By Lara Pickford-Gordon
Passersby in Port of Spain will notice scaffolding at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Port of Spain. The 169-year-old heritage building is receiving attention for damage caused by the 6.9 earthquake on August 21, 2018. Maintenance is also being done.
The grand Mother Church of the Archdiocese suffered damage to its pinnacles—a vertical ornament used to crown the parapet—and a few fell, one through the sacristy.
Initially, the intention was to repair the pinnacles however, an engineer’s report told of more extensive structural damage to the building. The pinnacles are attached to a parapet wall, which was found to have shifted and posed a risk if pieces of concrete fell off.
While deliberations were taking place on whether the cathedral should be closed, and with scaffold erected to begin repairs, the lockdown happened.
The Catholic News learned that budget constraints mean while all 32 pinnacles must be taken down and rebuilt, the 11 most severely damaged are the priority. They will temporarily be built to the level of the parapet wall.
Closer inspection revealed some of the pinnacles were made of concrete and others limestone. While the cause of the variation is unknown, all the pinnacles must be rebuilt according to specifications of the original design. The Archdiocese will be guided by the National Trust.
The repairs will be done in phases; the base below the pinnacles are to be reinforced with steel. The bricks used will be made of limestone and must be the right colour because they must conform to “restoration techniques”.
The lockdown and continued closure of the nation’s borders made construction materials scarce. Luckily, some limestone was bought late last year. However, steel rods could not be sourced locally and had to be imported.
COVID-19 has brought “stumbling blocks” and changed the original timeline for the repairs of the pinnacles from three months. The Catholic News was informed, “By the grace of God, we are getting it done, one by one, one at a time”.
The suspension of Masses has enabled “major maintenance” to be done. The chandeliers are being cleaned; the windows, and the limestone walls must be “brushed”.
The Cathedral’s location on a high water table caused the walls to be damp and the salt from the sea water leaches through the walls. This is “painstaking” work. While this was being done, workmen saw cracks on walls and pieces of mouldings were missing. These will be repaired.
Unfortunately, more work has cropped up. A few weeks ago, gusty winds damaged a section of the roof of the north tower located above the Cathedral entrance.
While fixing the roof, workers saw the spires on the tower were “falling apart”. The crowns on the north and south towers will be reinforced with a “steel brace” to make them sturdier. Cracks in the walls of the towers, caused by the earthquake, also must be repaired.
Repairs are also taking place at Holy Rosary RC church, Henry Street for damage from the 2018 earthquake.