Arizona Contractor & Community
Carmelite Monks of Wyoming use technology to bring stone Gothic construction into digital age
High in the Rocky Mountains of Wyoming, a Catholic, brown-robed Carmelite Monk reviews a line of programming code before pushing the start button on a stone carving machine the size of a two-car garage. The CNC robotic arm moves, twirls, and gently applies a spinning diamond cutting tool into a solid block of limestone the size of a chest freezer. Slowly, the figure of an angel emerges from the stone.
"We originally wanted to bid out the stone carving," explains Brother Isidore Mary, the 30-year-old monk in charge of construction, "but when we heard the cost, we almost had a heart attack. There was no way we could afford it, so we decided to figure out how to build the monastery ourselves." In 2013 the monks purchased a Prussiani stone carving machine. After several months of trial and error, they began carving ornate pieces of stone.
"Nobody is building authentic gothic buildings anymore," Brother Isidore continued, "we had to rediscover the architecture principles from dusty old books, and then apply them to the digital realm." One monk creates digital models of the stone elements; other monks translate the model into machining code for the CNC machine, while others still lay out the raw slabs of Kansas Limestone on the 13' wide carving table. Once in motion, the CNC machine can carve for over 24 hours at one time, which enables the monks to live their strict life of silence and prayer during their construction phase.
The monks chose to build in Gothic since they believe the soaring ornate stonework speaks to the soul of mystical beauty, reflecting in a finite way some of the perfection of God. "It's our offering to God," concludes Brother Isidore, "Even though building in Gothic presents many challenges, we are determined to overcome each obstacle. We believe God deserves to be worshiped in a fitting place."
The Carmelite Monks have just (in May 2022) finished carving all the stone for their Chapter House, an elaborately-carved chapel where the monks profess their vows to live a life of obedience, chastity, and poverty. Progress images and videos can be seen at the monks' Carmelite Gothic website, http://www.carmelitegothic.com.