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Die grosse Stille

Prix du cinéma européen 2006 - Meilleur documentaire
Sundance Film Festival 2006 - Prix spécial du Jury

Die grosse Stille

CH/D 2005 162'

Director: Philip Gröning
Script: Philip Gröning
Camera: Philip Gröning
Sound: Philip Gröning
Editing:: Philip Gröning
Production:: Philip Gröning, Ventura Film SA

Philip Gröning 2005 162'

For the first time ever, cameras are let into the Grande Chartreuse monastery in the French Alps, home to the legendary Carthusian Order. Life within monastery walls is one of continuous silence, repetition, and prayer.The film itself reflects the order's austerity in its silent meditation on monastic life, with no music other than the monastery chants, no interviews, no commentary and no extra material. Days tick by and seasons change, and Die Grosse Stille imparts the feeling of a monastery by becoming one rather than simply depicting one. A film about total awareness and the men who devote their lifetimes to God in the purest form, contemplation.

"The results are like the pleasures of watching a gently flowing stream. Groening spent six months in the monastery, recording the way life inside follows a routine dictated both by daily devotions and seasonal responsibilities: the self-sufficient community has assigned tasks ranging from gardening to shoe repair. Indications of the passing of time come only in shifts from light to dark, and the change of seasons visible from within the confines of the monastery grounds."
Jay Weissberg, Variety

"Philip Gröning's thoughtful film touches on the mystic quality of belief and our need for stillness and silence in contrast to modern life. It appears that the director, with a lot of patience, gained the trust of this enclosed community and returned with amazing images and sounds. INTO GREAT SILENCE is a great film about humanity and our shared European background."
European Film Academy

The history of the Carthusian Order and the 'Grande Chartreuse'

The Order of the Carthusians was founded by Saint Bruno of Cologne (1030 - 1101) in 1084 and is considered as the Catholic Church's strictest order. Since its founding, this order of hermits has been located in the mountains near Grenoble, France. There the monks dedicate themselves entirely to the service of God and to spiritual life, in permanent silence. The monastery was buried under an avalanche in 1132 and came close to being destroyed by fire eight times in its history. The present-day structure was built in 1688.

Every Charterhouse is economically independent and essentially self-sufficient. The monks are thus also active as farmers and craftsmen. There is a system of compensation within the Order, through which poorer houses are given aid, chiefly through the production of the famous liqueur. The hermits' way of life – consisting of prayers, studies and physical work – has hardly changed to this day.

Today there are 19 Charterhouses in Europe, the United States, Latin America and South Korea, which are home to an estimated 370 monks. Moreover, there are five women's convents in France, Italy and Spain, in which about 75 nuns live.

There is only one Charterhouse in Germany: in Marienau in Baden-Württemberg. It has been in function since 1964, after it replaced the Charterhouse of Maria Hain near Düsseldorf, which had been constructed in 1869 but whose solitude had become threatened by the progressive encroachment of the city. The Charterhouse of Marienau is surrounded by woods as well as by a two-and-a-half meter high and 1,250-meter-long wall, which ensures an even greater separation from the world. The focal point of the ca. ten-hectare-large monastery grounds is the simple chapel with its sober wooden church tower. As in all Charterhouses, visitors are not allowed.

Life in the Charterhouses

The Carthusian monk seeks God in solitude on three levels: separation from the world, life in his cell, and inner solitude, or 'solitude of the heart', as it is called by the monks.

The monks leave the monastery once a week for a walk, during which they are allowed to speak. They basically receive no visitors and have neither radio nor television. The prior informs them about what is going on in the world. This provides the necessary conditions for fostering silence. Twice a year, during what is called the 'contemplation' period, the monks may receive visit from family members.

The monk lives in a cell that consists of a one-story house surrounded by a garden. There he spends the larger part of his day alone. Communal life takes place in the chapel, where the liturgy is sung every day, and at the noon meal on Sundays. During their walks, which last more than four hours, the monks may speak to one another in order to become better acquainted and 'to strengthen mutual affection and stimulate the union of the hearts, while also ensuring proper physical relaxation', as it is described on the Order's Internet pages.

Compared to Roman liturgy, the Carthusians' daily liturgy is characterized by simplicity and sobriety. Among its components are many periods of silence, Gregorian chant as carrier of contemplative inwardness, and the prohibition of all musical instruments. The Offices celebrated at midnight consist of a psalm hymn, Bible readings, prayers of intercession and periods of silence.


'Chartreuse' is a mountainous massif in the French Alps between Grenoble and Chambéry. It gave its name to the order of hermits founded there in 1084, as well as to the herbal liqueur produced by the monks.


A Charterhouse is a Carthusian monastery. The concept stems from the Latin cartusia for the French La Chartreuse, the site of the first Charterhouse. A characteristic architectural element of all Charterhouses is the large cloister around which the hermitages of the patres are grouped. In the High Middle Ages there were some sumptuously appointed monasteries. However, monasteries established in more recent times testify to the order's ideal of poverty and simplicity. With over 30 cells, La Grande Chartreuse – as its name implies – is one of the 'major Charterhouses' and was built in its present form in the 17th century. In contrast, the Charterhouse of Portes in the Département of Ain has only twelve cells and thus belongs to the 'lesser Charterhouses'. Here the cells are grouped around the cemetery and thus retain the appearance of the original Charterhouses.


The building in which a community of Christians lives in celibacy is called a cloister (from the Latin claustra or claustrum: bolt, lock). The earliest cloister dates from the fourth century. Even back then the grounds were surrounded by a wall and contained a chapel, a refectory, a kitchen, a laundry room, a library, a dispensary, a guest house and workshops. The hermits observed certain rules and called themselves monks; their prior was the Abbas, the father.

Saint Bruno of Cologne

Born in Cologne around 1030, Bruno left his home as a young man to study at the cathedral school of Reims, where he obtained his doctoral degree and was appointed rector of the University in 1056. Regarded as one of the leading scholars of his time, he wanted to dedicate his life exclusively to God and began to search for an appropriate venue. Saint Hugo, the bishop of Grenoble, offered Bruno and his six companions a site in the mountains of his diocese. The men built their hermitage of wooden huts in the wild valley of La Chartreuse. Although Bruno served as a living example to his brothers, he did not write down any rules for his monks; the statutes of the Carthusian Order were not drawn up until much later. After six years of life as a hermit, Bruno was called to the Vatican to become an adviser to Pope Urban II. Bruno did not feel at home in the Vatican, however, and remained there for only a few months. With the Pope's consent, he set up a new hermitage in the woods of Calabria, where he died in 1101.

The Chartreuse liqueur

The monks of La Grande Chartreuse were given a recipe for an 'elixir of long life' back in 1605. But since the brewing instructions were extremely complicated and called for over 130 ingredients, it took over 100 years before a Charterhouse apothecary decoded the recipe and produced the first liqueur. To this day, it still consists of spice plants, medicinal herbs, flower and root extracts soaked in wine alcohol. Soon, the green elixir with 71% vol. alcohol was being drunk more for enjoyment than for medication. When a cholera epidemic broke out in France in 1832, chartreuse was once again used as medicine. A few years later, the monks developed a milder variant of the herbal liqueur, with 55% vol. alcohol, which is called yellow chartreuse because of its color. The liqueur matures for five years in oak casks before it is ready to be bottled. To this day, only the monks initiated into the secret recipe mix the herbs, though nowadays with the help of modern computer technology.


The cell is designed in such a way that it can afford the monk the greatest possible solitude while guaranteeing him the necessities of life. Each cell consists of a small one-story house surrounded by a garden. The monk spends the larger part of his day alone there for the duration of his life.