KARACHI: With the renovation work going on at the historic St Patrick’s Cathedral, you see poles, steel bars, marble slabs, stone and other construction material outside the cathedral and monument. A banner in a corner says: ‘Work in progress. No entry. Sorry for the inconvenience’.
There is a group of people, the men in fine suits and women in pretty nylon dresses, waiting under a tree near the monument. There is also a white car with rolled up dark windows parked nearby with its engine running, probably for the AC.
“They are a wedding party,” explains Reverend Father Saleh Diego, the parish rector and also the vicar general for Karachi as he shows you around the cathedral grounds.
The renovation and repairs are being carried out by the Sindh Heritage Department.
Built some 176 years ago as a small chapel at first, the historic St Patrick’s Cathedral has remained a testament of time. The last time it saw some repairs was around 20 to 25 years ago.
About the current work, Father Diego says that it has been going on since around Christmas last year. The coronavirus pandemic also caused intermittent breaks though the parish priests are quite satisfied with the work. “Whatever we bring to the knowledge of the engineers about the building, they understand well. They are working with passion, also studying old pics of the place while doing the restoration work. We are quite satisfied with their work as they are making plenty of sense,” says Father Diego.
He says that after working on the roof of the cathedral and replacing some old stones in the walls that need to be replaced along with working on strengthening the foundations of the structures requiring a new drainage system to not allow groundwater to accumulate underneath, they are going to turn their attention towards the interiors. There are both white marble and beige marble slabs placed near the monument. “It is breathable marble, just plaster won’t work here” the parish rector informs. “White is for the exterior of the monument and the beige for interior,” he explains.
Inside the cathedral, one can see the damage done to the walls by the groundwater. To make matters worse a few years ago someone with good intentions but ignorance had ordered painting over the stone walls of the cathedral. It did more damage than good since stone needs to breath. It is not meant to be plastered or painted over.
According to Father Diego, the engineers will be able to do very good renovation work for the St Patrick’s Cathedral’s structure but the beautiful antique stained-glass windows are a different story altogether. The glass is very expensive and not produced locally.
As one turns to leave, you can see from the side of the eye, the wedding party proceeding towards the cathedral’s front doors. The white car with dark windows also crawls up to the cathedral entrance. Gingerly a bride steps out as two little flower girls take their position in front followed by the bridesmaids. Despite the ‘sorry for inconvenience’ sign, the cathedral has not closed its doors to anyone. Business is going on as usual inside.
Published in Dawn, October 5th, 2020