What a windy day in Karthaus but the streets are swaying in gentle tranquillity, nestled against steep slopes. Still looking for the monastery, you will find that you are right in the middle of it. Weaving between the houses, the former walls of the Carthusian monastery, Allerengelberg, draw breath. The silent sculpture of passing monks crowns the village fountain. The small chapel door urges the visitor to fall to his knees. Birds sing into silence.
Buying your way into paradise: A bon vivant as investor?
No doubt, Duke Henry of Tirol wanted to purchase goodwill for the hereafter for himself and his loved ones when he gifted land and 10 farms to the monks in search of a home in 1326. The actual Mother house - la Grande Chartreuse - was founded in 1084 in a remote French mountain area. The Carthusian monastery in Senales Valley was also to be set up as a place of contemplation in barren isolation. The duke had a great deal to repent for and the monks, with the help of the farmers, had a considerable building project to carry out.
A silent order: A silent place?
The Carthusian order prevailed in the village for over 450 years. Dressed in their white robes, the monks lived their lives according to a four-hour cycle of prayer, in silence and in strict seclusion.
If you follow the silent wind today, past the area that was once the monastery kitchen, you will be drawn to the cloister. The echo of your steps will fade away and through small stone windows you’ll see the undulating meadow. To the right are the former cell doors, now lovingly decorated house entrances. You can get a look into even darker basements through dark slits. The food hatches for the monks are still there today in the recesses in the wall. Silent reporters of solitary mealtimes.
A spirit as light as the wind
The highly educated Carthusian monks went about their mainly intellectual activity in the strictest sense of ora et labora, grew medicinal herbs and plants and maintained a diet entirely without meat, for reasons of mental clarity.
However, while the monks were dependent on the farmers in the surrounding areas, at the same time their complete seclusion from the outside world did not allow them to serve the people. This was something that caused resentment among the locals, led to violent revolts and ultimately to the dissolution of the monastery. In 1782, the monastery of Allerengelberg, as Karthaus was known when the monks were still there, was handed over to 24 families. The contemplative life of the monks in Karthaus was at an end. Where did they go? They were scattered to the four winds.
The silence remains - a village full of mystery and change?
Stone by stone, the former monastery was converted to the village it is today. The square cells used by the monks were converted into multi-storey houses, some of the herbal gardens are still there today. The nave of the former monastery church is now used as restaurant for convivial events, one of the many charming re-purposings carried out by the villagers. During renovation works lately, human bones, valuable buttons and some treasures were found. Was it a prior? Or, perhaps another silent investor in paradise?
Karthaus continues to hide a lot of secrets today. This small mountain village and the monastery of Allerengelberg seem to be full of invisible order and symbols that are not decrypted. A gem in a world that appears to be planned down to the smallest detail.
Past and present are disclosed to the interested observer by means of Silentium, a cultural project. Information about life in the order is provided in images and videos, and visitors are invited to experience the many sounds of the Carthusian silence.