Dwight Peck's personal Web site

Winter 2008-2009

The best snow we've had in the Jura in a decade, but now it's going back to wherever it came from.


The ruins of Oujon

We've become great fans of the Jura forests, but we're not the first ones. Contemplative monks were bustling about and praying here 863 years ago.

The Valley of the Ants. Down into the combe near the farm La Dunanche above the village of Bassins, where a fortnight ago, exploring the caves up in the cliffs on the right, we counted more than 60 ant hills in a short space.

Joe and Teny leading past the ants' meadow into the forest of Les Ormes towards the village of Arzier

Cliffs up on the right, a continuation of the kilometre-long line of cliffs we were poking about amongst two weeks ago

The Chemin des Crêtes goes along the top of those cliffs, and we'll be returning that way in a few hours.

This unmarked little path threads its way between the cliffs up on the right and, down on the left, the steep sides of the Gorges de Moinsel that separates bustling downtown Bassins from the Arzier megalopolis.

Joe contemplating the Ruines d'Oujon, a well-presented archaeological site tucked away in the forest at 1050m well above the mountainside village of Arzier

The monastery was founded in 1146 (and flourished until the dissolution of the monasteries under the Reformation in 1536 or 1537) in this little hollow -- hence the word Oujon, from an earlier "Auge", according to Henry Suter, for a depression or hollow.

The Carthusians, named for mountain valleys in the French Alps, were part of the order founded in 1084 by St Bruno of Cologne -- both men and women could sign up, but unfortunately they got shipped off to different isolated hollows in the forest. The site is encircled by a precinct wall, and we're looking at the business end of the former buildings, the common cloister and offices, storehouses, etc., and, on the flat bank with the staircase leading up to it, the church, with separate areas for the lay brothers (servants, pretty much) and the "choir monks".

Joe and Teny view the plan of the old monastery and contemplate what life might have been like here in 1146.

It's pretty, quiet countryside, but without WIFI or cell phone coverage, it can't have been very exciting for the poor chaps, except perhaps when there was a pig that needed slaughtering. The Nyon-Culture website celebrates this peaceful scene by pointing out that modern visitors won't be disturbed by ringing telephones either, because there's still no cellphone coverage here.

The common buildings. I've always wondered if monks always processed slowly in a stately and thoughtful manner, hands folded and heads bowed, between the mess hall and the latrines or workshops, or if occasionally they just got on with things.

These were the cells of the monks, all round a central rectangular cloister. Each cell had a garden patch alongside, where Brother Monk could "cultivate his garden", as even Voltaire recommended. Aside from gardening and some time perhaps in the workshops, Br Monk spent most of his time praying in his cell -- who knows for what, souls probably, but they were meant to contribute to the general good by praying for humanity a certain amount of their time. We've seen the results of that.

The common cloister. But off the main cloister, each of the monks (looks like not more than 16 or so here at any time) had a little guichet or slot in the door where the lay brothers could pass them food for the next week. Supplemented by their own gardening skills, of course. He leaves his cell only for three praying sessions per day and a few long soul-searching chats with his superior.

Beyond that, however, Carthusians got to go out once a week for a long walk in the forests with all their pals, and they were allowed to speak during the whole hike. They probably had a lot to tell people, if they could get anyone to listen. On Sundays they had a community meal, but they couldn't talk then; just as well, probably.

Here, Joe and Teny are leaving the cloisters for a nice walk in the forest.

Returning along the Chemin des Crêtes above the cliffs, it began to rain, and my serviceable old rainjacket could have served Teny well and some of her friends at the same time.

Monumental ant architecture

Many of the trees along the trail are done up similarly. Reminiscent of the artful graffiti of Los Angeles or the Bronx.

Near Les Frasses farm, with just a kilometre or two to go in the drizzle, we congratulate ourselves for some good exercise, good scenic views, hilarious conversation, and an uplifting Carthusian experience. We took down the telephone number for joining the Order, but we don't know whether we'll ever use it.


Feedback and suggestions are welcome if positive, resented if negative, . All rights reserved, all wrongs avenged. Posted 30 April 2009, revised 15 October 2014.


Recent Events