Monastic Art
Sculpture The original PHOENIX BLACKSMITH SHOP at the Abbey of Regina Laudis was built in 1750 and restored by the Abbey in 2004. The art of Blacksmithing is ancient—the evolution of civilization can be measured in man’s relationship to metals, as the discovery and extraction of ores from the earth enabled the production of armor, weapons, jewelry and especially tools used in agriculture and transportation. forgeIn Colonial times the main work of this blacksmith shop on our land was to shoe horses and to manufacture and repair carriages. Today the blacksmiths of the Abbey, Mother Anastasia and Brother Kevin McElroy, carry on this ancient tradition of manipulating metal in the creation of fixtures, tools, and sculptures. They fabricate works for the monastic community and repair farm machinery and tools. The fruit of their work is nowhere more visible than in the Abbey Church Jesu Fili Mariae—in the grille, fixtures, mobile, candleholders, and the holy water font at the entrance—all of which contribute to the simplicity and beauty of the space. In the creation of the grille a painstaking medieval technique of craftsmanship was used. The blacksmiths forged holes into the iron to join the pieces together, instead of using bolts, nails, or welding. The result is an iron grille that is smoothly interwoven like bamboo.

grille Mother Anastasia has worked at the Phoenix Blacksmith Shop for 25 years. Master/disciple relationships are intrinsic to Benedictine life and the formation of a blacksmith always involves apprenticeship under a master. Mother Anastasia has trained numerous monastic interns and apprentices in the techniques of blacksmithing: care of the fire and the forge, drawing out of heated metal, and welding.

Fleur de LisSt. Benedict places a high value on the tools of the monastery. In Chapter 32 of the Holy Rule:The Tools and Property of the Monastery he writes: “For the care of the monastery's property in tools, clothing, and all other articles, let the abbot appoint brethren on whose life and character he can rely; and let him, as he shall judge fit, commit the various articles to them, to be looked after and to be collected again.” The Abbey blacksmiths fulfill St. Benedict’s injunction by recycling materials such as rusty water tanks and scrap metal. Connecticut was was once home to many blacksmith shops and the metal and mechanic shops of the Waterbury region in which Regina Laudis is located are direct descendants of the blacksmithing craft. Colleagues of our blacksmiths donate their fathers’ and grandfathers’ beautifully hand-crafted tools, knowing they will find continuity in a monastic work and context.

Sacred HeartThe heart of the blacksmith shop is the forge,the hearth wherein the blacksmith heats metal to a high temperature making it malleable for shaping. The transformation process is rich in analogy for the Abbey’s blacksmiths: like metal, man is capable of transformation through adversity and challenge. The blacksmith shop is named for the phoenix a symbol of resurrection; for when the life cycle of this mythical bird is complete, it sacrifices itself in the fire and rises from the ashes three days later.

fleur de lis The Blacksmith Shop is designated as an
Island of Enclosure
and is not open to the Public.


Works at the Forge

2010 Workshop with Master Blacksmith Simon Robinson of Normandy, France—Creation of St. Michael Sculpture