Located in a clearing amidst a forest in the Swiss Jura mountains, at an altitude of around 1,000 metres, the Medieval ruins of the Charterhouse of Oujon make an interesting hiking destination.
A Charterhouse (Chartreuse in French) is a monastery belonging to the Carthusian Order. Also known as the Order of Saint Bruno, it is a Catholic order of monks and nuns founded by Bruno of Cologne in 1084 in the Massif of Chartreuse. The first monastery, Grande Chartreuse, in the French Alps, not far from Chambéry, is very well preserved. Over the centuries, several charterhouses spread across Europe; some of them inspired novels, such as Stendhal’s The Charterhouse of Parma.
The Charterhouse of Notre-Dame of Oujon sits in the woods above the village of Arzier, in Canton of Vaud, in the west (French-speaking) part of Switzerland. Dating back to 1146, the monastery is the oldest charterhouse in Switzerland. Unfortunately, unlike its motherhouse Grande Chartreuse in France, only a few ruins remain from the Charterhouse of Notre-Dame of Oujon. The 1945 excavations enabled archaeologists to unveil the ruins of this Charterhouse. All the basement walls of the different buildings are still visible today, enabling the visitor to visualise the settlement and dimensions of the monastery. Notre-Dame of Oujon was destroyed by fire in 1537 during the Protestant Reformation riots.
The religious Carthusian Order preaches austerity, silence and solitude; the remote location of charterhouses are the key to the hermit lives of monks and nuns. Notre-Dame of Oujon is no exception to that rule. The architecture of the monastery was austere and the number of occupants very limited. Each had an individual cell, i.e. a tiny house with a small garden, a feature still visible today.
The best way to reach the ruins is to walk there from Arzier or Saint-Cergue, two nearby villages easily reachable by train from Geneva, Nyon and Lausanne. We have tried the 1-hour trail from Saint-Cergue, which offers beautiful views from high above Lake Geneva with the Alps in the background.
Beginning from Saint-Cergue, the first part of the path is the steepest. Happily only a few minutes of effort. Then, you quickly move on a more steady trail through woods and clearings. At the Conriéry high pasture you can enjoy open views over Lake Geneva and the surrounding mountains. Afterwards, the walk goes deeper in the forest along the spiritual path of the Charterhouse of Oujon. Created in 2007 for the 700th anniversary of the nearby Church of Arzier, this spiritual path has several pauses with written signs explaining the historical and religious bonds between the Charterhouse and the surrounding settlements. This path is open to everybody, regardless of your beliefs.
Cover photo © credits to Marie-Madeleine & Giuseppe
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