Saint-Pierre-de-Clairac (France) (AFP)

After Mass at the Monastery of La Garde, St-Pierre-de-Clairac (Lot-et-Garonne), Brother Augustin trades the dress for a "blue work" and returns to the workshop making sandals with evocative names : "Benedict", "Scholastic" and "Hildegard".

These models, sold until Japan, are so successful that the Benedictines sometimes refuse orders to preserve the rhythm of their monastic life.

"They are solid, we can not say that it's comfortable the first days, it's hard enough, the leather has to be made, and then we're fine," explains the Quebec monk wearing sandals. ", named after the founder of the Benedictine order, all year long, with socks in winter.

Blue dress worn by the years with a hood (kind of hood in tip), long leather belt, he works among shoe boxes, glue cans and machines in a workshop where the smell of leather is omnipresent. The walls and windowsills welcome images or statuettes of the Blessed Virgin, Saint Joseph and Christ.

With four brothers at his side, who help him part-time, he uses a cutting press to obtain strips of different sizes. Once they are assembled on the sole, the brothers stick them on the soldering press.

The finishes are scissors and machine to get shoes whose sole is stamped: "Sandals of the Monastery of St. Mary the Guard Saint-Pierre-de-Clairac 47270".

The monks rely on quality and proximity: the cattle leather, vegetable tanning, come from a tannery of Pau (Pyrénées-Atlantiques) which is supplied in Europe, Vibram rubber soles are Italian: "We do not want of Chinese leather for traceability ", explains cellarer (bursar), Fr. Hubert.

"When we founded the monastery in 2002, the following year, the brothers sought to work to enable the community to live according to the principle of St. Benedict.We turned to this profession," says the young Breton which bears, like the other 15 Benedictines of the monastery, the monastic tonsure.

- "In contact with God" -

Over the years, the monks have developed three models of different colors of sandals. "We started with the Benedict and the Scholastics (named after the sister of the saint) very similar to meet the demand of women.The Hildegarde (German nun) have thinner thongs and elegant," describes the monk.

The success is at the rendezvous with some 1,200 pairs sold each year by the parent company in the Vaucluse, the Sainte-Madeleine du Barroux abbey, dealers in monastic crafts and a German company.

"I think we are the only monks to make sandals in France," notes father Hubert, surprised to receive orders from Japan. "They asked us to make the size 35 for women, so we also offer it in our range," says the Benedictine.

With about thirty pairs made each week, the monks are struggling to meet the demand. The days are already well filled with liturgical prayer during the eight services, including one at night, the reading and personal prayer times.

"The work is organized in such a way that it can be spread throughout the year while keeping our monastic rhythm, by organizing itself upstream, even if it means refusing resellers," explains father Hubert.

"It's a manual work, the spirit is free, we can pray at the same time, we are in contact with God", rejoices Brother Augustin, while emphasizing the limits: "it's a challenge to go to the office and knowing how to give up work, for sure, there is always a struggle between the overflow of activity and the inner life. "

© 2019 AFP