Cathedral Restoration 2000–2003
Since the St. Matthew’s Cathedral cornerstone was laid in 1893, time and weather took a heavy toll on its roof, support structure and interior. Culprits included airborne pollution, wind, water, snow and ice. In 1998, our architect and structural experts said the existing dome and roof would be safe only until the year 2000. A campaign ensued to give the Cathedral its first complete restoration, which began in 2000 and was completed by September 21, 2003, the Feast of St. Matthew the Apostle.
The book A Landmark Restored, available for purchase by contacting the rectory office (202-347-3215) contains 31 pages of historical information and beautiful photographs of the Cathedral's restoration process.
Synopsis of Work
One hundred ninety feet from ground level at the top, the dome has been completely renewed. The pitted and eroded copper was removed and and rotted wood was replaced. A protective membrane was applied before the new copper was installed.
The original slate had outlasted its life expectancy of 70 years by more than 30 years. Many pieces were worn, brittle and cracked. These too, have been replaced with new slate, also with a waterproof membrane underneath.
Its ability to withstand the elements was compromised by unstable mortar joints, cracked terra cotta, loose brick, and rusted steel window frames. The mortar joints have been repointed.
Mosaics and Marble
Craftsmen repaired and cleaned the central sanctuary mosaics. In some places, the mosaics had separated from the wall. The marbles and ceilings were restored in the sanctuary, Blessed Sacrament Chapel, Wedding Chapel and Angels' Chapel. Work then moved to the area above the communion rail and mosaics of the pendentives that depict the four evangelists.
Cleaning was required for the accumulated incense, candle residue, grime and dirt that dulled and darkened the luster and brilliance of the murals. These bright colors can now be seen for the first time in many years.
The ceiling was restored to correct an unsound support system. Wood framing showed signs of stress and some of the plaster coffers had moved and cracked. Water was responsible for blistering paint and damage to the major arches. Ceiling elements were repaired and, in some cases, replaced.
Fire and Safety
Some electrical circuitry and wiring dated to 1895 and was replaced to avoid the possibility of fire. Some original wiring was minimally insulated, jacketed with cotton and subject to fiber rot and abrasions. Since interior wood and plaster are highly combustible, enhanced fire and safety measures were mandatory.
Plastering and Repainting
Water-damaged plaster and blistering paint were removed in several chapels. These areas were then plastered and painted.
Lighting and Organ
New lighting was installed so that visitors can now clearly see the restored mosaics, murals, ceiling and other features of the interior. The new organ, installed beginning in 1995, will eventually be completed, doubling its number of pipes to its full complement of 5,045.