Northwest Blacksmith Association

The Devil’s Blacksmith Documentary


Starring: Walfrid Huber and Zoltán Takáts and Directed By: Zoltán Takáts and and Tamas Lehoczky

Zoltán Takáts and Walfrid Huber  Zoltán Takáts and Walfrid Huber at the forge

The NWBA was treated to a special showing of “The Devil’s Blacksmith Documentary” at the NWBA Conference in May, the first showing in North America, brought to us by our demonstrator Gábor Szombathy. There was silence in the room during the viewing, everyone was enthralled. The movie, a film still in production, features Walfrid Huber with Zoltan Takats forging hinges for a restoration of the doors on the cathedral at Notre Dame. This is not a standard restoration, the doors and the work of the blacksmith are legendary.

“During the 13th century, there was once a young blacksmith. His name was Biscornet and his talent was known throughout the entire kingdom of France. In charge of decorating the side doors of the Notre Dame Cathedral, the young craftsman was scared to work on such an impressive monument. The devil, true to his reputation, offered him a deal. In exchange for his help, the blacksmith gave his soul. The big day finally came when the paintings were finished, revealing an extraordinary beauty. But the side doors refused to open. To open them, they had to sprinkle holy water, which eventually freed the craftsmen from the consequences of his deal with the devil. Biscornet was saved.”
From website: http://www.hotelnotredameparis.com/blog/notre-dame-and-the-devils-door/

Full view of doors   Great Door detail, Notre Dame Paris

Age and disaster took their toll on the cathedral. In the 1790s, Notre-Dame suffered desecration during the radical phase of the French Revolution when much of its religious imagery was damaged or destroyed. An extensive restoration supervised by Eugène Viollet-le-Duc began in 1845. A project of further restoration and maintenance began in 1991. And yet, the restoration of these spectacular hinges remained to be undertaken. For centuries the techniques used to create the hinges were unknown, the secrets of the master craftsman who created it were lost to history, no one knew how to do what had originally been done in the 13th century! The restoration was finally made possible by the genius and diligence of master blacksmith Walfrid Huber, from Austria. Walfrid, now 70 years old (or in his 70s?) has made a lifetime study of ancient techniques of the blacksmith.. He is perhaps the world expert in many of the blacksmith styles and methods from antiquity (these cathedral doors are Gothic style). The breakthrough came when the original hinges became available to Walfrid for close examination, removed from the door so the backside of the work could reveal its secrets.

Detail of one section of the hinges   Scale drawing for hinge detail

Filming began in 2014 of ’The Devil’s Blacksmith documentary’ with Walfrid Huber and Zoltán Takáts at the Austrian Federal Monuments Office in Mauerbach, Austria with the support of the Austrian Locksmiths and Blacksmiths’ Guild and the Monuments Office. Unfortunately, this work is not ready yet. The dream is to finish our movie with shooting in Paris, France at locations of Notre Dame and Musée de Cluny and finally to translate the final version of the movie to English.

In the synopsis of his 1995 article “The Medium is the Root of the Art” for Hephaistos an online Art Metal site (www.artmetal.com) Huber points out: (the article) is not a scientific treatment of iron. Rather, it is a brief look into the historical background of our ancient material with its peculiar properties. Many of the questions about the typical forms produced by the masters of the past can be answered by scrutinizing their technique. Many puzzles can be resolved surprisingly quickly with a knowledge of how the ancient iron was made and worked. (http://www.artmetal.com/project/News/Hephaist/MedArt.html) It is clear in watching Walfrid Huber in this documentary, that he has applied these principles in spades.

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