The old saying “It was well worth the wait” rang true at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus Hanover last week as the centuries-old paintings that were removed last spring for restoration are now back, gracefully adorning the sanctuary at the oldest stone Catholic church in America.
Artisans and engineers from EverGreene Architectural Arts in Washington, D.C., worked all summer on the large painting in a controlled inside studio. The image depicts St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, witnessing Christ’s Sacred Heart revealed to her in the 17th Century. The painting dates back to the 19th Century and the restoration has removed the many years of dust and water damage to reveal a striking scene. The magnificent gold frame that houses the painting was also restored to its vibrancy, which gives the painting a stunning edge. St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, a French nun and mystic, died on October 17, 1690, and her feast day is October 16.
In addition, two smaller side altar paintings were restored that feature the Assumption of the Blessed Mother and the death of St. Francis Xavier. Not only were the paintings restored and dirt and grime removed, they also were retouched with paint to replace the non-stable paints used centuries ago. So, too, were the trim and ornamental columns that were refurbished to return them to their original gloss and sheen.
Work on the Last Supper fresco that graces the rear of the sanctuary behind the painting was also done to restore it, though age has ravaged the visibility of the painting. It remains a historical part of the parish even though it rests behind the large painting behind the altar.
The parish is the first to be named after the Sacred Heart of Jesus in the country. Catholic tradition of the parish can be traced back to 1741 when Jesuits began celebrating Mass for the local pioneer community who had pressed west to farm the fertile lands west of Lancaster and York.
The old past is now strikingly back anew at the Basilica. Once dubbed the Conewago Chapel, given its proximity to the Conewago Creek that weaves its way through eastern Adams County, the church’s future is truly much more vibrant these days given the beautiful restoration work so ably completed in 2021.
(Photos by Chris Heisey, The Catholic Witness.)
By Chris Heisey, The Catholic Witness