In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Letting Art Become Prayer in the Work of Fr. Dunstan Massey, OSB, at Westminster Abbey, Mission, BC
  • Kathryn Wehr, Managing Editor

Fr. Dustan Massey OSB, Westminster Abbey BC, Benedictine artists, monk artists, Benedictine abbey, Catholic art and architecture, Benedict and Scholastica

Some readers may have had the pleasure of visiting the Dominican Convent of San Marco in Florence—now a museum—where the fifteenth-century friar-artist Fra Angelico adorned each of the cells with a tempura fresco of a scene from the lives of Christ and the Virgin Mary. One can easily imagine being a novice brought to his cell and told: this will be your scene to contemplate; this art will become an integral part of your prayer.

Click for larger view
View full resolution

For the Benedictine monks of Westminster Abbey in Mission, British Columbia, Canada, the art of Fr. Dunstan Massey, OSB (1924–) has played a similar role. Having entered as a trained artist, Father Massey has been called upon over the course of his long monastic life to adorn various parts of his monastery in paint and sculpture. Even now, at age 98, he is working on a new Stations of the Cross series.1 His work not only adds color and sacred subjects to a modern concrete abbey church and buildings, but also enriches the prayer of the monks and all who come to pray with them. [End Page 156]

Click for larger view
View full resolution

The Last Visit of Benedict and Scholastica, from the series The Life of St. Benedict, 1966– 1967, Fr. Dunstan Massey, OSB. Tempura and India ink. 5'6" by 2'8". Westminster Abbey cloister walk, Mission, BC.

Used with permission.

The selection on this issue’s cover is from an area not often seen by visitors, but regularly seen by the monks: the closet in the cloister walk containing the cucullas, or choir robes. Above this large closet are three paintings of the life of St. Benedict, with subjects taken from Gregory the Great’s Dialogues. Each measures 5'6" by 2'8".2 Our cover, which is from the third panel, shows the discussion between Benedict and his sister Scholastica and how as the evening wore on and Benedict announced he must depart, Scholastica bowed her head and prayed for God to send a storm to prevent him from leaving. When Benedict heard the thunder and lightning, “he was dismayed and said: ‘God forgive you, sister. What have you done?’ She answered, ‘Look, I asked and you wouldn’t listen. So I asked my Lord and he listened.’ . . . So it was entirely right that she who loved more should accomplish more.”3 The full panel also has a scene taken from the next chapter of the Dialogues, where Gregory the Great recounts how three days later Benedict “looked up and saw the soul of his sister leave her body and fly to the heavenly heights in the form of a dove.”4 [End Page 157]

With that in mind, one can now picture the Westminster monks putting on their cucullas and being reminded again and again of the Lord’s response to Scholastica’s great love. This art, in turn, infuses their prayer.

While Father Massey’s subjects are always sacred, his style is clearly modern and we can see a kinship with his major influences: William Blake, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí, and the Old Masters.5 His early monastic work drew from the Beuronese style—a late-nineteenth-century sacred art school based at the Benedictine abbey at Beuron, Germany, which blended naturalism with classical poses and proportions.6 Massey describes his technique in this Life of St. Benedict series as a turning point in his style toward a more spatial and angular composition with more subtle shading:

The flat, hard-edged linear manner of Beuron gave way to a fully modeled chiaroscuro within a spatial composition, all of which would characterize the later work. The silvery shading of a monochromatic underpainting (with diluted India ink) allowed the modeling to register with subtle tonal variations. This was so even when a single colour value was laid over light or dark in the underpainting. Lighter...