Every place your eyes gaze in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Conewago, they are treated to a worthy historical journey. And that journey gets richer with every continuing step of restoration at the centuries-old church.
Following restoration of the church’s sacred paintings in the past year, work has begun to restore the hidden artwork dating back to the 1800s that was mysteriously painted over during the 20th century. Under the watchful eye of Father Dwight Schlaline, pastor, a thorough paint investigation has begun in recent weeks.
David Riccio is a Connecticut-based artisan who is expertly trained in the delicate intricacy of removing paint to uncover older paints while maintaining their integrity. He recently began the process of removing layers of paint in the sanctuary, using carefully-mixed chemicals that have revealed the art that graced the walls of the basilica some 150 years ago.
“Our goal is to bring out the beauty of the original artwork,” Riccio said while scraping away the newer top coats of paint. “We want to get the beauty of the original artwork as close as we can. Ultimately, it is about bringing glory to Christ and keeping as much of our fingerprints out of the work.”
In his 28 years of work, Riccio has shared his talents in the White House, the United States Capitol and Pennsylvania’s House of Representatives chamber.
Once the paint is removed at the basilica, a team of artisans and painters will begin the collaborative process of touching-up and highlighting the original, centuries-old artwork.
According to Father Schlaline, the project could take up to eight months and will involve the placement of scaffolding and drop cloths in various parts of the church, in addition to the sanctuary. The process of securing and raising funds for the restoration continues, and Father Schlaline said he is most grateful to his parishioners for their ongoing support of returning the church to its rich historical look of centuries past.
Make no mistake, this is not a project of looking backwards, but one that looks forward for a church that is arguably the Diocese’s most visually stunning in many ways.
“We want to restore the church to its historical beauty and then preserve it for future generations…. That is what we are doing now, trying to find that original, beautiful work,” Father Schlaline said.
(Photos by Chris Heisey, The Catholic Witness.)
By Chris Heisey, The Catholic Witness