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Box pews in the sanctuary.

In a world that can feel increasingly virtual, standing in the light-filled, 300-year-old church where Patriots and Loyalists once worshipped is to make a powerful connection to the past. But historic buildings don’t survive on their own. Old North Illuminated works in collaboration with the National Parks of Boston, the Freedom Trail Foundation, the congregation of Old North Church, and other partners to preserve and protect this iconic landmark and its campus. Read on to learn about some of the important preservation projects at Old North.

National Park Service and the Freedom Trail Foundation

Restoring the Crypt

Beneath the floor of Old North’s sanctuary is the church’s historic crypt — the final resting place of more than 1,100 individuals. When visitors explore this unique space they learn about burial practices in colonial Boston; our founding rector’s deep ties to enslavement and colonialism; and the stories of some of the crypt’s notable occupants, like Major John Pitcairn and Captain Samuel Nicholson.

In 2022, we launched a nine-month major restoration project, in partnership with the National Park Service and Knollmeyer Building Corp, to help preserve the crypt for generations to come. The restoration work provided a unique opportunity to see inside some of the crypt’s 37 tombs. When the original wooden doors were removed for restoration, archaeologists created 3D renderings of the tombs without disturbing the burials. This information is critical to the ongoing preservation of this sacred space as both temperatures and sea levels rise. 

The restoration of the wooden tomb doors, which had been hidden behind a layer of bricks since the 1800s, was conducted by Richard Leiter of Revived Furniture & Home Decor. Richard explained his process in this video:

Another important aspect of the restoration work was the repointing of the bricks surrounding the tombs. Since bricks expand in the summer and contract in the winter, the mortar around the bricks can break down and crumble. To repair this damage, Murray Masonry & More, who specialize in historic masonry work, scraped out and replaced the damaged mortar. The process is called  “repointing” because a pointed trowel is used to carve out the old mortar.

Finally, the floor on the south side of the crypt was lowered to install a ramp. This will allow visitors with mobility challenges to enter and explore the crypt for the first time in the space’s history. The restoration project wrapped up in late summer of 2023 and the crypt is once again open to visitors.

The $1.2 million crypt restoration project was managed by Knollmeyer Building Corp., who hired all of the subcontractors and oversaw all of the preservation work. The restoration was made possible with funding from the National Park Service, the Freedom Trail Foundation Preservation Fund, and many other generous supporters.

Restoring Gruchy’s Angels

In December of 2023, Manzi Appraisers & Restoration completed a three-month restoration of Old North Church’s approximately 400-year-old angel statues. 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 of 2023, 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,” said 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 was made possible by The Society of Colonial Wars in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and The General Society of Colonial Wars.

Restoring the Bust of George Washington

For more than 200 years, the Old North Church has displayed a bust of George Washington in our sanctuary. In January of 2024, the talented team at Mazni Appraisers & Restoration came to Old North to perform some much-needed cleaning and restoration work on the statue. President Washington is looking better than he has in decades!

Carved in 1790 either by or in the style of Christian Gullager, the bust was donated to Old North Church in 1815 by Shubael Bell, a very active and generous member of the congregation. Christian Gullager had painted Washington in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, in 1789.

While the sculpture is immediately recognizable as George Washington, it’s also very different from how we usually see him portrayed. This Washington seems serious and careworn. He looks less like an idealized figure and more like a man whose strength endures regardless of the challenges he has faced. Is this a better representation of what Washington looked like than others? We will never know for sure, but when the Marquis de Lafayette visited Old North Church in 1824 and saw the statue, he is said to have remarked, “Yes, that is the man I knew, and more like him than any other portrait, bust, or picture.”

The restoration was made possible through the sponsorship of the Paul Revere Chapter, National Society Daughters of the American Revolution.

Restoring the Washington Garden & Courtyard

Our Washington Garden & Courtyard underwent an extreme makeover in 2021 – 2022. Tucked between the Old North Church and the Parish House, this serene space was transformed into a popular respite spot for those walking the Freedom Trail. The restored space offers shade, seating, and a quiet place for relaxation.

Murray Masonry & More began repointing and restoring the garden walls in the fall of 2021.  The next phase of renovation, which included installing new brick pavers, wrapped up in November of 2022. The final step was to update the garden with new trees and plantings. The Beacon Hill Garden Club was instrumental in beautifying the space with new greenery.

Washington Garden & Courtyard at Old North Church

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