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Blessed John was born in 1123 in the kingdom of Leon in Spain. At the age of thirteen he left his country for France, both to escape the Moslems and for the purpose of studies. He settled in the town of Arles, in Southern France. At sixteen he felt drawn to the monastic life and entered a monastery in the vicinity. After some years, he heard about the recently founded Order of the Carthusians and their monastery of Montrieux not far away, founded in 1118, five years before he himself was born. Drawn to their austere and entirely contemplative life, he joined the Carthusians there. Once a Carthusian, he was ordained a priest, was named sacristan and eventually — still a man in his twenties — elected Prior. We may assume he was precocious on the natural level, but even more so by the early maturity of his virtues.
The nuns of the monastery of Prébayon in the vicinity, following the Rules of Saint Caesarius of Arles and of Saint Benedict, were so impressed with the fervor of Montrieux under John’s leadership that they asked to be admitted to our Order, which till then had consisted only of monks. The Prior of our Mother house, la Grande Chartreuse, and Superior General of the Order, Saint Anthelm, authorized this. He asked John to adapt the Customs of Guigo, which were our Rule at that time, to the nuns. He did so and this was the beginning of the female branch of our Order.
Various difficulties at Montrieux lead to his retirement from the priorship and he moved to la Grande Chartreuse in 1150. Just then, a noble lord in neighbouring Savoy asked for a monastery of Carthusians on his lands. Saint Anthelm saw in Blessed John the man of Providence. He sent him to make the foundation in Savoy, which was eventually given the name of le Reposoir. There he governed wisely as Prior for some years.
On June 25, 1160 John died, not yet forty years old. Through unusual circumstances he was interred not inside the enclosure, as the custom is, but outside. In fact, during his priorate, two servants of the monastery, having died in the mountains, under an avalanche of snow, had been interred in an inappropriate place, outside the enclosure, for which John had been reproved. To make amends he had made his monks swear that after his death, they would bury him at the same place as the two servants. This, however, permitted John’s tomb — with his renown for sanctity — to become the object of popular pilgrimages. The faithful prayed at his tomb and many miracles occurred in the course of the centuries, particularly cures of malignant fever. In 1864 Blessed Pius IX approved the cult of Blessed John of Spain, venerated since time immemorial.