Re: Re: reorganisation and destruction of irish catholic churches

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Restoring monarchs and angels
11 December 2007
El Pais – English Edition

Team works to return stained glass of León Cathedral to its former glory

More than a century after the last restoration of the stained glass windows of León Cathedral, a group of experts went back up its spiral staircase, crept past gothic arches, and clambered onto a scaffolding 26 meters above the ground. Their task was to undertake the biggest restoration in the entire history of the building. The most impressive glass windows in all of Spain had been so badly damaged by corrosion and dirt that the light barely filtered through anymore. Now, specialized craftsmen have until 2009 to clean 450 square meters of glass – out of a staggering total of 1,800 square meters – and recover the biblical messages depicted in each window.

“It is a work of restoration, but above all one of preventative conservation,” explains José Manuel Rodríguez, who is coordinating the €4.5-million project. “The deterioration was due to corrosive agents in the air, microorganisms, rain, pollution, even vandalism […] So we are trying to prevent any of that from happening again.”

In the 1990s, somebody threw stones at these priceless windows and shattered several panes. That is why there is now a double protection system in place consisting of mesh wire and a transparent glass pane that creates an insulated chamber to prevent damage from condensation.

But conservationists have very little room for maneuver this time round, warns Rodríguez. “All we’re doing now is cleaning and restoring what is already there, not like in the 19th century, the last time the windows were restored. We believe that back then the restorers even added a few panes in what were previously empty spaces.”

Fortunately, those master craftsmen who saved the cathedral in 1895 were fans of the designs of the Middle Ages and they respected the original French Gothic style, in imitation of the cathedrals of Reims and Amiens in France. The predominant colors – blue, red, yellow and green – continued to deck the tunics of the monarchs, prophets, apostles and angels that featured on the original medieval windows.

The challenge now is to do as well, or even better than, those 19th century restorers. After carefully studying the techniques and materials used in the 13th and 14th centuries, the craftsmen and women now at work on the building have submerged themselves in a world of dust, rust, lead, paintbrushes and scalpels to bring back to life the old pictures depicting the main stories of Christianity for the benefit of what was a mainly illiterate population. From east to south, the rays of the sun light up the windows, but the northern side of the cathedral, which depicts passages of the Old Testament, is always in the dark – because Christ had not yet illuminated the world with his presence.

“This window is in such a bad state that after cleaning it the change in colors is going to be spectacular,” says Arantxa Revuelta, one of the restorers, in reference to a 13th-century pane depicting the Tree of Jesse.

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