Christ and St. Luke's Church

Christ and St. Luke's Episcopal Mini-Cathedral (indeed, according to Episcopalian lore, the church actually transforms into a cathedral when the bishop is in the building) is an architectural gem at the west end of The Hague. It was built (and originally named Christ Church) in 1909 in the English Perpendicular Gothic Revival style. It's most recognizable feature is its tall granite bell tower topped with battlements and pinnacles:


A Gothic-cathedral-like interior:


Busy and vibrant story-telling windows:


At the front entry, the extant corner stone of Christ Church, October 28, 1909:


And on the other side of the entry, a corner stone from the church's earlier architectural manifestations, dated 1800 and 1827:


Protection from a bolt from the blue,

for as it is written, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God:

See more photos from the church


But Mistakes Happen...

First, a minor one from the church's beginnings

Stone carvings of the Apostles Peter and Paul guard the front entrance. How do we know they're Peter and Paul (and not, for example, Christ and St. Luke)? Because each apostle holds his traditional trademark symbol: St. Peter, the head disciple, to the left holding the keys to the kingdom, and St. Paul, the prolific scribe, to the right holding a scroll and the sword of the spirit. And therein lies the mistake.

The sculptor got things backwards: Paul was supposed to be the baldy, while Peter, aka The Rock, was supposed to be the curly-locks he-man. While such a mistake may seem trivial today, it is a curious thing indeed considering that church artisans of yesteryear were typically quite scrupulous about upholding the traditions of Christian iconography. But maybe the sculptor, perhaps some artistic bigshot in New York City who had no respect for a booniesville like Norfolk, assigned the carving task to some callow and/or mischievous apprentice:


Next, a more recent mistake

— maybe one in judgement?

Nearly a hundred years later, the church had a grandiose idea, an ultra modernistic, $7 million, 15,500 square foot glass structure to be built right next to its Gothic Revival mini-cathedral, which was built in 1909. But neighbors in the Historic District didn't approve, so they went to court, and in 2008 they stopped it. Even though old houses in the Historic District should not be demolished willy-nilly, before the final resolution by the court, the church tore down its 100-year-old Guild House, which the new structure was to replace. The original idea was that the church would build a replica of the once busy as a beehive old Guild House across the street from the new glass-and-steel edifice, but just like the new structure, the Guild House replica has never materialized.


The church in 2004, the Guild House still intact behind it:


Is tearing down a historic building any way to "maintain and restore" it?

Virginian-Pilot photo, February 27, 2008


Now, a mistake too big (and glaring) to correct?

Or the emperor's naked, but who cares?


Loftily niched statue of Christ, the church's premier namesake

— notice the distinctly and peculiarly bi-hued mortar joins around it:


Repointing is masonry repair/restoration technique that involves replacing exposed worn, cracked, or otherwise degraded mortar between bricks or stone with new mortar. In 2018 Christ and St. Luke's Episcopal Church started looking a lot different because of repointing work being done by a company that specializes in this kind of work. Looking different as in A LOT DIFFERENT! Different enough (since it is a church) to call the expression "architectural sacrilege" to mind:

Despite the fact that this problem was pointed out long before the job was completed, the masonry repointing contined. The claim was that, besides plugging up water leaks in the mortar, this new repointing was restoring the old church building to its original look. The claim was that because the building was previously repointed with an off-color mortar, the new mortar being put in is closer in appearance to the original mortar. But how close is close enough? Another claim was that the new mortar would patinate or otherwise darken over time to look more like the original. So does depending on Norfolk Southern's polluting qualify as a kind of moral hazard? And how long will it take the coal dust to make the new mortar match the old?


How could this happen?

— or are some mistakes too big not to live with?

The City of Norfolk has Historic Masonry Guidelines and an Architectural Review Board, but the City of Norfolk being the City of Norfolk, chooses to ignore those guidelines, shirk its responsibilities, and pass the buck:

"They have contracted a reputable company that does this type of work.  They are following the Secretary of the Interior Standards for repointing.*  The grout will patina out over time and be less bright.  Repointing is considered 'maintenance' and does not require a COA from the ARB.  I know they are getting Historic Tax Credits for this project so VDHR is reviewing this project"Susan McBride, Principal City Planner, Historic Preservation Officer

* They are? Really?


Consider the Rules of Proper Repointing Work

Historic Mortar Matching

Field Analysis 101 for Historic Mortar

See the Federal Government Mortar Match Standards

"The sand must match the sand in the historic mortar. The color and texture of the new mortar will usually fall into place if the sand is matched successfully."

See the photo of Christ and St. Luke's mortars below.  Consider the granular texture of the original mortar due to the mix of different sizes and shades of sand found in it compared with the smoother, more homogeneous-looking new mortar:

The thing is, proper repointing work includes matching the color, texture, composition, and strength of the new mortar to the old. Federal government standards and even the City of Norfolk's Historical Guidelines, which are supposed to apply to old buildings located in Historic Districts like Ghent, clearly state this. The whole idea of Historic Districts is to maintain the original appearance of old buildings located in them. And the City of Norfolk is supposed to enforce its guidelines in these districts.

Excerpt from the City of Norfolk's guidelines:

The most common work to be done on brick or stone walls is repointing. This should be done with a mortar similar to the original in texture, color, composition and strength. Execution of mortar joints in width, style and profile should match the existing. Caulk or Portland cement (unless it is the original mortar material) are not appropriate for use on historic masonry walls because they are stronger than the historic brick and can cause the brick to crack or spall.

But at this writing half or more of the old church has already been altered (err, repointed), so how likely is it that this costly flub will be corrected?

The granular original mortar, with a conglomeration of multisized, multihued sand grains, can still be seen in places like this, where it is not covered with repointing mortar. And its appearance will always available, anywhere else on the building, just beneath the new repointing mortar:


Closeup of the smoother new repointing mortar. Does the sand look anything like the sand in the above photos? Is sand even visible here?


Photo of a mortar joint (between sandstone blocks) on a "historic revival" house built in Ghent in 2015. Note the varied colors and sizes of the sand visible in the mortar of this new house. Even this residential mortar looks more like the church's original mortar than does the repointing mortar. Of course new mortar can be matched much more closely to old mortar than what is seen with this churc:


The Obvious Difference

Newly repointed west side of the building (left) next to the unrepointed front (right):


Appearance altering repointing mortar creeping up the bell tower:


If the purpose was to restore the mortar to its original look, gotta wonder why portions of the old, darker repointing mortar have been left in place amidst the new, lighter mortar (here on courtyard side of the church):


Patchy work — they actually call this finished work?

(Stockley Gardens side of the church):


Old black and white of the church from 1979, looking lke it used to:


The City of Norfolk has allowed patchy, faulty masonry "restoration" to blight other historic landmarks too (here, the venerable eighteenth-century Moses Myers House in central downtown):






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