So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter (2 Thess. 2:15). Guard what has been entrusted to you. Avoid the godless chatter and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge, for by professing it some have missed the mark as regards faith (1 Tim. 6:21-22).

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Restoration of Candlesticks from the Diocesan Archive

Lest idle hands become the tools of something sinister or less productive, I thought it best to get on with a project that's needed doing.

Through the efforts of the Chaplain, the University of Victoria Catholic Chaplaincy recently acquired four tall candlesticks from the Diocesan Archive. There are probably two additional candlesticks from a matching set of six (seven including a candlestick for a bishop), as would be the custom from a nearly bygone era, remaining at the archive.

Prayers answered!

Thanks be to God for a diligent Diocesan archivist who is organizing stunningly beautiful objects that are being made available for use in parishes, objects that have been hidden away, reminders of the beauty of God and a vital part of our heritage tragically ignored and practically rejected by a generation far too eager to abandon the Catholic story and the Church's vibrant artistic legacy.

Fig. 1. After (Left) & Before (R)/Click on images to enlarge.

Along with the four tall candlesticks, the daily Mass sacristy has received a small thurible and boat (the spoon is missing) and thurible stand. The thurible is well used and will require extensive cleaning. The thurible stand, which matches the candlesticks, is damaged and will require straightening and a small weld to reattach a support for the decorated arm to which the hook for the thurible chain/ring is attached.

The Chaplaincy also managed to acquire an aspergillum and aspersorium (bucket) for use at daily Mass and paraliturgies (Visit to A Cemetery, etc.). The aspergillum had been left in the bucket filled with water. The interior of the bucket was coated in at least 1/16th (1.6mm) of an inch of hard deposits. CLR was poured into the bucket. It took thirty minutes for the bucket containing fully concentrated CLR to remove most of the deposited material, and considerable effort with steel wool to finish that job. The aspergillum was similarly heavily encrusted and had to be soaked in CLR, rinsed, treated with polish, steel wool and finally buffed with a cloth.

The restoration plan is to send the bucket and aspergillum to a local metal plating firm for removal of the pitted lacquer on the bucket and further restoration and possible plating of those two items.

Candlestick base.

All the items from the Archive were reclaimed from West Coast missions that were closed over the last hundred years. There were once over a hundred missions on Vancouver Island. Many became parishes. Only two missions remain.

Fig. 2. Washing and rinsing.

Basic cleaning procedure:
  1. Disassembly. The candlesticks unscrewed from the top. A long threaded rod (foreground) forms the spine of the candlestick. A gentle twist of the bobeche (wax catcher/second from left, Fig. 2) and the entire candlestick was easily disassembled.
  2. First rinse. Each item was soaked in warm soapy water (dish soap) for approximately one minute then rinsed to remove residue from prior attempts at cleaning. The nylon brush was used on stubborn areas.
  3. Second rinse. Warm water. It is very important to rinse off any cleanser residue before using the Weiman's! Don't mix chemicals! Dangerous vapours develop.
  4. Second cleaning. Each item cleaned with Weiman's Brass Polish (Amazing stuff!) Always use WBP in a well ventilated area! Follow the instructions on the label. Wear rubber or latex gloves, an apron and eye protection. The use of a brush tends to cause a spray of particles. The nylon brush was used to clean the tiny decorative ridges on the two columns (Fig. 2), centre cups, bobeche and base. A soft brass wire brush was used to clean tight stubborn areas. Note: some wire brushes are far too stiff and made of a material that can scratch brass. It is important to only use a brush with soft bristles. Otherwise, use a stiff nylon brush or old toothbrush.
  5. Polishing. Items polished with "dirty cloth", i.e., a cloth for polishing off tarnish and excess polish.
  6. Third rinse. Items rinsed and dried with dry cloth.
  7. Centre rod cleaned with CLR (great product!) or Comet cleanser (also a very handy product!) and wire brush, then dried with a separate old cloth. You want an old cloth because cleaning any rusty bits will really soil the cloth. It is very important to rinse off any prior cleanser residue before using another chemical Don't mix chemicals! Dangerous vapours develop. Always use the Comet cream cleanser in a well ventilated area. Follow instructions on the product label! The soft brass wire brush was used to remove stubborn grime, rust and corrosion on the centre rod, the insides of the various parts, and the under side of the base. If using a brush with Comet, use eye protection or apply the brush while shielding the object in a cloth.
  8. Petroleum jelly (Vaseline) lightly applied to rod threads.
  9. Reassembly and final polishing. Soft dry cloth.
Rubber gloves not shown.

There is great satisfaction in cleaning such beautiful objects used in the Liturgy. A project such as this focusses the mind on a single task and reminds one of the legacy established by those who offered their resources in the support of their parish or mission. To honour that legacy, and in thanksgiving to God for the witness of one's ancestors, it seems appropriate to begin these kinds of projects with a brief prayer:
Sign of the Cross
Heavenly Father, source of all beauty and goodness, guide my hand as I undertake this little endeavour to restore these objects entrusted to our care by our forebears. May these objects, rendered clean so as to return them to brilliance, point to You and dispose people to Your beauty. In Jesus' name. Amen.
Cleaned and polished.

Decorative Features

The column of each tall candlestick is decorated with a fleur de lis pattern. Because many of our early priests in the Diocese were of Belgian and French origin, the pattern tends to suggest the candlesticks are probably from one of the many missions established by one of those missinoary priests. Fr. Brabant, perhaps? or, a priest with strong French leanings. The fleur de lis also reminds one of the French Canadian Sisters of Saint Anne, a Québec based order of teaching sisters who were active on Vancouver Island from the first arrival of the Church on these shores. Well, technically speaking, the Sisters arrived in a later wave of missionary activity. The French (Québec) and Belgians established the more permanent foundation a century after the Franciscans had first arrived at Yuquot on the West Coast in the late 1700s.
The first Catholic presence on Vancouver Island occurred as early as 1774. Spanish Franciscan Fathers Juan Crespi, Tomás de la Peña and Benito Sierra, chaplains aboard visiting ships, visited briefly in 1774 and 1775. The first Mass celebrated on Vancouver Island was June 24, 1789 at Nootka. The first resident priest there for some thirteen months was the Spaniard Fr. Magin Catala (Summer, 1793).—cf. Msgr. P. Hanley, The Early History of the Catholic Church on Vancouver Island.
The Fleur de lis pattern points in two directions, upward and downward. That is, heavenward and toward the cross on each base, suggesting the procession of the Holy Spirit between the Father (above) and the Son (on the Cross). Given these are altar candlesticks, the idea of the Holy Spirit descending upon the bread and wine to transform them into the very Body and Blood of Jesus Christ is also easily acceptable as an intended design motif that reminds us of the Consecration as well as communion between God and man.

Additional symbolism. The base of each tall candlestick is formed by three legs (Holy Trinity). Each face or façade has a cross on it. The three feet of each base have collared "ankles" from which spray decorative plumes that frame an aureola which surrounds each cross. The design of the candlestick directs the eye upward toward the ample bobeche (heaven), toward the (illuminating/transfiguring) light of the flame (God the Holy Spirit). The middle of each shaft has an upper and lower cup. The bottom cup fits into the upper cup, thus giving the shaft more rigidity. The nodule formed by the cups, suggesting the meeting of heaven and earth, (grace perfecting nature?), articulates the vertical shaft and provides a grasp-point on the candlestick. In a pinch, we might use these candlesticks as processional torches for the Gospel Procession to/from the ambo.

The decorative bobbles or fruited sprays are also found in the design of Saint Andrew's Cathedral, Victoria, BC. The spired tower, in particular, is articulated along the edges by fruited bobbles. Note the French influences in the description below.
Architects: Maurice Perrault and Albert Mesnard
Based on the plans for a church built in Vaudreuil-Dorion, Quebec, Perrault and Mesnard borrowed much from the medieval architecture of European churches.
The double asymmetrical towers are typical of Québec churches and a characteristic of the High Victorian Gothic style. This was an attempt to follow the "unfinished" look that made fourteenth and fifteenth century churches popular.—Wikipedia.
Little Candlesticks

The two shorter, simpler candlesticks in a Doric style located in front of the four taller candlesticks stand at approximately eight inches and disassemble in a manner similar to the tall candlesticks. They are not from the Archive, however. They were purchased from a local antique dealer for a very low price. A bargain, in fact.
The candlesticks, which were quite tarnished, seized my interest when I picked them up and felt their weight. As any savvy peruser of antique store fare knows, you have to put on a pokerface and appear somewhat disinterested, though not too much so, otherwise dealers will smell a rube and be less inclined to bargain. The listed price was very reasonable. To an informed shopper, even double the listed price would have been reasonable.
The same visit during which I spotted the candlesticks, I spotted a case which I suspected was a travelling Mass kit of sorts. The dealer allowed me to open the case. The "Mass" kit was in complete disarray. The items were meant to fit together in a very compact and efficient manner, held in place by latches and stretchy bands. The case itself was a foldable altar. Two wings, draped in purple velvet and lined with short gold tassels, opened out from the central mensa. The kit was probably one used by a high-church protestant of some flavour. Though there was an altar crucifix, which attached to the inside of the case lid when opened, and a chalice, a purple stole and other Catholic-like items, some of the objects contained therein were not used in Catholic liturgy: ten individual communion cups, for example. After fitting together the objects and narrating their purpose, the dealer thanked me and said he would reserve the candlesticks for me. With little hint of the enthusiasm I was concealing, I mentioned that I might return in three or four days.

When I returned to the store later in the week, the dealer had sold the "Mass" kit a day after I put it in order. The dealer offered the candlesticks to me at a very low price in gratitude for my having arranged and described for him the various items contained in the kit. Based on the information he himself had been given, the dealer was able to well inform the purchaser who was happy to pay the listed fee of several hundred dollars for such a charming item.
I must say, I was of mixed emotions when I discovered the kit. To see any religious item in an antique store or curio shop, especially a kit containing gilded patens and a solid silver chalice dedicated for worship, is somewhat upsetting. Upsetting because a crucifix, for starters, is nothing to be commodified as a mere antique to covet. However, I suspect from the description provided by the dealer, the purchaser of the kit was most likely an individual affiliated with a religious community who appreciated the kit for what it is. So then, the kit found its way back into loving hands.

Ready for use in Catholic worship!

The candles are ready to be inserted into the candlesticks. With the exception of the Advent wreath candles, we typically use 66.66% beeswax candles for the altar candles and Gospel torches. The diameter of the candle holder atop the tall candlesticks is 25/32 of an inch (1.98 cm).

The taller candlesticks are 21 inches (53.34 cm) tall from the foot of the base to the top of the bobeche. The sticks will be used on the altar during Adoration and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. Perhaps with a bit of respectful cajoling, our chaplain might be persuaded to include two on the altar for Mass.

Rest assured, the candlesticks and other items will be well cared for as long, at least, as this sacristan is around to care for them.

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