Christ Our Cornerstone Restoration
In the fall of 2020, Bishop William Patrick Callahan announced the diocesan wide Christ Our Cornerstone Campaign to raise monies for the restoration of the current cathedral. This restoration project is intended to address the needs of the exterior and interior of the cathedral for generations to come. All of the work will be conducted with the expectation that this is a building that will exist well into the future.
THE STONES OF THE CATHEDRAL
The cathedral building is covered in a veneer of native Wisconsin Lannon limestone and trimmed in Indiana Bedford oolitic limestone. Lannon limestone, found near Lannon in Waukesha County, is sought after for its beauty and architectural adaptability. It is particularly valuable because of its color and uniformity. Bedford oolitic limestone is an amazing stone of nearly unprecedented purity and homogeneity. This stone is able to be sawed or chiseled when quarried, but hardens when exposed, and can be polished to a smooth beautiful finish. The stone tends to lighten over time. It is resistant to erosion, making it the ideal stone for carving and ornamental designs. Bedford oolitic Limestone is also found in the interior of the cathedral for the arches, pillars, and walls.
The cast stainless steel cross at the very top of the steeple is the highest man-made object in the region - it is about 22 stories above the street. In order to safely access the highest parts of the cathedral, the contractor will build a 23 story scaffolding tower.
The cut Indiana Bedford oolitic limestone, on the steeple, is beginning to fail. The windy and rainy conditions at these heights are more intense than what we experience on the ground. During the investigation of the conditions and the failure of the stones and mortar, it was discovered that there was not enough of a connection to the structure of the tower and that has led to failure over the years. In the early 1970s, the steeple was reduced in height because of the concern for falling stone. All of the stone on the steeple will be removed and replaced with new stone. The restoration project includes the addition of several modern systems, materials, and techniques to help the limestone survive the elements at such a high elevation. These include a new membrane behind the stone to help channel water, stainless steel straps and anchors to tie the entire structure together and special mortars that are designed to help alleviate stresses from movement in the winds.
During the restoration of the cathedral, all of the cut Indiana Bedford oolitic limestone at the bell tower will be removed and carefully inspected. It is expected that all of the stone will require replacement. Throughout the project 229 stones, weighing a total of 70,000 pounds will be removed and replaced with new.
All new stone will match the color, cut and texture of the original stone but will be of a higher grade and will be crafted to avoid this type of failure in the future. The contractor will be using old-world materials and techniques with a series of updated materials and approaches to help the cathedral weather the harsh La Crosse winters, the hot sun and the high winds that occur in the Mississippi River valley.
The cathedral is decorated with several special types of marble that have been quarried for millennia. The floors of the sanctuary and other locations are fashioned from beautifully cut, crafted and polished marble from around the world. At the southeast entry to the Marian Chapel (6th Street) the thresholds were fabricated using Lawson Grey marble. This stone has been damaged from exposure to temperature extremes and frost heave. The damage to the thresholds will be corrected using new matching marble.
Blessed Sacrament Chapel
The tile floor of the Blessed Sacrament chapel is experiencing failure on the edge caps and some areas of the aisles. To address these concerns, new flooring will be applied throughout the chapel.
One of the most dramatic features of the cathedral is the use of gold leaf throughout and, in particular, on the vaulted ceiling of the Marian Chapel. Gold leaf (or gilding) is the application of microscopically thin layers hammered to a thickness many times less than that of a human hair (0.12 microns). The leaks in the roof above, which will be fully addressed during this restoration, caused the plaster under the gold leaf to fail. Once the plaster has been repaired, new gold leaf will be applied.
Overall, the stained glass is in excellent condition. There are a few locations where the glass will be repaired or replaced.
Lighting technology has progressed significantly in the past few years. Newer energy efficient lights will be introduced into the existing custom lights that were installed when the cathedral was built. In keeping with the historic beauty of the original design, the lighting will be more flexible, durable and economical.
Water leaks, over the course of the last 60 years, have caused staining on some of the limestone in the interior of the sanctuary and choir loft. Once the leak issues have been fully addressed, the limestone will be carefully cleaned using poultices to restore it to its original condition. Extensive restoration and upgrades to the exterior will be undertaken during this project to stop the leaking, staining and damage to other interior elements.
The rectory pre-dates the cathedral by a number of years. Regular and preventive maintenance will be completed as part of this project to protect the interiors, improve energy efficiency and safe-guard the exterior shell of the building.