Carthusian monastery “Certosa di Firenze”, built in the fourteenth century, is located on the summit of Mount Acuto, also called “Holy Mount”, near Galluzzo, a town today part of Florence’s metropolitan area.
The monastery was built by Niccolò Acciaioli (1310-1365), a political and economic important person during the fourteenth century, his family was one of the richest banking families of Tuscany.
The Certosa of Florence, history
February 13, 1341, the Carthusian monks took possession of the property: some houses, a dovecote, a house with wood stove, a courtyard, a well, a vineyard and some surrounding lands. This was the first settlement of Montacuto Monastery.
Thank to Carthusians arrival, people started to call this hill also “Holy Mount”. Few months and the settlement was immediately expanded thanks to the assets of Niccolò Acciaioli and other donations from many rich families of Florence.
We do not know exactly the architect who designed the Certosa, most likely was Jacopo Talenti.
The site was chosen for its strategic position, it dominated the surrounding valleys, especially the Florence valley and close to the hill there were two streams, the Greve and the Ema, both tributaries of Arno. They also ensured an isolation (necessary to the life rules of Carthusian order). The Monastery was built on the highest point of the hill, perfect to be defended against the incursions by Florence’s enemies.
The Certosa is composed of several buildings: church, chapter house, sacristy, refectory, small cloister (for brothers) and the main cloister (for monks), homes (cells). Originally it was designed to accommodate a maximum of 18 cloistered monks and five brothers.
The cloistered monks had a rather large cell, because they had to spend there almost all of their existence, in meditation. They could leave his cell only on special occasions, such as on Sundays, for lunch, for pray times and for the weekly interview (just 1 hour). All other days, the hermit monks remained in their cell, which was composed of two floors and a basement with a small outdoor garden (personal) in which they could work the land.
The main Cloister, for Monks
The original cloister was built to accommodate twelve cells (defined by the order of Carthusian monks), then definitely smaller than what we see today. In addition, the cells of the northern side of the hill, on the forest side, they were accompanied by vegetable garden like the others, respecting the strict regulations of Carthusian rules. The cloister was therefore smaller than the current and it let free a long strip of land, where they built the Acciaioli Palace.
The Cistercians monks arrival
In 1958, after six centuries of Carthusian life, the Certosa of Florence was given to Cistercians Benedictine monks, who had different lifestyle but same purposes of Carthusians.
The Cistercians, by their nature, are more open to external contacts, and they offer a broader dialogue and exchanges with neighboring communities. The Certosa, in fact, today can be visited by anyone who wants to do it (within the limits of public spaces) and is also possible to attend the Saint mass of Sunday.
Thanks to their monastic rule, Cistercians had let the monastery more accessible to the outside world and they opened the monastery’s doors to art lovers.
The Carthusian monks were expelled from their Certosa of Florence twice, the first time from 1810 to 1820 due to the Napoleonic suppression, the second time from 1866 to 1872 for the Italian government suppression. In 1957 the Carthusian Monastery of Florence was definitely abandoned because of Carthusian Order problems. In 1958, the Italian State will give the Monastery to Cistercians monks (Congregation of Casamari), whom they still manage it.
How many Carthusian Monasteries exist in the world?
There are 245 Carthusian Monasteries in the world. The Tuscany region was one of the most interested Italian regions about the construction of these oases of silence, peace, prayer and art.
The Carthusian Monasteries in Tuscany are six, all erected in the fourteenth century. The first in was the Certosa di Maggiano, near Siena, founded in 1314. The second, the Certosa di Farneta, near Lucca in 1340. The third, the Certosa di Firenze in 1341. Close to Siena there are also the Certosa di Pontignano (1343) and the Certosa di Belriguardo (1345). The last was the Certosa di Calci, near Pisa in 1367.
The Carthusian spirituality
Carthusian monasticism was born in a time when people felt, more insistently, the need for a monastic reform in the broader context of an ecclesiastical reform.
The Carthusian Order has its origin in the summer of 1084, when St. Bruno, tenacious defender of the moral integrity of the Church pastors, led a small group of monks in the Alps of Dauphine where he founded the first hermitage.
Consuetudines Cartusiæ, drafted by Guigo I (1128), was the first document where Order’s subjects were enumerated. But many fundamental rules of monk’s life had been already written by St. Bruno, with his letters: real hermit’s solitude, intense fraternal communion and persevering vigilance targeted to meet the Lord.
The Cistercians spirituality
The Cistercian movement was born in 1098 with the foundation of Cîteaux, and the main targets of: leaving the feudal world that had greatly affected monasteries’ lives, bringing to light the fundamental components of Benedictine Rules (Opus Dei, Lectio Divina, labor manuum).
Everything was animated by a great spirit of rigor, uniformity of life and constant adaptability to the needs that the changing conditions of time required continuously, arousing the admiration of contemporaries. The Cistercians were bearers of ideals focused on a very strict asceticism, but it was implemented very favorably by the people, because with their Marian devotion, it led the Order to a rapid expansion across Europe.
The basic needs of the monastic life, outlined by Order’s Statutes, can be summarized in a few basic elements: poverty, uniformity of life, loneliness, manual work, simplicity and devotion to Mary.
Among countless hermit movements that had great fortune during the Medieval period there are: Cistercians founded in 1039, Carthusians (1084) both from France, Camaldoleses (1012) based in Italy and Vallombrosani (1039) from Florence.