Hoping For Resurrection
San Carlos Cathedral restoration begins.
Thursday, April 26, 2007
Even the Blessed Mother of God needs a little work done after some 200 years.
Her face, atop the San Carlos Cathedral, still tilts toward heaven, but it has fallen slightly over the centuries as the stone building has shifted. In the 1940s, well-intentioned parishioners put cement patches in Our Lady of Guadalupe’s cheeks, and later painted her robes blue and white. But cement and paint aren’t compatible with Monterey shale, which needs to breathe. Both sealed moisture into the stone sculpture.
She is so delicate and deteriorated that the rays around her figure fall to dust at a touch, and the cherub that used to sit at her feet is now unrecognizable—its face has crumbled off the stone wall.
And so on Tuesday, May 1, at around 2pm, a team of engineers and preservation experts will delicately remove the statue from its post, a niche at the very top of the Cathedral’s facade, and fly her to a lab in Southern California for a little repair and restoration. Her retreat will also signify the start of the church’s “Cornerstone Campaign,” which needs to raise about $5.5 million to fund extensive repair and conservation.
Monterey’s Our Lady of Guadalupe is said to be the oldest non-indigenous sculpture in California, and she’s stood atop the church since it was erected under the leadership of Fr. Junipero Serra. (Builders completed the stone church in 1794.) It will be hard to see her go, says San Carlos’ Rev. Peter Crivello. “We’re removing the crown of the church,” he says. “It’s something very sacred and beautiful, and yet is in such horrible condition.”
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In fact, the whole church is in bad shape. Deep cracks run down the walls. A plaque warns visitors: “This is an unreinforced masonry building. You may not be safe…during an earthquake.” Moisture trapped in the walls continues to weaken the stone. Little has been done to update the mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems installed more than a half century ago. The building needs a seismic retrofit, a new roof and a new drainage system. Acrylic paint—added for Pope John Paul II’s visit in 1987—must be removed and a fire protection system installed.
San Carlos Cathedral is said to be the most historically significant building in Monterey. Also called the Royal Presidio Chapel, it served the King of Spain’s soldiers when Monterey was an army outpost. It’s the oldest building in the city, and the oldest continuously operating church in the state. It’s the earliest California building designed by an architect, and, in 1849, it became the state’s first cathedral. It’s hosted countless baptisms, weddings and funerals over the past 200 years.
The Getty Foundation and the California Missions Foundation, among others, provided grant money to pay for a team of conservation experts who studied the building and grounds for more than two years, and drew up renovation plans.
“Now it’s time for the people who live here in Monterey, and either love the church for the spiritual side or for the historical side, to pitch in,” says project manager Cathy Leiker. And to this end, Bishop Richard Garcia, Rev. Crivello and Leon Panetta are asking for help raising the needed $5.5 million.
On a recent afternoon, Leiker pointed out a “crack monitor” mounted to a wall in the back of the church to measure movement. “It’s more the weight of the bell tower than earthquakes or the redwood trees” causing the wall to shift, she says.
Up steep, narrow steps lies the bell tower, which looks out on Old Monterey and down to the Monterey Bay. “A cannon ball’s shot from the ocean,” Leiker says. “Just imagine being a Spanish soldier, and other countries are trying to take this away.”
Two statues of Mary and Joseph sit on either side of the crucifix in the front of the church. “These two came from Father Serra,” Leiker says. During the ‘89 earthquake, the baby Jesus fell out of Joseph’s arms.
An orange cat lay under the altar. Leiker wasn’t fazed; the cat’s a regular: “Sometimes he sits in the bishop’s chair.”
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Technically, the first step in the restoration has already begun, with the recent removal of four redwood trees. The trees’ roots had protruded into the church’s foundation and walls. Leiker says this area will be turned into a prayer garden.
Crivello, who was baptized, confirmed and ordained at San Carlos, says he couldn’t watch the trees come down.
“We had to do that because they were damaging the building, but I didn’t want to see them come down,” he says. “They were planted in 1951. I don’t know this church without them.
“And it’s going to be hard to watch the church being dismantled. But we believe as Christians, if we die with Christ, we will rise with Christ. It we die to ourselves, we will rise in a new way.
“This parish is going to go through some challenges—raising money, being inconvenienced, moving out of the church for a while and being displaced a bit—but we trust that we will rise. Something new and wonderful will be recreated and restored here, including our sense of community within our parish and our sense of stewardship for this building.”
|THE WEEKLY TALLY||3:45||
The time in the morning when the first Big Sur Marathon shuttle bus leaves Carmel for the starting line down the coast. The marathon starts at 6:45am. Source: Big Sur International Marathon.