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Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul

Lewiston, Maine

Burnham Painting LLC was honored to be chosen to repair and restore the water damage at Sts. Peter and Paul Basilica in Lewiston.  

While extensive restoration had been done in the decade prior to 2002, further water damage to the main church occurred over time in the years following the main alter dedication in 2002, and the elevation of the church to a minor basilica in 2004.  After new insulation was installed, and a new roof applied, 18 months were allowed to go by with no further damage before repairs began.    

The damage was inconspicuous, but considerable.  In many areas of the church, including some of the highest spots of the roof in the trancept, there was brown water staining.  All along the east wall of the aisle, there was staining, effloresense and even erosion of the plaster from all the water that had run down the wall. 

It was important to me that while work was being done, the congregation experienced the least amount of disruption possible. While working on dusty plaster, especially in church settings, sometimes it is impossible to keep a low profile, I have worked on plastic wrapped staging towers in the middle of a worship space for a month because we had no other choice.  In the case of the basilica, I was asked to schedule the work in such a way as to avoid the summer concert series, as well as the liturgically significant Advent and Christmas seasons.  Further, it was important that the work being done didn’t disrupt the aisle that communicants use to get back to their seats.  This vetoed the simple choice of where and how to shroud for dust control in the area in which I was working.  We had to come up with another plan.  In the end, we strung plastic from the pillar capitals along a rope, like a shower curtain, and built a “retaining wall” to ensure that the aisle would be clear, safe and clean. 

Further, there were a handful of holes and other patches needed to made for areas in the wall that had something mounted. In one case, there was a hole the size of a dinner plate that needed to be filled. 

Many locations of damage needed simple treatment; cleaning, sealing, and painting with the proper paint to blend in with the existing, undamaged surface.  In these cases, sometimes just getting to the area in order to paint was the biggest challenge.  For the highest spots in the trancept we constructed a tower along a pillar that was 45 feet tall, restored the ceiling, and took the tower down again with in the same week so as not to disturb Mass on the weekends.

In the end, I am proud that one important observer commented “It looks like you didn’t do anything!” As a restorer, there is nothing more I can hope for than to leave behind a project that looks like it has been that way for decades.

The most unique and exciting aspect of this plaster repair job, unlike any other, is the special texture applied to the walls of the basilica to suggest brick work. It was important to be able to reproduce this faux plaster perfectly; in order to do that, we needed to track down the techniques the original craftsmen used to produce it.  Our team experimented with a handful of tools, techniques and materials before we found the right recipe. In the most extreme cases, the plaster had eroded away, and we could see through the interior wall and look at the outside wall.  We needed to remove effloresense, neutralize it with an acid wash, rebuild the plaster, retexture, then paint. 

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