For the first time, the Cartuxa Monastery in Évora can be visited, and only until the end of September. In silence, because that was the vow of the monks who lived there.
It is eight in the morning. Punctually, the bell that the Carthusian monks rang every day, echoes again. The door opens to a hitherto forbidden world and to a universe that ordinary mortals know nothing about.
At the initiative of the Fundação Eugénio de Almeida, the most inaccessible of Portuguese convents can be visited at weekends until the end of September. Guided tours or free tours. We strongly recommend the former.
Architect Luís Ferro, author of a study on the monastery, is the guide for a two-hour dive into the way of life of the Carthusian monks. A visit that should be experienced in silence, because it was in total silence that the Cartuxa Monastery was lived in by the hermits in white robes..
The Carthusian key
It is a very special key that all Carthusian monks receive when they join the Order. It is a key that is not turned to open the door, but rather that activates the mechanism by moving vertically.
And with it, each monk can open not only the door of his cell, but any door that exists in the monastery.
Truly, this key is a very strong symbol, because it allows opening any door of any Carthusian convent. Thus, the monks who left Evora continued to feel at home when they arrived at their new home. All they had to do was use the key they carried in their pocket to open the new space
What is most profound is the immense hermitage, the largest in Portugal, which houses the monastic cells and the stripped cemetery. Until 31 October 2019, the monks will only come out of total isolation three times a day to pray in common in the church. This is a space of silence, where footsteps echo.
The cells are small flats with an inner garden. It was only in this garden that each monk could express his individuality, with the crops he planted. All other aspects of his life were devoted to contemplation and study. Even in death, the Carthusian monk has no individuality, being placed in nameless earth.
The cells of the Monastery of Cartuxa are small apartments
The monks left Évora in 2019. There were only five, all over 80 years old. For a Carthusian monastery to function, it needs at least seven monks, as seven were the founders of the Order.
The Cartuxa Monastery in Évora has known the vicissitudes of history. Founded at the end of the 16th century, it saw its façade bombed by the French. With the extinction of the Religious Orders in 1834, it had various uses until it was bought by the Eugénio de Almeida family. In the mid-20th century, the Count of Vilalva recovered the building and returned it to the Order of the Carthusians. Between 1960 and 2019 it once again became a place of silence and seclusion.
Being one of the several hermit orders that existed in the Alentejo, the Carthusians were the one that most entered our imagination, perhaps because it was the only one that lasted until the 21st century. Opening doors that were hitherto always closed is a privilege.
The architect Luís Ferro is a passionate guide, and it is through him that we learn that Father Antão, one of the last Carthusians of Évora, said that outside was the prison, the inside was a space of freedom. Because the hermits felt that by renouncing the world and conviviality – even with their peers – they had gained the freedom to dedicate their entire lives to meditation, study and prayer.
In October, the door of the Monastery of Santa Maria Scalla Coeli, as it was called, closed again. Now without the Carthusian monks, it will from then on be the home of the sisters of the Institute of the Servants of the Lord and the Virgin of Matará.
This is, therefore, a unique opportunity.