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St. Patrick's Cathedral renovated space ready for Pope, New Yorkers

The exterior of St. Patrick's Cathedral in Manhattan,

The exterior of St. Patrick's Cathedral in Manhattan, Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2015. The three-year, nearly $200 million restoration -- the first for this landmark Gothic cathedral in nearly 70 years -- is nearing an end and will be unveiled when the Pope visits New York on Sept. 24. Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

St. Patrick's Cathedral is ready to show off its face-lift, while the architects and designers who worked on the three-year-project said New Yorkers and tourists will see the city's most iconic church in a new light.

Jeffrey Murphy, a partner in Murphy Burnham and Buttrick Architects, which has been planning and conducting the project, showed off his team's work during a tour for the media Wednesday. He said the mission was to restore the 127-year-old landmark's original glory.

There were smaller renovation projects and changes to the church over the years, but Murphy said severe wear and tear left sections of the interior and exterior discolored and chipped away.

"If you had come here 30 years ago, you would have seen a really gritty building," Murphy said.

Nine years ago, the New York Archdiocese contracted Murphy's firm. The master restoration plan cost about $177 million, but major work was delayed by the financial crisis. The majority of the restoration will be complete in time for Pope Francis' visit to the cathedral in two weeks.

These are some of the major improvements:

Facade and doors

Murphy said the team used a special micro-abrasive technology to clean the cathedral's Gothic Revival structure. For months, they cleaned the marble to a condition not seen in decades, he said. Crews replaced broken marble in select parts of the church.

The 9,000 pound bronze doors were carefully transported to a facility where a group of preservationists gave the bronze a new shine and returned them back to the church last month.

Stained-glass windows

The cathedral's 75 stained glass windows contained so much soot and pollution the pews barely got any light.

Murphy's team, which included an expert from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, removed 5% of the 3,700 stained glass panels for off-site cleaning and restoration and restored the remaining pieces on site. He said the crews paid very special attention to the artwork, which was done by several artists over a span of 70 years.

"We came with a very specific approach to St. Patrick's," he said.

The Founder's Window, which depicts St. Patrick and is located near the altar, required extra special attention. The famous stained glass brought in a lot of light and caused some pews to heat up, according to Murphy.

The restorationists installed a transparent protective coating with UV filtering and created a system of small vestin in the panels that allows cool air to safely enter the church.

"It's really made a difference for this section," Murphy said.


Although the church's interior pillars are marble, the ceiling is actually wood and painted plaster. As a result, the white ceiling was susceptible to more dirt and grime. "The ceiling was this army green [color]," Murphy said.

The restorationists used historic design plans to re-create the original color palette, and for months cleaned, repaired and re-adhered the paint.

The interior work was the toughest for parishioners and visitors, according to Monsignor Robert Ritchie, St Patrick's rector. Large scaffolding meant that no weddings could be conducted and Masses had to go on amid the work.

"The priests learned to talk louder," Ritchie joked.


The main piece of the cathedral needed the least amount of work, some buffering of the floors and varnishing of the wood.

However, the crews made significant changes to the wood canopy that covers the cathedra, the bishop's chair. The chair and its protective enclosure, which date back to the cathedral's opening, received repairs and a fresh coat of varnish and paint and were elevated to signify the cardinal's position.

Pope Francis will sit in the seat during his visit and it will be housed in a taller, cleaner wood canopy.

"We made sure it can fit the needs of the cardinal and still had its original look and feel," Murphy said.


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