What do October 6, Chartreuse liquor, the Carthusian Order, and the National Archives at San Francisco have in common?  The answer is that all have a connection with Saint Bruno the Confessor.

Saint Bruno the Confessor was born in about the year 1030 in what is now Cologne, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany.

Saint Bruno by Manuel Pereira

Sculpture of Saint Bruno by Portuguese artist Manuel Pereira

SOURCE:  Luis Garcia, San Bruno (http://tinyurl.com/3mrg8xr : accessed 05 October 2011).

Bruno, a member of the Hartenfaust or Hardebüst family, was educated at Reims where he later returned to head the school at Reims from 1057 to 1075.  When Bruno’s friend Archbishop Gervais de Château-du-Loir of Reims died, the Archbishop was succeeded by Manasses de Gournai, an impious and violent man.  Bruno and the clergy at Reims convinced the papal legate, Hugh of Die, to suspend Manasses de Gournai who responded by razing the houses of his accusers and confiscating their goods.  Manasses de Gournai sought refuge with Emperor Henry IV.

In 1084, Bruno and several companions left Reims for Chartreuse where they built a small monastery and lived lives of prayer and study in retreat from the outside world.  In 1088, a former pupil of Bruno, Eudes of Châtillon, was elected Pope under the name Urban II.  Pope Urban II called Bruno to serve him in Rome.  A short time later, the Pope was forced to retreat to southern Italy following the victory of the antipope Guibert of Ravenna and Emperor Henry IV who had previously provided refuge to Manasses de Gournai.

On the way to southern Italy, Bruno again attempted to retreat into a quiet life of prayer and study and settled in the Diocese of Squillace in Calabria, Italy.  It was there in Calabria where he died on 06 October 1101.  Many miracles were worked at Bruno’s tomb in the hermitage of St. Mary.  Although he was never formally canonized, on 17 February 1623 Pope Gregory XV entered his name into the Roman Catholic Calendar of Saints and designated that his feast be celebrated on October 6.

Saint Bruno is often depicted holding a death’s head, a book and a cross, or crowned with seven stars.  He was the founder of the Carthusian Order.

In time, the Carthusian order built a substantial monastery, La Grande Chartreuse, at the site where Saint Bruno and his companions had retreated in 1084.  In 1605, the monks were presented with a recipe for an elixir that was purported to confer long life.  The monks prepared this elixir, composed of 130 alpine herbs in a wine alcohol base, for medicinal purposes.


SOURCE:  Chartreuse (San Francisco, San Francisco County, California); photographed by Stephen J. Danko on 05 October 2011.

Today, Chartreuse is available commercially and the sales of Chartreuse support the Carthusian monastery in Chartreuse.  The liquor, containing 55% alcohol by volume, is unique in that the color of the liquor led to the name of the color chartreuse.  In addition to green chartreuse, the monks also prepare a sweeter yellow chartreuse, colored with saffron, which is 40% alcohol by volume.

In 1775, Captain Bruno de Heceta, a Basque explorer, was sent to map the coast of western North America.  On that voyage, he sighted a mountain on the San Francisco peninsula and named it for his patron saint, Saint Bruno the Confessor.  In 1862, an inn and waystation along the route of the proposed railroad between San Francisco and San Jose was built.  Later, at the base of Mount San Bruno, the city of San Bruno, California grew up.

The city of San Bruno gained some fame for Tanforan, a racetrack for horses.  The Tanforan Racetrack was the site of the first flight to ever take off from the west coast and gained further notoriety for its use as an internment site for Japanese Americans during World War II.

Today, San Bruno is mostly a bedroom community, but it has its share of shopping and entertainment venues as well.  The National Archives at San Francisco is located in San Bruno not far from the San Francisco California Family History Center, the Golden Gate National Cemetery, and Saint Bruno’s Catholic Church.

On this day, October 6, I invite everyone to celebrate the Feast of Saint Bruno the Confessor by considering the impact that this man and saint who died 910 years ago still has on our lives today.  And don’t forget to toast Saint Bruno with a glass of Chartreuse!