Christ and St. Luke's Church

Christ and St. Luke's Episcopal Church (originally Christ Church), an architectural gem at the west end of The Hague, was built 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 mini-cathedral-like interior, and indeed, according to Episcopalian tradition, the church becomes a cathedral when the bishop is in the building:


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 mistake from the church's beginning

Stone carvings of the Apostles Peter and Paul guard the front entrance, each holding their trademark symbols: 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.

However, the sculptor seems to have been mixed up. Paul was supposed to be the baldy, while Peter, aka The Rock, was supposed to be the curly-locks one. While such a mistake may seem trivial today, it is indeed a curious thing considering that church artisans of yesteryear were typically quite scrupulous about upholding the traditions of Christian iconography. But maybe the sculptor assigned the carving task to a 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, with 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


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

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 on it. A LOT DIFFERENT!

The claim is that the purpose of the current masonry repointing is to restore the old church building to its original look. The claim is that because the building was previously repointed with an off-color mortar, the mortar now being put in is closer in appearance to the original mortar. But how close is close enough?

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 in its appearance (err, repointed), so how likely is it that this costly flub will be corrected?


Close-up photos of the granular original mortar

(with a conglomeration of multisized, multihued sand grains):



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


Newly repointed west side of the building next to the unrepointed front:


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 the finished courtyard side of the church):


Here, on the Stockley Gardens side:


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






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