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At 105 years old, Denver's Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception is undergoing a facelift

Posted at 12:13 PM, Nov 11, 2017
and last updated 2017-11-11 14:13:36-05

DENVER – It was during a Celebration of Mass in April of 2016 when a large piece of rock fell on the stairs leading to the entrance of the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. Whether it was a sign from the heavens to check how the 105-year-old structure was holding up, we’ll never know, but church officials knew something needed to be done to keep the basilica standing and parishioners safe.

Father Ron Cattany, a former Colorado state government official who now oversees the basilica in downtown Denver, originally thought restoration of the basilica would take only a month at a cost of $100,000.

But as crews scaled the outside of the building to assess the damage, Cattany realized it would take months – and eventually – a year, to fully give the basilica a much-needed facelift.

The restoration project went from $2.4 million that was set to last nine months to a $4.4 million project that would last a year. It’s anticipated that the restoration of the basilica will be complete by the end of November this year.

Cattany said the restoration project is so expensive because of the many different elements involved in repairing the 105-year-old basilica:

1. Mortar repair: Much of the mortar in the joints between the stones up near the top of the spires is gone and has to be repaired.

2. Cracks are being sealed: A number of stones have cracks in them and the cracks are being sealed so water doesn’t get inside to cause more freezing/thawing, which would lead to cracks that could break the stones.

3. Ornate carvings have to be replaced: Cattany said that because of inappropriate cleaning in 1963, many of the ornate carvings were pockmarked, causing freezing and thawing in the stones, which made pieces lose and a potential safety hazard, should they fall from 200 feet above the ground. Those pieces are either being re-glued, smoothed out or replaced altogether.

And it’s taking so long because carvers from Ontario, Canada and the Town of Sedalia here in Colorado have been called to help in replacing the stones. Cattany said it takes about a month for a new stone to get to the Cathedral after a digital image is made, sent to Ontario and Sedalia and for the Basilica to get it back from the carvers.

Over the summer, Cattany said the Basilica collected funds for restoration through a GoFundMe account as well as from generous donations from parishioners attending the church.

Some interesting facts about the Basilica:

-  The Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception has the largest square area of leaded glass windows of any church in the United States.

-  It was built at a cost of half-a-million dollars between 1904 and 1912.

- Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini, John Pope Paul II and Mother Theresa have all visited the Cathedral.