As if excitedly celebrating the arrival of the last missing piece of the puzzle, the scaffolding shakes once again briefly but noticeably. Then it is done: The cross is back at the top of the Burkersdorf St. Mary’s Church. Firmly anchored on a now also golden shining restored sphere. It is the crowning achievement of a mammoth task in the truest sense of the word.
Five years have passed since construction work began on the historic house of worship. The roof structure of the nave, the steeple and the sacristy roof had to be renovated. 245000 euros were approved by the board of the Protestant parish of Burkersdorf/Hain/Ebneth in January 2014.
"The renovation was necessary because rainwater and also drifting snow had penetrated into the interior through leaks in the roof", explains engineer Volker Wundisch, who accompanied the construction work as a board member of the municipality. This had led in part to massive damage to the beam structures. And they have already been through a lot. Because how old the church is, can not be said so exactly. The two dates 1154 and 1179 are mentioned. According to the Kronach church portal, however, these are difficult to substantiate. However, there is a document for the year 1350, in which the church is named and Burkersdorf is mentioned as a parish. However, it is to be assumed that the Marienkirche is much older. The two-pored nave was rebuilt in 1706 and received a new west facade. In 1834, the tower burned down to the choir vault after a lightning strike.
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The last restorations at the church are clearly younger, nevertheless already some decades ago. After 1955 and 1970 the last work took place in 1986.
No sooner had the first work on the restoration begun in September 2014 than those responsible had to realize that the restoration would probably take much longer than planned. "Because of many unforeseeable damages in the individual areas", Wundisch looks back. Among other things, new ceiling beams had to be inserted to repair weak points.
In addition, there were measures such as anchoring the roof structure of the nave and steeple to the sandstone masonry. "Fortunately, we were able to cover the roof of the nave before the onset of winter", says the engineer. Even as the weather permitted construction work at the base of the steeple in the spring of 2015, more damage than initially anticipated became apparent. "Not only did all the sill beams of the steeple have to be replaced, damaged by rot, but also whole parts of the crown beam layers", tells Wundisch.
The bad news did not diminish with it however. A short time later, it became clear that the restoration work carried out in 1948 had not been done in a truly professional manner. After a shell in the last days of the war, the steeple had to be re-roofed. "The protective sheeting under the slate covering was only butted at the ridges of the spire and not overlapped", explains Wundisch. "This allowed water to penetrate during heavy rain, which collected in the sandstone hollow in which the sill beams are stored." The consequence: The beams rotted.
Four years later, the last work of the second construction phase – for which 150000 euros were spent – has now been completed. This includes the renovation of the church steeple cross. What effort was necessary for this part of the construction work alone, we have summarized below for you.
1. The dismantling
The steeple cross and the sphere did not make it easy for the workers during dismantling at the beginning of June. The two elements made of a thin copper sheet shell could not be detached from the iron substructure. "Everything was so twisted and rusted that we had to transport the cross, the sphere and the steel structure down in one piece," says the engineer, says Petra Zenkel-Schirmer, who took over the restoration of the cross.
The construction, which had to be transported from the top of the church steeple to the ground in one piece by means of a freight elevator, was about four meters tall. A strenuous task, since the emperor’s handle alone weighs around 120 kilograms. "It was all standing upright in the elevator", remembers Zenkel-Schirmer. "A bit of slanting and something would have happened. That was already dangerous. But the men have held super, so that it has worked out then nevertheless well."
The sphere does not only remind optically of a surprise egg, it also turned out to be one. A roll of documents emerged from inside them. "A short report tells about the last renovation of the church, which was carried out in 1970", says Wundisch. Repairs were visible on the cross and the sphere. Probably the consequences of a shelling in 1945. "In addition, it could be seen that the cross must have served as a target for the ‘unseeligen”s small-caliber rifle."
2. The restoration
The decades had not left much of the once applied complete oil gilding. Who wanted to discover the last remains, had to look very closely. Only the yellow primer was still visible. "Over the decades, the copper sheet body has been repeatedly ‘patched,’ pieced up, repaired and mended.", says restorer Petra Zenkel-Schirmer. In some places, the corrosion had weakened the sheet metal and reduced it to a thickness of only 0.12 millimeters in some places.
Reinhard Wachter, the locksmith from Neukenroth, had to be extremely careful in his workshop in order to dent the cross. To do this, he opened it on the cloverleaf edges, which were particularly damaged. Only in the workshop could the cross and sphere be freed from the imperial style. While it was enough for members of the parish to clean and brush the 3.80 meter long metal bar, more effort was needed for the part that was later visible.
In their studio in the upper town, Zenkel-Schirmer and her husband Franz Schirmer first primed the metal with rust primer. After she had applied two coats of yellow oil paint, the restorer could begin with the gilding process. "It depends on the consistency of the oil paint, which acts as a glue", she explains. "If it is too wet, the gold sinks in, if it is too dry, it does not hold. You have to get the timing right. That’s always a tricky story."
Zenkel-Schirmer used a total of four grams of gold leaf (23 ¾ carat) with a material value of about 1200 euros to make the 1.70-meter cross and the approximately 75-centimeter-high sphere shine in new splendor. Finally, she reconstructed the formerly existing black lines on the front of the cross.
Interesting: At the locksmith there were new findings about the past of the cross. Because the steel substructure is made of metric material that was still fire-welded, it was clear that it must date from the 1920s.
3. The structure
In the 19. August was the time. Just two months after the cross was dismantled, it was already allowed to return to the top of St. Mary’s Church. The construction was much easier than the dismantling. Now the cross, the sphere and the Kaiserstuhl could be transported separately. The latter had already been reinstalled by carpenters and roofers, and the cross and sphere combination only had to be put back in place. The fact that both fit exactly down to the millimeter was a source of relief not only for Zenkel-Schirmer. "We only had the drawing dimensions of the other trades", she says. "But in the end, everything fit really well. It literally slipped off."
After information about the last cross restoration in the 1970s came to light during the dismantling, the community wanted to leave information for later generations. 33 centimeters long and six centimeters in diameter are the copper sleeves that function as time capsules and were inserted into the sphere. Information about the parish is stored in them. Both in writing and digitally on a USB stick.
But whether that can be read at all, when the cross is taken down the next time? Possibly this technology will then be as obsolete as the floppy disk is already now. After all, the last cross restoration was 50 years ago. And Zenkel-Schirmer expects her gilding to last much longer.
Two construction phases and even more measures
1. Construction phase
(beginning September 2014):
– Replacement of all damaged beam layers of the ceiling and roof structure of the nave.
– Replacement of all damaged beam layers of the gable areas of the longhouse.
– Replacement of the damaged beam layers in the foot area of the church tower.
– New roofing of the nave with plain tiles (semicircular roof tiles).
– Repair of the damaged areas in the slate roofing of the church tower
– Renewal of the gutters and wall coverings.
– Renewal of the sound shutters to the belfry.
– Pigeon protection measures at the tower wall openings.
– Replacement of the electric/mechanical clockwork with electronic clockwork.
– Renewal of the clock dials.
– Repair of the treads of the right staircase to the first and second gallery
2. Construction phase
(beginning April 2019):
– Elimination of further damage to the beam structure of the tower spire.
– New roofing of the spire with slate in old German covering.
– Restoration of the church steeple cross with ball.
– Re-roofing of the vestry with plain tile , as well as new gutters and flashing.