Certose di Pavia Cloister Garden

Certose di Pavia Carthusian Cloister Garden

The cloister of the Certose di Pavia is not a place for the simple life: it is a place of luxury

The Carthusian Order was founded in the Chartreuse Mountains in the French Alps. ‘Charterhouse’ is the English name for a Carthusian monastery and ‘Certosa’ is the Italian name. Their motto is ‘ Stat crux dum volvitur orbis’ (‘The Cross is steady while the world is turning.’) A Charthouse was ‘a community of hermits’. Each member had his own cell and his own garden, in which to lead a simple life of work, prayer and gardening. But, like other monastic orders, there was a tendency for the order to turn, as the world changed, towards luxury. Simple cloister garths became richly ornamented gardens, as at the Certose di Pavia.
One could argue that the creation of beauty is a way of praising the Lord. But this does not accord with the founding principles of monasticism and one cannot imagine that St Anthony, St Benedict or St Bruno would have approved. Yet the world does change. So would anyone support a modern equivalent of a renaissance parterre at Salisbury Cathedral or Canterbury Cathedral or Westminster Abbey? A contemporary interpretation of an Italian cloister garden is planned next to St Andrew’s Cathedral in Glasgow.

(Image courtesy Kenya Allmond)

5 thoughts on “Certose di Pavia Cloister Garden

  1. Adam Hodge

    This blog seems to be suggesting a slightly different basis for ecclesiatical landscape style to the previous one. Previously the blogger argues that the landscaping should strongly reflect the architectural genre and is therefore frustrated by the contrary landscaping illustrated.
    This blog recommends a landscape style aligned to the original precepts of a religious order irrespective of the fact that the building itself is a contradiction to those precepts. Visconti, the local Duke [of Milan] chose the Architect-Marco Solari and paid for the construction of the buildings in the latest Renaissance style. The picture shows great ornamentation in the cloisters. Is there any of the plainess in this building that the Carthusian order embraced ?
    To respect Tom’s challenge in his previous blog might one argue that the planting is perhaps insufficiently ornamental to keep within the Rennaisance styling as adopted by Solari’s grandson Guinoforte Solari ?
    So, is ecclesiastical landscaping style decided by the precepts of the religious Order or by architectural style, both seemingly recommended by the blogger !

  2. Tom Turner Post author

    It is not really that I am wavering: its more that I am assembling considerations about a question which have been at the back of my mind for years. The nearest I have got to conclusions are (1) setting graves and memorials into the grass is a bad idea (2) since there is a good possibility that medieval garths were managed as ‘flowery meads’ then this type of management should be tried in at least one cloister (3) there is a need to think about cloisters as a group and consider the issues with monastic care.

  3. Christine

    Tom perhaps the more follow your interest in monastic gardens the more diversity of styles and approaches you will discover!

    Not only were there changes and developments in monastic ideals, spiritual charisms and their architectural expression there were also reform movements at various times. The result of these reforms were a proliferation of communities living under the same charism but with a different rule resulting in a different material expression. An example is the Carmelite Order. [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carmelites ]

    There will, however, probably be an organising taxonomy and approach typical of these gardens.

    The idea and acceptability of luxury is most often linked with theological debates at that time about the value of poverty and stability for a community and an order.

  4. Tom Turner Post author

    Yes, I think it is a big problem. But, most unusually for historic spaces, almost all the examples of cloisters are in the ownership and control of a small group of would-be-and-should-be-friendly organizations: the Christian churches. If they can’t agree on doctrine, or sex, they could easily get together and have a debate about the care and management of cloister garths.

  5. Christine

    Yes it is always a good idea to discuss the subjects that everyone is passionately committed to without feeling the need to resort to less pleasant means of settling disagreements! [ie. Burning at the stake!]

    Perhaps a sign of our spiritual and human advancement should be our capacity to debate topics ranging from the least controversial (care of cloister garths) to the most controversial (doctrine or sex).


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