PROVIDENCE — The 22-story climb to the top of the towers of the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul is at once daunting and enlightening.
A skeletal stairwell, enclosed by black mesh fabric that provides some measure of dryness on rainy days, takes workers and visitors to places on the surrounding scaffolding where they can access the 132-year-old cathedral’s signature sandstone façade.
It is here, high above Cathedral Square, that such an up-close view reveals the ravages of time and weather upon the soft sandstone.
An “X” marks some stones for replacement entirely. Other stones are being repaired by scaling them back, while a third technique involves what is known as a Dutchman repair, in which deeply eroded existing stone is cut back and a new face added with adhesive and pinning to level it off.
Sparks fly as large sections of circular support columns are being sawed off the north face of the cathedral, with newly quarried replacements hoisted with chains into position and secured in place with mortar and pinning.
Altogether, by the time the bulk of the stonework is done in about another month, as long as the weather holds, some 700-800 stones will have been replaced, according to Eric Barbosa, site supervisor for Consigli Construction, which is overseeing the project.
The diocese had not planned on embarking on such a major repair project at this time, one which is expected to cost $9 million. Work on the towers began last June just four months after the completion of a nine-month, $4.5 million project to replace the entire roof of the 132-year-old spiritual seat of the Diocese of Providence. It was during that project that vulnerabilities were identified in the structural integrity of the towers.
“When we started the roof project the architects had sent drones up, and had gone up there themselves, and they noticed the deterioration in the towers, both internally and externally. The brownstone was starting to chip,” said Msgr. Anthony Mancini, rector of the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul, which was dedicated on Sunday, June 30, 1889.
“At that time, it became apparent that the deterioration from weather and age on the stone and the mortar was far more significant than we realized.”
After receiving reports from Consigli Construction and DBVW Architects — who were working on the roof project — that many stones in the towers were cracked and deteriorating, a plan was quickly put into action to address these safety concerns and to preserve the towers.
Other work being done as part of the overall project includes the replacement of a 50-year-old air conditioning compressor unit, housed in the east tower, as well as the air handler that conveys the cooled air into the cathedral. The replacement of roof drains, coverings for both towers and some painting are also part of the repairs.
As the project is drawing to a close, the Diocese of Providence is inviting the community to sponsor stones to help defray the cost of this major, $9 million preservation project.
“We had hoped that we might have a little more time before starting the repair of the towers and the façade of the building. However, when the architectural and engineering reports were completed, the need to start as soon as possible became obvious,” said Rev. Msgr. Raymond B. Bastia, diocesan vicar of Planning and Finance.
“Although the project represents a financial challenge, nevertheless, the result of this extensive effort will no doubt produce a safe, beautifully renewed and welcoming façade for the mother church of our Diocese of Providence.”
The diocese is inviting the faithful of Rhode Island and beyond to help complete this critical preservation of an icon of the Catholic faith for future generations through sponsoring a stone. In the course of their work, engineers and masons identified hundreds of specific stones, each numbered, which must be replaced. A gift of $5,000 will sponsor the restoration of a major stone.
“The sponsorships are a partnership between community members and the cathedral to preserve our Catholic heritage for future generations of Rhode Islanders,” said Tim McCaig, director of Stewardship and Development.
“We’re encouraged that a number of donors have already stepped forward to sponsor a stone. Our hope is that their early support of this restoration project will encourage others to participate to the best of their ability. All levels of support are welcomed, needed and appreciated.”
To make a pledge to sponsor a stone or to make a donation, or to learn more about the restoration from the project architect and Cathedral Rector Msgr. Anthony Mancini, visit https://cathedraltowers.info. For additional information on how to give in support of the project, contact the Office of Stewardship and Development at 401-277-2121.
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