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Monks take on computerised stone carving

20 May Computerised machines have been programmed by monks in Wyoming, USA, to carve the stone for their new gothic monastery.

One monk creates digital models of the stone elements; other monks translate the model into machining code for the CNC machine
One monk creates digital models of the stone elements; other monks translate the model into machining code for the CNC machine

The Carmelite Monks in Wyoming have this month finished carving all the stone for their Chapter House, an elaborately-carved chapel.

They are building their own monastery using CNC technology to carve stone slabs into ornate architectural elements. They have developed a process to achieve the effect of hand-carved quality stone from the computerised stone-carving machines.

The machine is 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.

"We originally wanted to bid out the stone carving," said 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," he added. “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 4m-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.

Once in motion, the CNC machine can carve for over 24 hours at one time
Once in motion, the CNC machine can carve for over 24 hours at one time

The monks chose to build in gothic style 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,” said 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 monks have now finished carving the stone for the Chapter House
The monks have now finished carving the stone for the Chapter House

The Carmelite Monks of Wyoming are a Catholic Monastery of monks located almost 2,300m up in the Rocky Mountains.

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