Saturday, February 03, 2024

A Cistercian “The Great Silence” From 1959

The YouTube channel of the Cistercian abbey of the Holy Cross in Itaporanga, Brazil (state of São Paulo), recently posted a beautiful video about the daily life of the Trappist abbey of Mariawald in western Germany, originally aired on a German television channel on March 22, 1959, the day after the feast of St Benedict. I don’t know if the creators of the famous film about the Grand Chartreuse “Die große Stille” (inexplicable called “Into Great Silence” in English, rather than “The Great Silence”) ever saw this, but it would not surprise me if they did and were inspired by it. Just as the Carthusians really take their time in singing the Divine Office, their documentary has a run time of over 2½ hours, and long (but beautiful, of course) stretches of not-much-happening. The Cistercians, on the other hand, sought to restore a balance between the “ora” and the “labora” of the Benedictine motto, which (as they saw it) their Cluniac predecessors has upset very much in favor of the former, and modified the Office so that it could be done decorously, but more quickly. Likewise, this film gives us a pretty comprehensive view of their life in just under a half-hour. (The narration is in German, by the way, but English subtitles are provided.)   

At 16:30, the video shows the community assembling for the conventual Mass, and at 17:10, the soundtrack is the introit for Easter Sunday, so presumably the Mass shown is that of the previous Easter, although the narration does not say so. The Mass is followed (at 19:34) by the giving of tonsure and minor orders, with a good explanation of what these orders mean, and an interesting (and correct) underlying assumption that these ancient customs are in fact still both meaningful and perfectly comprehensible to Modern Man™. At 21:15, we see footage of a Corpus Christi procession through the abbey cloister, something which is also seen in The Great Silence. At 23:50, we see a very moving custom of the Order: when a member of the community dies, for 30 days, his place is still set at the table, with a black crucifix set in front of it, and his portion of the meal distributed to the poor. At 24:32, we see some examples of the Cistercian sign language, which was used to keep the amount of talking to a necessary minimum.

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: