CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide

Het geheim van de stilte: de besloten wereld van de Roermondse kartuizers

The secret of silence: the hidden world of the Carthusians of Roermond Exhibition: 27 March - 21 June 2009

From the exhibition website, 4 December 2009

A tour of the exhibition looks as follows: having seen an introductory film providing a first impression of the theme, visitors start their tour of the historical monastic buildings. They first enter the cloister, where the history, development, and significance of the Carthusian order is explained. Then the Carthusians in the Netherlands are introduced, with the Roermond monastery serving as a specific example and highlighting the special character of this monastery. It is special because it is the only remaining Carthusian complex in the Netherlands. The Bethlehem chapel, now unfortunately demolished, was the place of pilgrimage that was the origin of the monastery and serves as an example of an exceptional architectural style. The foundation of this Carthusian monastery, instigated from Cologne, is also explained. The following section deals with the building history of the complex, using topographical materials and showing a virtual reconstruction. This is followed by a section on daily life in the Bethlehem monastery, including the significance of the monastery for the town of Roermond and its environs.

Then visitors enter the chapter house, which has been turned into a treasury showcasing some very precious objects on loan. These art objects serve to explain the function of art within the Carthusian order. This is also where we address the question how such a strict and austere order came to have such a wealth of art possessions and such rich buildings.

Visitors then proceed from the chapter house/treasury to the chapel. In the chapel, three themes are dealt with. The first of these is the assassination of twelve Carthusian monks by the troops of William of Orange. In the presence of relics of these Roermond martyrs kept in the chapel, the exhibition presents some large paintings, manuscripts, and prints to show not only that this black page in the monastery’s history has left a deep impression within the order, but also that this calamity was initiated within the Counter Reformation. The chapel’s choir centralizes the celebration of the liturgy. In a reconstruction of the former high altar, which is currently set up in the parish church of Thorn, we show the liturgical vessels and vestments that are the heritage of the Carthusian monastery. The third theme in the chapel focuses on the monastery’s most prominent resident: Dionysius of Rijkel, doctor extaticus. This world-renowned late-medieval theologian lived and worked a large part of his life as a monk in Roermond.

Dionysius is not the only important author the monastery has produced. The monastery is also proud to count among its residents men like Henrick Egher of Kalkar and Bartholomeus of Maastricht. The monastery’s intellectual climate is illustrated in the final section of the exhibition, dealing with the monastery’s culture of scripts, accommodated in the brothers’ chapel, which also contains the remains of monumental late-medieval murals. On display are precious manuscripts and old prints in possession of the Roermond Carthusian monastery.