After more than three months of restoration work, Old North Church’s nearly 400-year-old angel statues are coming home! On December 19, we’re celebrating their return with a day of special angel festivities. Anyone with the name Angel, Angela, Angelica, or another name that includes the word “angel” will receive free general admission to Old North’s sanctuary. Additionally, anyone who dresses up as an angel will receive free general admission. Throughout the day, a selection of popular angel-themed songs (e.g. “Calling All Angels” by Train, “Earth Angel” by The Penguins) will be played in the church, and limited-edition angel stickers will be given out to guests. Old North’s resident pup Chanel, the sexton’s dog, might even be spotted wandering around with wings and a halo.
“It’s incredible to think that when these angels were installed in the mid-1700s, they were already over a hundred years old,” says Nikki Stewart, Executive Director of Old North Illuminated. “They have since been admired by Presidents, the Queen of England, and countless visitors and worshipers over the centuries.”
The four Baroque angels date to the 1620s and were likely carved in what is now known as Belgium. It is unknown where they spent their first century. In 1746, however, they were on board a French ship en route to a Catholic Church in Quebec. During this time period, England and France were almost constantly at war, and one of the ways the war was waged was economic: ships, and their cargo, were fair game. Privateers were legally sanctioned to act like pirates and pillage the ships they captured. British privateer Captain Thomas Gruchy captured the French ship on its way to Quebec and seized its cargo, including these angels. He and his investors sold most of the goods, but Captain Gruchy, a North End resident, donated the four angels to Old North Church, where he worshiped. The story of Gruchy’s Angels is a favorite among Boston’s tour guides and guidebooks and draws visitors from around the world.
In September, Manzi Appraisers & Restoration took the two-foot-tall angel statues to their lab to complete restoration and repair work, which included cleaning, minor infill, and painting. While all four angels once held trumpets in their hands, over the decades, two of the angels lost their instruments. As part of the restoration, the Manzi team fabricated new trumpets for the angels with missing instruments and painted them to look timeworn like their historic counterparts.
“It’s been a very interesting journey looking through these pieces and looking at different aspects of the angels’ previous life,” says Chris Gutierrez of Manzi Appraisers. “There was evidence of previous damage that nearly split one of the angels in half, and you could see several cracks and fissures throughout the pieces that presented a challenge for the project. It’s important to make sure we don’t go too far with cleaning or restoration, therefore creating an irreversible situation for future preservationists. In this case, I think we got it just right.”
The restoration is made possible by The Society of Colonial Wars in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and The General Society of Colonial Wars.