LIFE for the monks at Prinknash monastery, near Gloucester,is not all prayer and contemplation. There are bills to be paid and buildings to be looked after. The crafts carried out by the monks are vital to the financial viability of the institution.
Take Br Gilbert for example. His skills are in stained glass and window-making, which he has been involved with for the past 20 years. He learnt his trade late in life and did so purely within the monastic community.
"When I became interested in stained glass and leaded windows I was given permission to go to Plusearden Abbey in Scotland. There I met Fr Ninnian, who is a stained glass artist, and taught Inc everything I know."
Prinknash was without Br Gilbert's talents for 10 years while he was apprenticed In the ancient craft of stained-glass. Al Pluscarden the two monks busied themselves providing windows for the Abbey's own church, until Br Gilbert returned to Prinknash an expert artisan. But the community was soon to lose him again as Br Gilbert explains.
"Up until now all I had made were traditional stained-glass windows, but about 15 years ago a new method in stained glass manufacture was introduced from France to this country. 'Concreting glass' interested me and one of the monks at Buckfast Abbey in Devon was practising this technique."
Br Gilbert thought that this method would suit the modern design of the new monastery building at Prinknash which at that stage was under construction.
"I went to the abbot and presented him with my idea and he gave me permission to leave to study under Fr Charles at Buckfast. Fr Charles agreed to let me pick his brains and once again 1 served an apprenticeship."
Initially Gilbert remained at Buckfast for only two months but he was needed by Fr Charles soon after to help him with a particularly large project. This time he was away from Prinknash for nine months and when he returned he was, as Gilbert modestly puts it, "quite skilled".
Back home the foundations of the new monastery had been laid and work was well under way. Gilbert decided to start making windows for the church.
He was assisted by a visiting priest, Fr George, who was convalescing after an illness. "I knew as soon as he started that he understood the art of stainedglass and he turned out to be every bit as good as me." It took them two years to make and fit the church windows, 21 in all.
The process for making concreted stained-glass windows is complicated and timeconsuming, but Gilbert obviously thrives on the intricacies, and waxes lyrical on the process, throwing into the conversation tips, for example, on how to avoid expansion of concrete in heat and contraction in cold.
Prince Charles might he tempted to give a less than favourable appraisal of the design of the new monastery building at Prinknash, but it is functional and serves the present community's needs.
A tour of the church displayed the better side of modern architecture, enhanced by Gilbert's windows. They are anything but traditional. Apart from being designer, draughtsman and craftsman, Gilbert is also a skilled artist. He possesses a sensitive eye for colour and inside the church has carefully positioned each window to maximum effect.
His concepts are mainly abstract, although in three windows he has included a key hidden in the swirling patterns, representing St Peter's symbol.
Like all the nuns and monks with a talent, Gilbert regards it modestly. He plays down his craft, and chuckling shyly when asked about the stained-glass designs, dismisses them as mere doodles, "I don't really know what they represent but I think they're quite nice."