Spotting signs of damage
Carved stone is often very delicate and more vulnerable to decay or damage than bulk masonry. You should regularly check sculpture and monuments in your church for damage. Look for the following signs:
• metal staining
• salt crystals
• condensation (especially on marble)
• cracks and splits in joints
• loss of jointing material
• scratches and chips
• flaking, crumbling and powdering of stone
• corrosion of brass and other metal plates
What causes damage
The main causes of damage to monuments in churches are:
• High relative humidity and damp affect monuments as internal wooden dowels and corroding metal fixings will expand. Both lead to splits and, in the case of ferrous armatures, to the staining of the stone. Damp can also weaken joints made with plaster and organic adhesives and thus endanger the structural stability of the sculpture.
• Alabaster dissolves if exposed to water, for example as a result of blocked guttering and leaking roofs, and Purbeck marble (commonly used to set monumental brasses) breaks down if subjected to damp.
• Carpeting of floors where the carpet has an impermeable backing, such as rubber, causes damage to floor monuments underneath, including flaking to ledgerstones and corrosion to monumental brasses. Such carpeting also drives moisture into the walls, leading to damaging levels of moisture in wall monuments.
• Outdoor sculpture can be damaged by erosion through wind and rain, the effects of pollutants, salt crystallization, deterioration due to the presence of lichens or moss, and the cycles of wetting and drying.
• Monuments inside churches are generally less affected by destructive salt crystallization than outdoor sculpture. However, salts may enter the stone through contact with damp walls or floors or by using inappropriate cleaning materials. This can lead to powdering of the surface and loss of sculpted detail.
• UV and daylight can accelerate the deterioration and discolouration of organic materials used for decoration, such as paint.
Repair and conservation
The conservation of sculpture and monuments is a specialist task. If a monument is showing signs of damage you should contact a professionally accredited conservator to inspect it and advise you on required treatments. You can obtain details of accredited conservators on the Conservation Register website (click here to access the Register).
Some conservators may charge for visits and the preparation of conservation reports but we can help you with a grant for this initial work. Our grants also support conservation projects.
The conservation monuments is likely to require formal approval. If you are a church, contact your Diocesan Advisory Committee (DAC) Secretary at an early stage about a faculty. If you are a cathedral please contact your Fabric Advisory Committee (FAC) for advice in the first instance.
For more information on the conservation of monuments please contact us.