The Rule of Life by Nils Thune

How you start your day affects the rest of it.

It is barely past six this fine Tuesday morning. The sun is rising. Seven nuns and five monks are on their way into a half lit empty church. They are all dressed in white robes, leather sandals, bible and psalm book in their hands.

On the right side of the center aisle, are the nuns; on the left, the monks, kneeling on two large carpets.

This morning the congregation consists of me and one other early riser. We are both seated on the benches behind the sisters and brothers.

At half past six they all rise and sing “Veni Sancte Spiritus”. Then they return to their kneeling positions and continue their silent prayer. Tranquility and silence fill the church. At seven, the light is turned on and they sing a few songs. A sister, or a brother, reads a few lines from the Bible before they end the service close to seven thirty.

Every morning they purify the soul. They fill the head with positive thoughts. No news from radio or television. No distractions from breakfast TV shows.

Oasis for prayer, silence and peace

The church and monastery Trinità dei Monti is located on the top of the famous Spanish Steps in Rome. Fraternité Monastique de Jérusalem resides here.

This Catholic community was founded in 1975, by the monk Pierre-Marie Delfieux on All Saints’ Day. After having lived as a hermit in the Sahara desert for some years, Pierre-Marie Delfieux was inspired to form a Catholic order that would promote the monastic life in cities. Forming oases for prayer, silence and peace. Religious retreats in the heart of the city, in the heart of God.

The monks and nuns live in separation from the city, but also in communion with it. They are a part of the city without being absorbed by it.

The community is represented in different cities in Canada, Belgium, Poland, France, Germany, and Italy.

Meals in silence

After the morning service the monks hang their white robes in a cabinet in the vestry. The nuns use another side room in the church. They exchange a few words about current tasks, before they have breakfast in the monastery – nuns and monks separately.

The breakfast is simple and takes place in silence. All meals do. Cornflakes, milk, bread, butter, jam and honey. Tea and strong coffee. Juice or water.

No talking. No whispers. No newspapers or books. No radio, television or music. No status checks on Twitter or Facebook. Before and after the meal they always say a prayer.

They prepare the meals together but take turns being in charge. After the meal they clean the tables, do the dishes and tidy up. Quickly and efficiently. No dishwasher is needed. Nor do they have one.

After breakfast, lunch and dinner are prepared by the person responsible for the job on that particular day.

Lunch is the most important meal of the day. It takes place just after the second service which starts at twelve thirty and lasts about thirty minutes.

The silence at lunch is sometimes broken by the brothers or sisters taking turns reading from religious texts. One monk or nun reads while the others listen and eat their food in awareness and gratitude.

“Livre de Vie”

The various Communities of Jerusalem bare the same name, and consist of monks and nuns sharing the same Spirit and the same rules – their Rule of Life. The different foundations all embrace a mutual life. Sung liturgy, silent prayer, hospitality, and part-time work. What they earn is shared with the community. They do not live in a mixed monasticism. Monks and nuns have complete autonomy when it comes to housing, government and finances. But they do celebrate the daily liturgy together.

16 sq. m. of privacy

The cell is the nuns’ and monks’ only private room. All their earthly belongings fit within these four walls, often barely four by four meters. Bed, washbasin, window, a small desk and a peg for clothes. They sleep there. They pray there. In the winter season they have a radiator that heats the cell. In the summer, when the sun is beating down, a small electric fan circulates the air. There is no air conditioning.

A call from God

No one is born into a life as a monk or a nun. But some people get a call from God and give their life and heart to him.

The path to a life in the monastery is long. First a time of probation, an engagement with the church for six to seven years, before one makes a final decision to enter the monastery for the rest of one’s life.

Often a monk takes a biblical middle name like Marie. This is to show that they want to give their whole heart to the spiritual path. Surnames are not used.

Few break out of a life in a convent. In many ways one can compare this life with the life of a marriage, but with an even stronger bond that should not be broken.

Such a life is not for everyone. But many want to take part in the peace, silence and prayer that one can experience during the religious mass in the church.

If you want to find out if this life is for you, you can apply for “A Year for Good”. A year in which you live with the monks or nuns, with a leave of absence from your normal life.

– Nils Thune

The picture series was photographed with a Leica M9-P and is currently on display in Hamar Sagbladfabrikk. Read more here, or connect with Nils on his website.

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3 comments

  • Thanks for sharing this great story. Obviously, not a life for everyone, but you have to admire their ability to tune out our ever-encroaching world. Your photos convey very well the simple, yet demanding life associated with monastic life. There should be more stories like this on the Leica Blog.

  • I really enjoyed reading about you living in photography. I can tell you are a passionate man who understands human nature and loves to share stories through photography. Yes sometimes less is more.

    Thank you

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