The Carthusian order represented a late eleventh century attempt to reconcile the coenobitic tradition of a community of faith with the eremetic tradition of solitary faith. Therefore, whilst the majority of the monk's time was spent in silent prayer, labour and isolation within their respective 'cells', they did come together for collective services twice daily within a small conventual church. This is one of the reasons for the more humble scale of the Carthusian churches relative to, say, a Benedictine foundation like Fountains Abbey that was designed around collective worship focused on the church.
However, if the word 'cell' evokes images of a small place of confinement, think again. Think instead of a self-contained house and garden, with food and drink brought to you via a J-shaped serving hatch, cleverly designed to avoid direct contact with the 'conversi' (lay brothers) who served them.
Today, we visited the finest surviving example of a Carthusian house in Britain, Mount Grace Priory, Yorkshire, located on the once busy pilgrimage route between York and Durham.
As well as the extensive ruins, this fascinating site includes a reconstructed cell that really does allow one to picture something of the material culture destroyed at the Dissolution. English Heritage deserve credit for their management and interpretation of this site. We received a lovely warm welcome and one of the staff members even took it upon herself to go and photocopy a sheet for us recording the mason's marks on the site.
Effective interpretation can enable visitors to imaginatively step back into the past.
We will definitely be returning to this marvellous place - not least because they are in the early stages of constructing a new café to cater for visitors. The thought that the cake therein might prove to be as good as the priory site itself has our Ragged Rambler tastebuds tingling with anticipation. Huzzah!