book
being, in the words of their Consuetudinarium,
a new herald of the truth, so that the scribes becamepreachers with their hands.
Carthusian Order never became popular in England. The severe discipline its
rule enjoined of absolute silence and isolation with meagre diet and
insufficient clothing of the coarsest texture, even though modified as it was
with us, was as alien from the English character as it was unsuited to the
English climate. Founded by St. Bruno, in 1084, the Carthusian rule was first
introduced into England by Henry II, in 1181, at Witham, in Somersetshire, of
which house the justly famous St. Hugh, afterwards Bishop of Lincoln, was the
third prior, and the virtual founder. But not even his powerful influence could
succeed in popularizing the Order. It was planted as an exotic in a few
isolated spots, but it never naturalized itself on English soil.
Of the nine
English Carthusian houses, Mount Grace is the only one which exhibits the
arrangements characteristic of the Order. Nearly all the others have entirely perished,
not even their ruins remaining. Witham preserves its "Ecclesia Minor," but all the other buildings are gone.
If a brother happened not to be a scribe, which
was a very unusual case, he was to be allowed to have with him the implements
of his art or trade whatever it might be. They might borrow two books at the
same time from the book cupboard, and were to take the utmost care that they
were not discoloured with smoke or dust or any other filth.
The object of giving so many different articles
to each individual, which, the Consuetudinarium
remarks, might provoke a smile, was to take away all excuse for a brother
leaving his cell, which he was never permitted to do except to go to the
church, or to the cloister for confession.
of the Carthusian Order, 1905
This [Carthusian] Order has formed a glorious
exception in the Church, and never needed a reformer nor a reformation; it is
today as fervent as when its holy founder died. The life of the Carthusian monk
is one of great solitude and is mostly spent in his cell. At least once a week,
they are obliged to fast on bread and water. Under no circumstances are they
ever allowed to eat meat, and they fast from the Feast of the Exaltation of the
Holy Cross until Easter.
The cemetery is usually a small square in the
great cloister garth. There the fathers and brothers lie side by side. No useless coffin confines their bones, but
they lie each in his habit as he lived; taking their rest in death in the
dress with which they were clothed when they sought rest in life in the rule
which the piety of St. Bruno provided for them more than eight centuries ago.
Even after death the same rule of seclusion was
carried out, for no stranger, whether a religious or not, was to be buried in
the cemetery of their convent, unless his own people were unable or neglected
to give him burial. The graves of the
monks themselves, except in the case of the generals of the Order, were and
are marked only by wooden crosses
without inscriptions, as if to impress all the more on the living the
insignificance of all mortal parts of the human person.
Carthusian became master of nothing else, his training must have made him
completely master of himself so far as controlling his personal desires and
impulses went, for there could not be a more thorough system of
self-annihilation, leading to a perfect obedience to rule, personified by the
prior and chapter of his convent. No
military discipline, not even the famous Jesuit system, could call forth a
stricter obedience than was demanded of and shown by the disciples of St. Bruno.
of Religious Orders, 1898
In 1378, the
Carthusians felt the effects of the Western Schism by being divided into two
parts: one recognized Clement VII and the other Urban VI (the lawful Pope) –
union was reestablished at the ascension of Alexander V as Pope. At the time of the
dissolution of monasteries in England, the Carthusians distinguished themselves
(among all the clergy) in refusing to take oath of supremacy and several of
them were horribly martyred for doing so.
In this Order, unlike
in many other Orders, the rule, instead of becoming more mitigated, rather
increased in severity every time it was compiled: the Office became longer,
vigils became more austere, and silence grew more exact. Out of the spirit of
penance, they constantly wear a hair-shirt. These men are hidden to the world;
their very names are unknown, but the all-seeing eye of Him Who one day will reward
penetrates the hidden recesses of their cells, and beholds the virtues of which
the world knows nothing, and which it hardly appreciates.
[A] young Frenchman [Protestant] seemed to
think it the height of folly and fanaticism that men should adopt such a life,
and thus bury themselves alive. And, undoubtedly, this, at first sight, appears
true, when we consider matters from a mere human standpoint, but looking at
them in the light of eternity, before which time fades into insignificance, the
conduct of these monks is the highest wisdom. The world may laugh and scorn,
but, let us remember, that he who laughs last, laughs best.
Ecclesiastical History Ancient and Modern
It was a long time before the tender sex could
be engaged to submit to the “savage” rules of this [Carthusian] institution,
nor had the Carthusian Order ever reason to boast of a multitude of female
members. It was too forbidding to captivate a sex which is of a frame too
delicate to support the severities of a rigorous self-denial. Several writers
have even gone so far as to maintain that there was not in this Order a single convent
of nuns. This is erroneous as there have been several convents of Carthusian
virgins, though many have not survived to our times.
Certain it is that the rigorous discipline of
the Carthusians is quite inconsistent with the delicacy and tenderness of the
female sex, and, therefore, in the few female convents of this Order that still
subsist the austerity of the discipline has been diminished, as well as from
necessity as from humanity and wisdom; it was more particularly found necessary
to abrogate those severe injunctions of silence and solitude that are so little
adapted to the known character and genius of the female sex.
The female branch is less severe and the nuns
take their meals in common. The Carthusian nuns have preserved the ancient
custom of the consecration of virgins (invested with stole, maniple on the
right arm, and black veil) – always celebrated by the Bishop. These are worn on
the day of their consecration, on their 50th anniversary, and they
are buried with them. The nuns are never
allowed to speak to seculars, not even to their relatives, except with the
face covered by a veil, and in the presence of one or two religious of the