Restoration gives Cathedral a brighter, lighter look

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Bishop J. Mark Spalding blessed the restoration of the Cathedral of the Incarnation on Sunday, Aug. 15, the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Photos by Andy Telli

The latest restoration of the Cathedral of the Incarnation has been completed, unveiling a brighter church shimmering with a golden hue. 

“It brings tears to my eyes every time I walk in,” said Cathedral parishioner Estie Harris, who served as a co-chair of the capital campaign to fund the restoration work with her husband Rhett and David and Ellen Posch. “It is absolutely stunning.” 

“We have received a beautiful gift of this incredible place of worship that is the mother church of our diocese and the seat of our bishop,” as well as the spiritual home of a vibrant parish community, Cathedral pastor Father Eric Fowlkes said. “We wanted to continue to maintain, restore and enhance the beauty of the Cathedral to the honor and glory of God.” 

On Sunday, Aug. 15, the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Bishop J. Mark Spalding blessed the work recently completed in Phase Two of the project. 

The project began with addressing several priorities: retiring a $1.86 million debt from a previous campaign; repairing the deterioration of the plaster and paint on the walls and ceiling; and remodeling the bathrooms in the rectory to update them and bring them into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, Harris said. 

“The church was ready,” David Posch said. “The painting and plaster were peeling and deteriorating. The murals in the apse had water stains coming in from the roof. The lighting was bad, the pews were rickety, and the kneelers were in disrepair.” 

“The Cathedral has tremendous blessings and unique challenges because of the size and the age of the building and the types of building materials that are involved,” Father Fowlkes said. 

After retiring the previous debt, the work in the church in Phase One, completed in 2018, included repainting and restoring the ceiling over the center aisle of the Cathedral; repairing and restoring the apse behind the altar; improvements to the sound system, and installing cameras and video equipment to record liturgies and events held at the Cathedral.  

Work to upgrade the lighting with LED lights carried across both Phase One and Two of the project. “The LED lights should ensure the heat from the lights won’t do as much damage (to the paint and plaster) as the old lights,” Harris said. 

The new lighting also will enhance the worship area, Father Fowlkes said. 

The project was started and the work during Phase One was completed when Father Ed Steiner, now the pastor at St. Philip Church in Franklin, was the Cathedral’s pastor. “We’re very thankful to him for his leadership,” said Father Fowlkes, who became the Cathedral’s pastor in July 2020. 

Bishop Spalding greets a couple after the Mass.

Phase Two included repairing and restoring the ceiling over the two side aisles of the church, moving the tabernacle from one of the side altars to the high altar in the sanctuary, remodeling the two side chapels, one dedicated as the Chapel of the Annunciation and the other as the Chapel of the Crucifixion, restoring and painting the Stations of the Cross, and refinishing all the pews and kneelers.  

The final piece of Phase Two, replacing the carpet in the sanctuary with tile flooring, will be done in early September, Father Fowlkes said. 

In both phases, there were repairs made to the Cathedral’s roof to prevent leaks that could cause further damage. “None of us were willing to spend more money on paint and plaster until we got the roof fixed,” Harris said. 

The work throughout the project gave the Cathedral a new, brighter color palette. “There’s more gold and more blue,” Father Fowlkes said. 

“The colors are brighter, the lighting is brighter,” Posch said. “Everything combined really made a difference.” 

The Carter Group of Nashville served as the construction manager for the project, and Evergreene Architectural Arts of Brooklyn, N.Y., led the redecoration work. Evergreene has worked on building restorations around the world, including the Vatican and the U.S. Capitol. 

Jed Ellis, the lead decorator for Evergreene, had remarked earlier that he wanted the Cathedral to look “brand old,” Harris recalled. She called it “such a lovely expression because it is such an incredible and beautiful church.” 

Moving the tabernacle from the side chapel to the high altar “makes it more prominent in a place of love and honor and respect for the Blessed Sacrament,” Father Fowlkes said. 

The two side altars were redecorated. The Chapel of the Annunciation now features new work depicting the Annunciation as well as symbols of the Blessed Virgin Mary on the ceiling, while the Chapel of the Crucifixion features a large crucifix and symbols of the Passion on the ceiling, Father Fowlkes said. 

The side chapels were dedicated to the memory and honor of the late U.S. District Judge Thomas Higgins and his wife, Geraldine, who were long-time parishioners at the Cathedral. “They were a big part of the Cathedral and had great love of the Cathedral,” Father Fowlkes said. 

The side chapels will be used for private prayer and devotion, he said. 

Bishop Spalding delivers his homily during the Mass.

The Stations of the Cross needed some repair work, and adding some color gave them an enhanced appearance, Father Fowlkes said. 

The capital campaign, “Making All Things New,” raised $5,267,673 in pledges, 93 percent of which has already been collected, Posch said. “The money is still coming in and will come in through next year.” 

There were two phases of the campaign, with 582 families pledging about $4 million in the first phase and the rest pledged by 321 families in the second phase, Posch said. 

So far, $5,087,952 has been spent on the project, Posch said. Any money collected over the costs will go toward the Cathedral Preservation Fund, an endowment to pay for future maintenance needs of the church, he added. 

Included in the money raised by the campaign is $315,000 that will be used to help pay the cost of eventually replacing the Cathedral’s aging pipe organ, Posch said.  

Harris thanked the Cathedral’s parishioners who contributed to the project and endured the inconveniences during the work. “Our parishioners have been godly and patient, and we appreciate all of them, and generous, my goodness people have been generous,” Harris said. 

Parishioners have been pleased with the results. “Everything I have heard is very positive,” Harris said. “People are proud to have been part of it.” 

“When the scaffolding came down, everyone was struck by how well it looked,” Posch said. “I don’t think any of us imagined how good this would turn out.” 

The Cathedral was dedicated in 1914 and this is the third major restoration, following ones in 1937 and 1987. “Now we’ve done this one and I’m hopeful it’s good for another 30 to 50 years,” Harris said. 

Father Fowlkes hopes the people of the diocese will take advantage of an opportunity to visit the Cathedral and to see its new look. “I want to encourage everyone of the diocese to see this as their Cathedral church and to feel welcome and invited to come to the Cathedral.” 

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