How photographer Tamino visited the "earth angels": "I was moved, happy, honoured".

What is the world of the Carthusian monks in Pleterje like? Tamino Petelinšek, a photographer who spent almost a month at the monastery last year, tells you about it.

Photographs of the Carthusian monasteries, which the talented photographer Tamino Petelinšek visited in Pleterje for a year, adorn the cover of National Geographic Slovenia. Inside, there is an extensive report. Among other things, he shares with us the insights with which he has recently been "blessed" by the exhaustion he has recently overcome.
It is not every day that a photographer has his work on the cover and in the lead article of National Geographic magazine. Nor is it usual to feature monks.

How did you get involved in the "project" of visiting and photographing the Carthusian monks in Pleterje for a year?

A few years ago I went to Pleterje to buy some old apple and pear tree seedlings. At that moment I remembered my first visit to Pleterje, when my father and I met father Stanislav Capudro, who gave us a banquet and showed us around the monastery.
That was the first time I glimpsed the mystique of the place. When I was five years old, the Carthusian church was deeply engraved in my memory. Wanting to relive a bit of Carthusian life, I naively left a note for Prior Francis to call me if he ever needed a photographer. He called me back after six years and told me that he was preparing a new video presentation for visitors. He commissioned me to take new shots of community life. He gave me unlimited time.
His invitation gave me a new flight and a sense of God's love. I was moved, joyful, honoured. We agreed that I would go there whenever I wanted, especially on weekends. For the night I was given a cell-like room with a small wood cooker, a kneeler and a table with a window. The bed was hard and the lunches were superb.
Over time, I became close to almost everyone in the community. They accepted me as one of their own, even though I knew that, despite my efforts to be invisible, I bothered them. I was aware that I was an outsider, even if they let me know otherwise.
It was difficult, especially at the beginning, because their rhythm of life is completely different. For them, the day ends at 5 p.m. when they go to bed, so that it is easier to get up at 11 p.m. These were the hours of silent observation of the monastery, when I knew that I would probably not meet anyone.

How long did these "excursions" usually last?

Because of work and family, I could not afford to "disappear" for a week. I stayed at the Charterhouse for a maximum of four days, and often two nights. 28 days in total. That is the key to good reporting. It is a fallacy to expect good stories to be produced in a few days.

What particularly impressed/surprised/excited you at the Charterhouse?

On my first visits, I found the silence and isolation very distressing. You have to face yourself, you have no distractions. It's like being in prison, but it's a very beautiful prison. You are in constant contact with yourself, and sooner or later God calls to your heart and speaks.
The rhythm of daily life is very hard, with a fixed schedule. I admire the friars for dedicating their whole life to this spiritual routine, which is in constant relationship with the Creator. In my eyes they are angels, but they have their feet on the ground.

What is angelic and what is earthly about monks?

They are down to earth in the sense that they know their basic needs in life. Although many of them have been in the cloister for most of their lives, they are well acquainted with human evils, they are familiar with diseases, with wars. They know well the sins of the world, and the night prayer is especially for them. They pray for us. That is why they have also eliminated the disturbing elements from their lives.
They are very well informed, especially about the essentials. Even if they have no telephone, internet, radio. Once a year they watch a film at the prior's suggestion. They read Slovenian religious press, and foreigners also subscribe to foreign Catholic newspapers and books. From time to time they hear something about politics that they read in the religious press. Therefore, journalists have a great responsibility.
We have a lot of ballast in our way of life. It was only when I left the Charterhouse that I saw what I could eliminate from my life, what I didn't need.

What is your modern wayside shrine like?
We know their motto "Ora et labora" (Pray and work). In eight hours of prayer, spread throughout the day, they pray for our sins, for the world, for all the suffering that exists. They get up at 11 o'clock at night and pray until 2 or 3 o'clock in the morning.
They pray singing Gregorian Chant, which is in Latin. The readings are in Slovenian. The Carthusian monks are multinational communities, and the rules state that the members must speak the language of the country in which the monastery is located. Thus, most of the monks in Pleterje are foreigners.
According to the ancient monastic tradition, work is a powerful support for the practice of the virtues on the way to perfect love. By striking a balance between the inner and the outer man, it brings more fruit to the brothers in their solitude.
As vegetarians, the role of dairy and fish dishes is a very important element of the menu. They eat twice a day. The best food in Pleterje is undoubtedly trout, which is grown in the monastery garden. The real speciality of their cuisine, in my experience, is trout liver.
However, the monks do not live permanently in solitude. On Sundays they gather in a circle under the large redwood trees by the monastery cemetery and discuss daily affairs in a fraternal manner, with no individual standing out. On Mondays they usually take a walk around the monastery, where they talk in pairs. Sometimes these walks are particularly beautiful.
Tamin's work was awarded Feature of the Month among 40 National Geographic editions worldwide. There is a good chance that the story will also be published abroad.
Full interview:
Photographer Tamino Petelinšek and his report on the Charterhouse in Pleterje (aleteia.org) (in SLOVENIAN)
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