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St. Ignatius Mission restoration nearly complete

Posted at 9:02 AM, Nov 27, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-27 11:02:34-05

ST. IGNATIUS — Thankfulness takes many forms, but when a community comes together to preserve its historical legacy it can represent generations of sacrifice and reflection.

That's certainly the case in the Mission Valley as the massive, multi-year restoration of the St. Ignatius Mission reaches its apex.

For more than a hundred years, the murals of the St. Ignatius Mission have inspired and informed, painted over a 14-month period by Brother Carignano, a Jesuit cook and handyman with no formal artistic training.

Now, as a three-year meticulous restoration nears completion, we can see them as never before.

“It's absolutely incredible to think that these are were painted, you know, so long ago, and that we've been able to restore him to the original intent, the color, the brightness,” said Father C. Hightower, the St. Ignatius Mission Pastor.

The restoration experts with Boise-based Custom Plaster have just completed the last major phase of the project, the "high work" at the very peak of the building, a monumental, and difficult undertaking.

“You know they have their harnesses on, you know, in the heat of the summer, when it's hot, it's hot here and the dust and all that," said Hightower. "It's just it's incredible the work they do and the artistry that they perform."

Tens of thousands of holes were used, carefully lifting the fallen plaster back into place, repairing damage to the "dry frescos" with historical clues.

“When it was done originally, they didn't have tape to hold the stencils in place while they pushed the paint through the patterns, so they were nailed in place and we try to be very careful to leave those nail holes while we're fixing all of our injection holes so that record is still there," said custom painter, Greg Marsters. "That historic record of that process. The original process is still there.”

“Similar to a true fresco, but they used animal protein adhesives like hide glue or lactic casein adhesive mixed with lime water and pigments and so that's how these were painted.”

“So we're in painting with oil paints which show up in a black light and makes color matching easy because the color wet is the same as the color dry nearly.”

The recovered details are remarkable, from the tale of Lazarus, to the angel protecting Noah's ark.

“Different theological interpretation, but when you're up there and you're looking at, you're like ‘oh my gosh, look at this” And down here you can see an angel but you can't see what the angel’s doing," said Hightower. "And so yeah, the incredible detail is just fascinating to get up and look that closely, but they really tell a story, a story of faith.”

“But really, they're like iconography. They're written. They tell the story, the story of our faith, the story of the Bible, both Hebrew Scripture, and Christian scripture. And it's just wonderful to see them back into the original intent of the author.”

This project is not only about preserving the murals, but also preserving an important piece of the history and the community, here in the Mission Valley.

“But it's sacred ground, not just for the Salish and Kootenai people that invited us here, but is sacred ground for everybody, even those that don't have a particular faith or not Christian or maybe don't believe in a monotheist God," said Hightower. "They still come in here in and are awed by the power of creation and the sacredness of so many people praying and all the tears and the laughter shared in this building. That affects anybody and everyone when they walk into the space.”

“It’s been a real blessing. It’s the opportunity of a lifetime," said Marsters. "A real privilege to be able to work on a building like this.”

Next summer, Custom Plaster's crews will be working much closer to the floor, as they restore a few remaining details in the walls. The church will schedule a dedication at some point in the future.