Advice & Guidance

Monuments

Places of worship often contain a variety of monuments.  These may vary from simple wall tablets to large highly decorative floor standing sculptures, but all need to be cared for appropriately.

Damaged  plaster behind monumentAlthough we tend to assume that stone is virtually indestructible, carved stone can often be very fragile and therefore may be vulnerable to damage or decay. 

This is particularly true of delicate materials such as marble and alabaster.  Issues affecting the condition of monuments are set out below.

 

Mechanical decay: Physical damage can be caused by the corrosion and expansion of the iron cramps used to secure the monument to the wall.

The telltale signs of corroding fixings are cracks appearing in the stone, especially along the edges and around the likely fixing points.  This can clearly present a safety hazard as sections of stone may break off and fall to the ground.

Rusting cramp

Action point: Think about the safety of the congregation and visitors.  Plinths and pedestals need to stand firm without rocking and wall moments should be checked regularly for signs that their metal fixings are beginning to rust.

Physical damage: Harder stones can be bruised or chipped by impact and may need to be protected whilst items of furniture etc. are being moved around in their vicinity.  Inappropriate cleaning can also severely damage a monument.

Action point: Clean sparingly! Most surfaces will only need to be gently dusted occasionally with a soft brush, taking particular care with fragile materials.

Monument on damp wallDamp: Carved stone can be vulnerable to deterioration when it is placed in a damp location or where it is directly susceptible to the weather. Fluctuating humidity levels may cause any surviving traces of painted decoration to deteriorate or may exacerbate problems caused by damp.

If monuments are at risk from damp it may be possible to isolate them from the damp structure or even to relocate them to a more suitable environment.  However, this should only be considered after obtaining advice from a conservator and your professional advisor.

Action point: Water can severely damage fragile surfaces - alabaster is especially vulnerable - so to try to avoid putting vases on stone surfaces. If you must place vases on such surfaces make sure that they are protected by appropriate covers.

Churchwardens' Memorial

Inappropriate repairs: The use of a hard repair medium such as cement can be detrimental to many types of stone and can lead to the accelerated decay of the original material. The telltale signs are dusting and powdering stone adjacent to the repair.  Rectifying such defects is a job for a skilled conservator.

Action point: Inspect monuments regularly to spot the early signs of potential problems. Look for rust stains, salt crystals, mould, algae, cracks, breakages, signs of movement, open joints, scratches, chips and any signs that the stone is flaking, crumbling or powdering.

Further information

AlabasterThe Institute of Conservation provides excellent advice on the care of materials such as carved stone.

The Churchcare website has some useful guidance on the care and maintenance of sculpture and monuments.

Minerva Stone Conservation has produced a useful Church Monument Handbook containing tips for the identification, care and repair of monuments.

The Conservation Register provides details of accredited conservators as well as guidance on commissioning conservation reports.

© SPAB 2010