A Brief History of the Camaldolese Monks and the New Camaldoli Hermitage
The word monk is rooted in the Greek monos, or alone. The value of aloneness has been appreciated by many seeking spiritual fulfillment throughout the ages. In Christianity, St. Anthony the Great (251-356) is given credit as the first Christian to seek a monastic life for the sole purpose of pursuing God. He lived as a hermit in the desert, and after gaining many followers, moved even further into the desert in an effort to pray and meditate in solitude.
In the 6th century St. Benedict of Nursia (Italy), a man who set aside the wealth of his family and also became a hermit and ascetic, originated the Benedictine Family of monks, founding a number of monasteries as well as creating the The Benedictine Rule, a text outlining an organization and a set of rules for men and women wishing to live as fully as possible the type of life presented in the Gospel.
As the Benedictine order evolved it took on supplemental duties such as the farming, transcribing and copying of religious texts, archiving the formulas of medicines, etc. In the 11th century St. Romuald, whose life in certain respects paralleled that of St. Benedict, led a reform movement that would later become the order of the Camaldolese monks and nuns (founded in Camaldoli, Italy). St. Romuald’s reform movement enabled a return to the ancient hermit lifestyle. Part of his legacy was St. Romuald’s Brief Rule for Camaldolese Monks:
Sit in your cell as in paradise. Put the whole world behind you and forget it. Watch your thoughts like a good fisherman watching for fish. The path you must follow is in the Psalms — never leave it.
If you have just come to the monastery, and in spite of your good will you cannot accomplish what you want, take every opportunity you can to sing the Psalms in your heart and to understand them with your mind.
And if your mind wanders as you read, do not give up; hurry back and apply your mind to the words once more.
Realize above all that you are in God's presence, and stand there with the attitude of one who stands before the emperor.
Empty yourself completely and sit waiting, content with the grace of God, like the chick who tastes nothing and eats nothing but what his mother brings him.
In more recent history another Benedictine monk has had a profound impact within the monastic community. British born Dom Bede Griffiths (1906-1993) is perhaps best known for his contribution to the development of Indian-Christian theology. Supporting the notion of beginning a dialog between eastern and western religious philosophy and tradition, Bede Griffiths moved to India and ultimately developed Shantivanam, a Christian ashram in Tamil Nadu (southern India) dedicated to the most Holy Trinity. Under Fr. Bede's guidance Shantivanam became a Camaldolese community, a center of contemplative life, of inculturation, and of inter religious dialogue. Services at this ashram are Christian, utilizing elements of Hinduism.
You will find several books by and on Bede Griffiths in the book section of our catalog.
Today, the Camaldolese monks have established monastic communities in several countries throughout the world. At the New Camaldoli Hermitage in Big Sur, California (founded 1958), monks lead a life balanced between solitude and community; welcoming the public to the Hermitage’s chapel, retreat center, and book store.
Ceiling of the Hermitage chapel
Inspired by both the inclusive philosophy of Bede Griffiths, and the environmental work of the early Camaldolese monks in preserving forest land, New Camaldoli Hermitage participates in the Four Winds Council, a group including Native Americans and their spirituality. The Four Winds Council addresses concerns of the local coastal lands.
The 22 monks residing at the New Camaldoli Hermitage are committed to silent, contemplative prayer, to formal church services four times daily, and praying for peace. They also engage in daily work activity, conducting retreats and seminars, as well as supporting a retreat center within the bounds of the 800 acre property.
Proceeds from the sales of items purchased from this website go directly to supporting the Hermitage community.