The Monastic Cycle

Posted by on Mar 18, 2012 in News, Otherhood, Projects, Vigils | No Comments

More than just a structure in space, a monastery is a structure in time. With a regularity that can intimidate those outside the cloister walls, monks and nuns gather every few hours, every single day, for a cycle of rituals that involve chant, prayer, and meditation. Far from the kind of mind-numbing routines we sometimes fall into in secular society (I wake up, I shower, I drink my coffee, I check my email, I bike to work, I check my email…), the monastic routine is intended to refresh the soul, to build discipline, to act as a vehicle for deepening personal spiritual experience, and to connect the monk’s lived experience with the cyclical nature of time: from midnight to sunrise, noon to sunset. Darkness to light, and inevitably back to darkness.

Also known as the “Monastic Office” or the “Liturgy of Hours,” this cycle of rituals has structured the daily lives of monastics for centuries. And while there is much variation in the specific schedule and the names used for each ritual from tradition to tradition (and even from monastery to monastery), most western monastic schedules are designed to help monks “pray without ceasing.”

One version goes:

  • Vigils (sometime during the night)
  • Matins (at sunrise)
  • Prime (during the first hour of daylight)
  • Terce (at the third hour)
  • Sext (at the sixth hour)
  • None (at the ninth hour)
  • Vespers (at the end of the day)
  • Compline (upon retiring)


While the content of these rituals has centered on Christian religious tradition, the “technology” for achieving contemplative and creative depth that the Liturgy of Hours represents is one with applications in a much wider variety of settings.

As it is our mission to apply monastic principles to art making and the creative process, it is exactly this kind of technology that the Art Monastery Project is committed to investigating.

Hence the  Monastic Cycle, a series of yearly themes for art making and contemplation. Each year for the next eight years, the Art Monastery Project will explore one of eight primary rituals of the western monastic Liturgy of Hours. Each ritual will serve as a springboard for the art that the Art Monastery Project produces that year and the contemplative life of the Artmonks (although, for the most part we’ll be making our own rituals; not necessarily waking up in the middle of the night to chant the Vigils ritual, for example).

And as the Art Monastery is a secular arts-production organization, each ritual will inevitably undergo various kinds of interpretation and deconstruction as it serves as a year’s theme. Embedded within each ritual of the Liturgy of Hours are a number of symbolic resonances. The evening Compline ritual, for example, can represent the anticipation of death, the onset of darkness, receptivity, letting go, completion, and the beginning of winter.

2012 – “Vigils: Intimacy with the Void

2013 – “Lauds: The Liminal”

2014 – “Prime: (Re)Birth”

2015 – “Terce: Initiation”

2016 – “Sext: Form/Fullness”

2017 – “None: Action/Activity”

2018 – “Vespers: Catharsis”

2019 – “Compline: Moment of Death”