Saturday, November 04, 2006

America's Proto-cathedral Restored

Restoration Completed

While the Basilica of the Assumption is recognized as one of America's most historic churches, the building's infrastructure has largely been ignored over the past half century. The Basilica restoration included a total incorporation of modern systems throughout the building, while also restoring the interior to the original design of Benjamin Henry Latrobe, under the guidance of Bishop Carroll.

Among the Basilica's most impressive features is the Great Dome and its skylights. Unfortunately, the skylights that provided the dominant aesthetic character of the church and illuminated the Basilica with natural light were closed over time. In 1942, they were painted black as a wartime protective measure. In 1946, the deteriorating window frames and heavy glass skylights of the outer dome were totally removed. All 24 skylights were reinstalled.

The Basilica's interior has been completely restored. The restoration included the removal of 20th century materials and finishes, which have restored the church to Latrobe's sublime simplicity. Renewal efforts also included flooring, finishes, and furnishings that were carefully researched and replicated to early 19th century forms.

The Sanctuary has been restored to its original appearance prior to its enlargement in 1890, and raised to its intended level. The original altar, pulpit, and cathedra have been restored.

Research by the architectural team in consultation with the Archivist of the U.S. Capitol Building has led to discoveries about Latrobe's ingenious roofing system. Latrobe's annotated roof drawing is now clearly understood as never before. Intact remnants of the 19th century wood shingle roof found at the north and south transepts helped in the development of a roof renewal plan that includes the restoration of the Great Dome's majestic prominence. -- Adapted from the Basilica Website


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