Tomorrow, on the grounds of the former Carthusian Charterhouse in Smithfield, London, the annual ecumenical commemoration of the martyrdoms of St. John Houghton, St. Robert Lawrence, St. Alexander Webster, Carthusians, and also Blessed John Haile, Vicar and St. Richard Reynolds of Syon Brigettine Abbey will be held. According to the Charterhouse website:
Friday 4 May 2012
5.30pm in the Chapel of Sutton’s Hospital and Chapel Court
The Annual Ecumenical Commemoration of the Carthusian Martyrs
This year the Brothers of Charterhouse have invited the Sisters (Order of St Benedict) of the Tyburn Convent to take part in the Service.
In 2008, a similar service was held and Christopher Howse of The Telegraph posted a story about the event:
The Brothers are the pensioners – a little like Chelsea Pensioners – who live in Sutton's Hospital, the Jacobean almshouse founded on the remains of the Charterhouse. The ceremony last Sunday marked the ending of that earlier foundation. Outdoors in the westering sunlight, in the grassy Chapel Court, one old man after another walked forward and placed a single red rose in a wooden stand representing the former gallows tree at Tyburn. Each rose stood for a monk or associate of the Charterhouse who lost his life in the 1430s. As the names of the dead men were read aloud a blackbird sang in a tree overhead, only emphasising the background peacefulness of the setting.
The monks who'd lived at the Charterhouse in the Middle Ages were Carthusians, and their house was an offshoot of the Grand Chartreuse. The order was founded in 1084 by St Bruno. It is not for wimps. The monks get up in the middle of the night to pray. They don't eat meat. They are solitary and silent. Their monastery is cold. But as the remarkable film Into Great Silence shows, it is a happy life for those cut out for it.
In the early 16th century in London, the three most impressive groups of dedicated religious men were the Bridgettines at Syon, near Isleworth; the Observant Franciscans at Greenwich and Sheen (Richmond, Surrey); and the Carthusians. All three groups were clobbered when Henry VIII launched the dissolution of the monasteries.
Last Sunday was May 4, and on May 4, 1535, Dom John Houghton, the Prior of the Charterhouse, was hanged, together with Dom Augustine Webster, Prior of the Charterhouse at Axeholme, who had been visiting London, Father Richard Reynolds, a Bridgettine monk of Syon, and Sir John Hale, the rector of nearby Isleworth, an honest clergyman. By 1540 all the monks of the Charterhouse were dead or had fled. Some starved in Newgate.
The impressive point of Sunday's ceremony, preceded by Anglican Evensong beautifully sung by the Thomas Sutton Singers, is that it did not shy away from this old and terrible event. As one of the Brothers told me, "We used to just keep quiet about the Carthusians who has once lived here. It's better to acknowledge how they lived and died."
The Charterhouse in London is now an almshouse (shades of Trollope's The Warden!):
Charterhouse is a former Carthusian monastery in London, to the north of what is now Charterhouse Square. The building is formally known as Sutton’s Hospital in Charterhouse, and is a registered charity (number 207773). Since the dissolution of the monasteries in the 16th century the house has served as private mansion, a boys’ school and an almshouse, which it remains to this day.
If you want to become a brother at the Charterhouse, you do have to meet some qualifications:
• single men – bachelors, widowers, divorced
• those over 60 and under 80 years of age
• those of sound mind and in reasonable health – a medical assessment may be required
• those of good standing – three independent referees are required
• those with limited capital and income – confirmed by an accountant or solicitor
• those suited to community life
• those prepared to attend Chapel
The photo above is from London Remembers:
The Great Cloister of The London Charterhouse, 1371 - 1538, once occupied this ground. After Charterhouse School, 1611 - 1872, and Merchant Taylors' School, 1875 - 1933, it became the home of The Medical College of St Bartholomew's Hospital, since 1995 St Bartholomew's and The Royal London School of Medicine and Dentistry.
Remember those who lived, studied and taught here, especially Saint John Houghton, Prior of the London Charterhouse, who was martyred on 4 May 1535, and the Monks and Lay Brothers who, soon after him, suffered death and persecution.
May the cause of healing inspire all who study and teach here today.
I will follow up on this year's ecumenical service as news becomes available.