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An Infinity of Little Hours: Five Young Men and Their Trial of Faith in the Western World's Most Austere Monastic Order

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In 1960, five young men arrived at the imposing gates of Parkminster, the largest center of the most rigorous and ascetic monastic order in the Western world: the Carthusians. This is the story of their five-year journey into a society virtually unchanged in its behavior and lifestyle since its foundation in 1084. An Infinity of Little Hours is a uniquely intimate portrait In 1960, five young men arrived at the imposing gates of Parkminster, the largest center of the most rigorous and ascetic monastic order in the Western world: the Carthusians. This is the story of their five-year journey into a society virtually unchanged in its behavior and lifestyle since its foundation in 1084. An Infinity of Little Hours is a uniquely intimate portrait of the customs and practices of a monastic order almost entirely unknown until now. It is also a drama of the men's struggle as they avoid the 1960s--the decade of hedonism, music, fashion, and amorality--and enter an entirely different era and a spiritual world of their own making. After five years each must face a choice: to make "solemn profession" and never leave Parkminster; or to turn his back on his life's ambition to find God in solitude. A remarkable investigative work, the book combines first-hand testimony with unique source material to describe the Carthusian life. And in the final chapter, which recounts a reunion forty years after the events described elsewhere in the book, Nancy Klein Maguire reveals which of the five succeeded in their quest, and which did not.


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In 1960, five young men arrived at the imposing gates of Parkminster, the largest center of the most rigorous and ascetic monastic order in the Western world: the Carthusians. This is the story of their five-year journey into a society virtually unchanged in its behavior and lifestyle since its foundation in 1084. An Infinity of Little Hours is a uniquely intimate portrait In 1960, five young men arrived at the imposing gates of Parkminster, the largest center of the most rigorous and ascetic monastic order in the Western world: the Carthusians. This is the story of their five-year journey into a society virtually unchanged in its behavior and lifestyle since its foundation in 1084. An Infinity of Little Hours is a uniquely intimate portrait of the customs and practices of a monastic order almost entirely unknown until now. It is also a drama of the men's struggle as they avoid the 1960s--the decade of hedonism, music, fashion, and amorality--and enter an entirely different era and a spiritual world of their own making. After five years each must face a choice: to make "solemn profession" and never leave Parkminster; or to turn his back on his life's ambition to find God in solitude. A remarkable investigative work, the book combines first-hand testimony with unique source material to describe the Carthusian life. And in the final chapter, which recounts a reunion forty years after the events described elsewhere in the book, Nancy Klein Maguire reveals which of the five succeeded in their quest, and which did not.

30 review for An Infinity of Little Hours: Five Young Men and Their Trial of Faith in the Western World's Most Austere Monastic Order

  1. 5 out of 5

    7jane

    Joining the Carthusian order is a tough business - and even more so in the pre-Vatican II world where the story is. From July 1960 to October 1965 (with an epilogue in 2005), we follow five young men as the come to the Parkminster monastery of West Sussex, England, struggle with their calling, and finally decide (or someone decides for them) should they stay or go. It can be said already that all of them don't give up on easily, but sometimes things become too much. And only (view spoiler)[one, Joining the Carthusian order is a tough business - and even more so in the pre-Vatican II world where the story is. From July 1960 to October 1965 (with an epilogue in 2005), we follow five young men as the come to the Parkminster monastery of West Sussex, England, struggle with their calling, and finally decide (or someone decides for them) should they stay or go. It can be said already that all of them don't give up on easily, but sometimes things become too much. And only (view spoiler)[one, Paddy (Dom Leo) - first one clothed, one of the two who reach the solemn profession - manages to (hide spoiler)] continue successfully in the 'to the grave' path. There are two sets of black and white pictures in the book, both from the time period and after that. There is a drawn map of the monastery, and we can see there each individual cell, whose letter(s) are sometimes mentioned in the text. At the end is the Carthusian daily timetable, glossary, interview with the author, and a reading group guide. From reading the story we can clearly see all the challenges the novices faced (and face). This is not a place for someone who gets cold easily (there was no central heating or warm showers, for sure). People wear hairshirts in one layer. And you spend most of the time really alone, alone in your two-floors cell, no talking except on walks and with your novice master, and in emergencies. No news from the outside world (no radio, tv, papers). You're supposed to cultivate, not just your small back garden, but most importanly your mind, which can be harder than you think. There are fast days (bread and water). And the mental struggles can be hard: thinking about things you left behind, pushing down sexual thoughts, struggling to understand what you're reading... And just because you're alone most of the time doesn't mean you won't be struggling with other people there with you. The novice master might grate on you. Others' singing during the mass might go too off-key fashionly for your ears (especially so if you're the one whose supposed to instruct their singing). Or they might just irritate in normal ways: not giving you the bell-rope fast enough, for example XD Some reasons for leaving: conflict between personalities, not being able to stand being alone (sometimes even one night is too much), health reasons (physical and/or mental, like hallucinations or overdoing your asceticism), desire of women (or lack of, as one comes to realise - and loses peace of mind). Most of the time, leaving is done discreetly, and sometimes novices that stay don't get to know the reason (and may have found out only as this book was made). That said, the text doesn't talk just about the personal struggles. We learn of the history of the order, and of Parkminster (established 1873). We read about their Christmas. The clothing ceremony; the walks. And just because we learn so much of the challenges doesn't mean that success is impossible - it's just a narrow gate-hole. And one can truly see why (view spoiler)[Dom Leo (hide spoiler)] succeeded: none of the reasons to leave above happened; the struggles of the beginning gradually grew away and balance was reached. And (view spoiler)[Dom Leo (hide spoiler)] even made some changes - though some only temporary - at the monastery. There's now a much better system at taking care of the novices, so I can guess succeeding might be more likely today. This was one of the books I had left unfinished for at least two years; I don't know why I struggled with the book at first, because as soon as I picked it up again, it was a very smooth reading, and quick reading, too. There are not many books about this order around, so it was a very interesting a read. (There are also some Carthusian nun monasteries too. I recommend the document "Into Great Silence", which is interesting even though it doesn't have much talking in it - but then, Carthusians prefer silence ;) Today, as of January 2017, there are 26 monks at Parkminster.)

  2. 5 out of 5

    Atty. Winston Pagador

    I felt like entering into a new world, in a different era so old, so archaic and fascinating! Deeply researched and astonishingly documented, An Infinity of Little Hours was unlike any non-fiction books I have read before. I couldn't put it down! The story was told about the most austere and isolated monastic order in the western world, the Carthusian Monks. Ms. Nancy Maguire chronicled the life of five individuals from their arrival at the Charterhouse in England in 1960s up to the time of thei I felt like entering into a new world, in a different era so old, so archaic and fascinating! Deeply researched and astonishingly documented, An Infinity of Little Hours was unlike any non-fiction books I have read before. I couldn't put it down! The story was told about the most austere and isolated monastic order in the western world, the Carthusian Monks. Ms. Nancy Maguire chronicled the life of five individuals from their arrival at the Charterhouse in England in 1960s up to the time of their admittance or non-admittance to the Order. What was really going on inside the Charterhouse? What were the inner struggles of the novices? What did it take to be admitted to the Order? What did a Carthusian monk do every day? These were some of the questions so significant in this book. Of the five, only two made it to the solemn profession but only one remained to live a lifelong commitment of solitude and contemplation. Founded in 1084, the Carthusian monks still followed a 900 year-old tradition and defied any change or intrusion in their way of life. Thanks to an episode in #WhatShouldIReadNext by #AnneBogel where this book was mentioned, I immediately grabbed a copy and read it. I never even heard about Carthusians before! It was a whole new experience and remarkably worth my time.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Kate

    Reading this book is like making a retreat into the most ascetic and devout religious order in the Christian world. Based on comprehensive research and extensive interviews with the men of the title and others, Maguire actually gets inside the day-to-day, hour-by-hour life of the Carthusian monastery of Parkminster in England. Delving deeper she gets inside the heads of the young men who entered the monastery in 1960 as they struggle to adapt to this austere life. Driven by a profound devotion t Reading this book is like making a retreat into the most ascetic and devout religious order in the Christian world. Based on comprehensive research and extensive interviews with the men of the title and others, Maguire actually gets inside the day-to-day, hour-by-hour life of the Carthusian monastery of Parkminster in England. Delving deeper she gets inside the heads of the young men who entered the monastery in 1960 as they struggle to adapt to this austere life. Driven by a profound devotion to God, over the five year course of their novitiate and simple vows they shed their former lives, all knowledge of the ouside world, physical comfort, and companionship. They immerse themselves in the silence, solitude, and stillness of this life of prayer. Yet despite the surface simplicity the internal world of these men is often seething with questions, joys, doubts, triumphs, despair and the full range of human emotion. Overriding all of this is the singular devotion to living a life for God. As the time for solemn vows approaches each of them struggle with making this final commitment for the rest of his life. They each deal with the decision in a different way yet whether they stay or leave they are all deeply changed by this experience. By extension the reader is deeply moved and changed by the reading experience. For the record I am not a religious person. However I find the human capacity for this level of privation in the service of devotion to be challenging and inspiring.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Dave

    Well written and fascinating Thrilling read about joining the Carthusian order. This account starts off with 5 men who enter 1960 seeking a deeper relationship with God. It closely covers the 5 formative years as novices and juniors. As well as the fall out from this years. It offers universal lessons about seeking , determining calling, commitment, and the dark night of the soul.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Melinda

    A fascinating view into the Roman Catholic religious order of enclosed monastics, the Carthusians. Founded by Saint Bruno in 1084 when he left Rome disgusted with the corruption and evil he found there in the Roman Catholic Church. The order uses the Grenoble rite from the 12th century, and in almost all things has been unchanged from 1084 to just after Vatican II in 1965. The author is married to an ex-Carthusian monk, and it is his story and the story of 4 other young men who were in the last A fascinating view into the Roman Catholic religious order of enclosed monastics, the Carthusians. Founded by Saint Bruno in 1084 when he left Rome disgusted with the corruption and evil he found there in the Roman Catholic Church. The order uses the Grenoble rite from the 12th century, and in almost all things has been unchanged from 1084 to just after Vatican II in 1965. The author is married to an ex-Carthusian monk, and it is his story and the story of 4 other young men who were in the last generation of monks to enter the ancient world of the Carthusians prior to the 1965 changes. The story reads in many ways like a mystery. You are introduced to each of the young men, and you know that in the end only one of them will remain a monk. Which young man will it be? I found myself writing down the names of each of the men as they were introduced, then writing their monk names next to that to keep track of what happened to each brother and if I could figure out which one would be the next to go. An excellent visual companion to this book is the DVD, "Into Great Silence", which is a documentary of the Carthusian monks of the Grande Chartreuse in the French Alps. To see what is written about in the book is a delight.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Heidi

    Love this book and its hard knock glimpse of the Carthusian life. Sometimes the level of detail, i.e., minute explanations of the Christmas Eve liturgy, got me bogged down - I just skimmed those parts. But liturgy geeks might love that stuff. I liked the descriptions of what the Carthusians might get in their lunch boxes, what they're growing in their gardens, the quirks of their life, and the physical and spiritual struggles of five young men who tried to join the order in the 60s. Love this book and its hard knock glimpse of the Carthusian life. Sometimes the level of detail, i.e., minute explanations of the Christmas Eve liturgy, got me bogged down - I just skimmed those parts. But liturgy geeks might love that stuff. I liked the descriptions of what the Carthusians might get in their lunch boxes, what they're growing in their gardens, the quirks of their life, and the physical and spiritual struggles of five young men who tried to join the order in the 60s.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Simon

    I was a Benedictine monk for four years back in the 1970s. Nearly fifty years later, I would still rate my monastic life as critical to my formation as an adult. I enjoyed the book although parts of it were extremely frustrating. Maguire never can get a handle on why her subjects pursued the Carthusian vocation. Nor, save in one case, does she come to grips with why four of them left the Order --- or why one stayed in. The endings seem to come out of nowhere, and when she picks up the threads of I was a Benedictine monk for four years back in the 1970s. Nearly fifty years later, I would still rate my monastic life as critical to my formation as an adult. I enjoyed the book although parts of it were extremely frustrating. Maguire never can get a handle on why her subjects pursued the Carthusian vocation. Nor, save in one case, does she come to grips with why four of them left the Order --- or why one stayed in. The endings seem to come out of nowhere, and when she picks up the threads of their post-monastic lives, Maguire and the men themselves become strangely inarticulate. It seems clear that the vocations mattered to them but not why. It does not say anything negative about religious life to accept that there is a psychology behind it that attracts the devotee. Maguire never gives us any insight into the men as personalities. Which can make a kind of sense, I suppose, since the purpose of the hermit life is to die to self. Nor does the Parkminster community emerge with distinction. The young men (they were all young) were pretty much left to their own devices without much in the way of spiritual direction, or at least it appears that way in Maguire's version. The story is interesting, although I do wish she had managed to explain the attraction of a Carthusian lifestyle to people who have no natural religious sympathies for it. Still, if you do, you will enjoy the book. It provides a partial glimpse of a world not often seen by outsiders.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Kaya

    Though this book is occasionally flawed (and really, what book isn't?), I found it fascinating and compelling. You wouldn't think a book about guys joining an extremely strict contemplative monastery would be, but it is. The journey of each man is clearly, compassionately told, and the cultural changes that took place during the 60s -- which were completely unknown to the Carthusian monks, who eschew exposure to all forms of media -- end up impacting them each in their own ways even if they chos Though this book is occasionally flawed (and really, what book isn't?), I found it fascinating and compelling. You wouldn't think a book about guys joining an extremely strict contemplative monastery would be, but it is. The journey of each man is clearly, compassionately told, and the cultural changes that took place during the 60s -- which were completely unknown to the Carthusian monks, who eschew exposure to all forms of media -- end up impacting them each in their own ways even if they chose to stay enclosed. This is nonfiction that reads like a novel, and the details and narrative drive are both excellent. It's a tad repetitive, but when you're talking about an order that has lived each day in the same way for nearly a thousand years, that shouldn't be surprising.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Fr. Jedidiah Tritle

    Even though this is not written as a religious book per se, I firmly believe that "An Infinity of Little Hours" is a great gift to the Church. Maguire clearly took the time to learn the quote lingo quote of this very niche part of Catholic life, and she treats the subject matter with great care and respect. Her writer's-voice is particularly vivid, and I often felt myself swept away straight to the cubicula of Parkminster to observe firsthand the daily lives and prayers of these hermit monks. It Even though this is not written as a religious book per se, I firmly believe that "An Infinity of Little Hours" is a great gift to the Church. Maguire clearly took the time to learn the quote lingo quote of this very niche part of Catholic life, and she treats the subject matter with great care and respect. Her writer's-voice is particularly vivid, and I often felt myself swept away straight to the cubicula of Parkminster to observe firsthand the daily lives and prayers of these hermit monks. It's rare that a piece of secular nonfiction could draw the reader to experience a greater desire for prayer and solitude, but this book does just that. I highly recommend this work to those who are curious about the Carthusians, but also to those just curious about the contemplative life in general.

  10. 5 out of 5

    William Nist

    A fascinating glimpse into the Pre-Vatican II life of the English Carthusian at Parkminster Charterhouse. The author follows 5 postulents as they make their way toward Solemn profession. Although only one man makes it, the insights into this most solitary roman Catholic religious order offers insights into all stages of Carthusian development. The psychological aspects of this calling are explored through the stories of each individual novice monk. Unfortunately the life of the Solemns (those un A fascinating glimpse into the Pre-Vatican II life of the English Carthusian at Parkminster Charterhouse. The author follows 5 postulents as they make their way toward Solemn profession. Although only one man makes it, the insights into this most solitary roman Catholic religious order offers insights into all stages of Carthusian development. The psychological aspects of this calling are explored through the stories of each individual novice monk. Unfortunately the life of the Solemns (those under perpetual vows) is not explored in as much detail--the author' source material is taken from the 5 Novices. I would be very interested in a comparison of this era of monastic life with the current situation in the Charterhouses. What changes Vatican II made in this essentially timeless order would be very instructive. But you will not find that in this work. Anyhow, there are dozen of little insights into life inside Parkminster, and especially for anyone who has ever had even a scintilla of a contemplative calling, this book is wonderful.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Kelly

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Note: The spoilers here don't really tell you much about the book, but reveal the outcome in generalities. This book follows the stories of five men who entered a religious order. Only one of the men remains there today. Generally, I liked this book. However, I was disappointed at the outcome and "lifestyle" choices made. It is also disappointing that the order no longer observes its original rule. Note: The spoilers here don't really tell you much about the book, but reveal the outcome in generalities. This book follows the stories of five men who entered a religious order. Only one of the men remains there today. Generally, I liked this book. However, I was disappointed at the outcome and "lifestyle" choices made. It is also disappointing that the order no longer observes its original rule.

  12. 5 out of 5

    David

    I think I'll be able to better appreciate the documentary "Into Great Silence" after having read this book. The idea of withdrawing from everything the way the Carthusians do was once very appealing to me, although I understand this desire less and less. But the less severe monastic traditions are still fascinating to me, and every time I go up to Mt. Angel I wish there was a way to be married and be a monk. I think I'll be able to better appreciate the documentary "Into Great Silence" after having read this book. The idea of withdrawing from everything the way the Carthusians do was once very appealing to me, although I understand this desire less and less. But the less severe monastic traditions are still fascinating to me, and every time I go up to Mt. Angel I wish there was a way to be married and be a monk.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Nate

    I want to watch Into Great Silence again now that she's described the Carthusian way of life so well. McGuire gives a very balanced and sympathetic portrait of five young men who dream of becoming fully-professed "solemns" in this monastic order that before the 1960s, had changed little since its inception in 1084. Although only one of the five made it through the first five years of life in the charterhouse, each of the young novices had a life-changing experience. Fascinating portrayal. I want to watch Into Great Silence again now that she's described the Carthusian way of life so well. McGuire gives a very balanced and sympathetic portrait of five young men who dream of becoming fully-professed "solemns" in this monastic order that before the 1960s, had changed little since its inception in 1084. Although only one of the five made it through the first five years of life in the charterhouse, each of the young novices had a life-changing experience. Fascinating portrayal.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Marsmannix

    Thorough, fascinating look at the inner lives and daily activities of 5 men who chose to become monks. The author took the trouble to gain the men's confidence, all of whom were reticent. I suppose being a monk would predispose one to reticence. Lots of details about the arcane and labyrinthine traditions dating to the Middle Ages. Anyone interested in the life of the religious, religious ritual, or just curious minds will find this a good read. Thorough, fascinating look at the inner lives and daily activities of 5 men who chose to become monks. The author took the trouble to gain the men's confidence, all of whom were reticent. I suppose being a monk would predispose one to reticence. Lots of details about the arcane and labyrinthine traditions dating to the Middle Ages. Anyone interested in the life of the religious, religious ritual, or just curious minds will find this a good read.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Overbooked ✎

    The history of the Carthusian order and the description of daily practices were fascinating. The story of the five men who joined the order started well but it became confusing (hard to keep separate one monk challenges and problems from the others) and a bit boring with too many repetitions. 2 ½ stars

  16. 5 out of 5

    Damien Rappuhn

    A good read and a fascinating look into a very secretive, very old way of life. Unfortunately, you need to take notes and pay close attention halfway through the book, as the candidates take on new names. So many names are thrown at you that it can be difficult to know what is going on, or who is who.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Vivencio

    five men join the carthusians - the most austere religious order that, compared with others, has seen little change since its foundation. reads like an account of jacob wrestling with the angel from five different perspectives, as told by a woman who married one of them.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Awallens

    I would actually round this up to 4 1/2 stars. This is a fascinating book on a way of life that is fading. It was interesting to read, and really makes you think about what is important and what is not.y

  19. 4 out of 5

    Earl

    A marvelous look at the cloistered life, which in fact confirmed that I have made the right track in life.

  20. 4 out of 5

    antony

    This is a giant of a book. I have read many books about the lives of Monks and Nuns and this is the best. The author has cram packed the book with tiny detail of the lives of a group of monks who enter the Carthusian life in the mid 1960’s. This book gives the reader a close look at the daily life of a Monk, exploring their motivations and expectations. What is a Monk thinking about, what are they concerned about, what is the effort they are making, what drama do they become embroiled in? The auth This is a giant of a book. I have read many books about the lives of Monks and Nuns and this is the best. The author has cram packed the book with tiny detail of the lives of a group of monks who enter the Carthusian life in the mid 1960’s. This book gives the reader a close look at the daily life of a Monk, exploring their motivations and expectations. What is a Monk thinking about, what are they concerned about, what is the effort they are making, what drama do they become embroiled in? The author has put in a significant amount of research effort, interviewed many people and gained access to archives and private records to produce this authoritative documentary on the lives of those who make it through and those who don’t. A fascinating record of the toughest monastic vocation. Great reading.

  21. 4 out of 5

    John Mcchesney-young

    Well-written, engaging portrait of life in a British Carthusian monastery immediately before Vatican II, showing both the appealing aspects and the great difficulty of the life they led. It falls into an interesting genre, creative non-fiction; the manuscript was read by many of the subjects, current and ex-Carthusians, and met with their approval, but it has a lot of detail which makes it sound like the author must have been present.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Al

    A detailed look at life in the UK Carthusian charterhouse before Vatican II. The author describes the Carthusian life from the perspective of five men who entered the charterhouse at around the same time, and all had very different and unique experiences. She examines the strict life of the hermit monks and presents a compelling look at solitude in pursuit of God. She is married to a former Carthusian.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Dom. Ugo Maria Ginex

    This is one of the most brilliant books I've had the privilege to read. I spent several months in a Carthusian Charterhouse and Ms. Maguire's descriptions were so accurate it felt as if I was back. It is exhaustingly researches, well written and a joy to read again and again. My heartfelt gratitude Ms. maguire. Benedicite + This is one of the most brilliant books I've had the privilege to read. I spent several months in a Carthusian Charterhouse and Ms. Maguire's descriptions were so accurate it felt as if I was back. It is exhaustingly researches, well written and a joy to read again and again. My heartfelt gratitude Ms. maguire. Benedicite +

  24. 5 out of 5

    David Szatkowski

    I read this book in part because I enjoyed the movie "Into the Great Silence" (which is excellent). This book is a wonderful look at a very hidden vocation, life as a Carthusian monk. They are are among the most eremitical ways of living religious life in the Church. This is a great book for anyone who wants to know a bit more about how God calls and leads the contemplative to union with God. I read this book in part because I enjoyed the movie "Into the Great Silence" (which is excellent). This book is a wonderful look at a very hidden vocation, life as a Carthusian monk. They are are among the most eremitical ways of living religious life in the Church. This is a great book for anyone who wants to know a bit more about how God calls and leads the contemplative to union with God.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Dave Kalach

    This book is a fascinating look into men who devote themselves into a strict monks life. Goes into the thoughts and experiences of 5 young men trying to become full monks in the strictest order during the pre Vatican years.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Karrol

    Excellent read For health reasons I live a solitary life. I found great comfort and encouragement as I related to each monk. I found much to contemplate. Beautifully written I read this book over a two day period.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Shani

    Enormously insightful and interesting, giving the reader a look behind the scenes of a Carthusian monastery in the 1960s.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Geert Renmans

    A great look into the life ... A great book that shows the life behind the walls. If you have seen the famous movie, you can now add the interior monologue to it.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Raquel Falk

    Very informative about the Carthusian life. Not a page turner, but definitely worth reading for anyone who desires to know what it's like on the inside! Very informative about the Carthusian life. Not a page turner, but definitely worth reading for anyone who desires to know what it's like on the inside!

  30. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    Mildly interesting for its subject matter. A good read to jostle thoughts about prayer, solitude, silence, and seeking God.

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