Boston College was founded in 1863 by the Jesuits, and remains one of the handful of Jesuit colleges in the United States. St. May’s Chapel is contained within St. Mary’s Hall, which is one of the oldest buildings on Boston College’s Chestnut Hill campus, second only to Gasson Hall. St. Mary’s Hall was opened in 1917 as a residence for the Jesuit faculty, and maintains this use to the current day. St. Mary’s Chapel was an original place of worship for the Jesuit community on campus and was named after St. Mary’s Church in Boston, which can be connected to the Jesuits as far back as 1847. The modern day chapel on campus is lauded as a “Gothic Gem,” by the Jesuits and architecture community. The chapel contains an ornate wood ceiling with matching pews, marble altar, and beautiful artwork on plaster walls.
St. Mary’s Chapel Restoration
Our original involvement at St. Mary’s included consulting on the restoration of the finishes throughout the hall and chapel. Our team performed an in-depth conditions assessment of the fine-art and decorative paint, cast stone, woodwork, and plaster, then developed cleaning and conservation solutions for each element. Mockups were conducted as part of the treatment determination process, allowing our conservators to find the best products and treatment methods that would clean and conserve the materials without harming their historic integrity. Later, our conservators returned to St. Mary’s Chapel to execute the conservation cleaning, repair, and restoration of the finishes and materials within the space.
The cast stone within the chapel had become soiled from years of built-up surface dirt and grime. Our cleaning process included dry brushing and the use of latex to remove the surface dirt, grime, soot, carbon stains, and efflorescence. These methods were chosen as they were gentle on the cast stone and did not damage the surface or alter the color of the historic stone.
Latex (left) and brush cleaning (right) on the historic cast stone
The historic intricate carved woodwork on the ceiling of the chapel and the marble altars with gilded lettering were cleaned by our conservators as well. The ceiling was cleaned using a solvent-based cleaning solution and cotton cloths that allowed the conservators to gently remove any surface grime from the woodwork. These finishes each required unique cleaning solutions and methods, and were completed in a way that would not alter or damage their historic integrity.
St. Mary’s Chapel altar before (left) and after (right) cleaning and restoration
Cleaned and restored marble altar and gilding in St. Mary’s Chapel
A major part of the restoration and conservation project involved cleaning and conserving the painted plaster surfaces, canvas murals, and decorative painted finishes throughout the chapel. A custom cleaning solution was developed for each of the surfaces, and tools such as sponges and cotton swabs were used to gently lift and remove the surface dirt and grime from each of the finishes.
Mural cleaning using a cotton swab in process by Gianfranco Pocobene Studios
Cast stone and murals before (left) and after (right) conservation cleaning
The revived colors of the painted decoration and murals in conjunction with the brightened, cleaned stone truly transformed the chapel’s appearance, making it an overall beautiful space and returning it to its original splendor.