St Joseph the Mousetrap Maker | Merode Altarpiece

St Joseph the Mousetrap Maker | Merode Altarpiece

By Br John Bernard Church, O.P | The Merode Altarpiece has a curious depiction of St Joseph, the carpenter working hard on making mousetraps. It acts as a reminder of how our lives might always bear the image of the salvific work of Christ.


The central panel of this domestic scene depicts the Annunciation.
The Blessed Mother seems as yet unaware of the Angel’s entry.
Elsewhere, and similarly undisturbed, St Joseph is hard at work.
He is surrounded by his tools, drilling holes in some wood.
He appears to be working on some mousetraps.
What is their significance?
St Augustine can help:
“The cross of the Lord became a trap for the Devil.”
These mousetraps represent the cross.
Back in the central panel a curious detail explains this connection.
Christ’s soul has flown into the room, holding a cross.
Jesus’ life is cruciform from conception until death.
Making these traps, St Joseph’s carpentry is also cruciform.
His work is shaped by the cross, a cooperation in the work of Christ.
Today we seek St Joseph’s intercession,
That our ordinary work may always bear the image of the salvific work of Christ.

St Augustine quote:
Augustine of Hippo, Sermons on the Liturgical Seasons, ed. Hermigild Dressler, trans. Mary Sarah Muldowney, vol. 38, The Fathers of the Church (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1959), 392–393.


Canon in D Major Kevin MacLeod (
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Br John Bernard, raised a Catholic by an English father and Dutch mother, first encountered the Dominicans at Blackfriars while studying Classics at the University of Oxford, and entered the noviciate in 2018. An attraction to religious life initially grew out of time spent working with the Missionaries of Charity, which then crystallised into a Dominican vocation through a desire to integrate the contemplative life with preaching and study. Based on his recent reading, he looks forward to delving further into St John of the Cross and the Carmelite mystics, as well as combining his preaching vocation with a love of the outdoors.