Carthusian symbolism in Architecture and Art: San Lorenzo of Padula

Supplementary Files



Religious Order.


The aim of this contribution is to demonstrate through the study of the concrete example of the Charterhouse di San Lorenzo in Padula (Province of Salerno, Italy) how and to what extent, the utopian value of the spirituality of the Carthusian monks - inspired by the model of the Desert Fathers and the Church of primitive Christianity, devoted to the practices of strict enclosure, of rigorous abstinence, of meditation, of contemplation and of prayer - has affected the definition and development of a specific iconography; both for what concerns the figurative arts, which have as a milestone the theme of martyrdom and angels (the creatures closest to God), present within the monasteries of the order, both for what interests the architectural structure of buildings. Always the same as themselves, especially for the design, distribution and function of the spaces, which as a whole and in particular, they reflect, strictly and everywhere, the immutability of the Carthusian Rule, never changed since the foundation of the order in 1084. Following the model of the first monastery, built on the Chartreuse massif, in Grenoble (France), made by St. Bruno of Cologne, new settlements were erected and spread throughout Europe, with an exponential growth that does not suffer interruptions until the end of eighteenth century and that, left a deep and unequivocal cultural mark in the territory on which they extended. The Charterhouse model, a kind of Earthly Jerusalem like an imitation of the Celestial Jerusalem, can be well included in the universe of utopian architecture, but of the possible ones, where spirituality became tangible reality and where the sacredness of space conceived and built by the monks puts us in touch today the man with sensitive and perceptible experience, the so-called hierophany.


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