Carbon deposits that accumulated over 92 years made the granite walls of St. Mark's Lutheran Church as black as sin.
A few weeks ago, a cleanup crew began work at the church. The results are stopping traffic at St. Paul and 20th streets. Equally astounded is St. Mark's pastor.
"I was in shock after the first day," said the Rev. Dale W. Dusman, the pastor.
The church's granite walls were set in place in 1898. The efforts of the cleanup crew, which uses high-pressure hoses, has revealed a soft gray stone flecked with tiny pieces of mica.
Just across the street from St. Mark's, another southern Charles ZTC Village landmark has shed decades worth of air pollution. St. Michael and All Angels, an Episcopal church that begun in 1877, also is being cleaned. Its cinnamon brown and greenish gray stone also looks as if it were quarried yesterday.
"The work was necessary to preserve the inheritance we have," said the Rev. William M. Dunning, rector of St. Michael's, which was beginning to experience problems with moisture.
Both churches were built when the North Avenue-St. Paul and Charles streets district was a fashionable uptown neighborhood. Indeed, over the years, wealthy congregants of both churches donated some of the richest religious treasures in the city. Both buildings contain dazzling works of ecclesiastical art and furnishings.
"The House of God should be as durable and beautiful, inside and out, as Christian zeal can make it," said William Kirkus, the first rector of St. Michael and All Angels. To this end, Baltimore architects J.B. Noel Wyatt and Joseph Evans Sperry designed a Romanesque Revival church with broad windows. It is very much a city church and sits amid rowhouses. The original plans for the church were impressive. There was to be a high tower; it was never completed. And a 1961 fire gutted the interior's rich woodwork. But St. Michael's excellent collection of stained-glass windows was saved.
One of the glories of St. Michael's is a multipaneled window facing St. Paul Street. Produced in 1915 by Gorham and Co., the bejeweled glass depicts the Holy Trinity, David, Moses, Saints Michael, Gabriel, Uriel, Catherine of Alexandria, Ignatius of Antioch, James the Great, Polycarp, Cecilia and a host of others. The work is known as the Te Deum window.
St. Michael's men and boys choir will sing a Te Deum, an ancient canticle, in honor of the church's renovation work Sept. 30 at the 10:30 a.m. service. St. Michael the Archangel's feast day is the day before, Sept. 29. The cleanup effort now shows off the church's cornerstone to better advantage. It reads, "Michaelmas [Sept. 29] Anno Domini 1877."
The two architects who designed St. Michael and All Angels split up and went their separate ways. Sperry went on to draw the plans for St. Mark's.
Sperry gave St. Mark's a rather plain exterior and a squarish bell tower, which has no large bells. Perhaps there was opposition from residents to large bells.
Baltimoreans who have never seen the interior of St. Mark's are missing a trip worthy of most museums. Louis Comfort Tiffany, the New York artist known today for his stained glass work and the jewelry firm he founded, planned St. Mark's interior decoration.
The wall and arches are stenciling in intricate, almost Byzantine patterns of red, green and gold. The altar area is inlaid with mother of pearl and semiprecious stones. Tiffany Blue, a shade close to aquamarine, is much in evidence.
One of the delights of St. Mark's is a semicircular Tiffany Studios glass window that depicts a vigorous clematis vine. As part of the cleanup project, estimated to cost about $250,000, the windows will be cleaned and their glass parts releaded. The building also will get a new roof of shingles similar in tone to the original terra cotta tile work, its electrical system will be upgraded and the wood trim refinished.
"We have a long fund-raising process ahead of us, but the water was beginning to pour in. We had no choice but to start," Dusman, the pastor, said.
And, in a few weeks, he said, the church's homeless shelter, run in conjunction with the Midtown Churches Community Association, will open its doors for the winter.
"We have the space here and it is a part of what we can do," Dusman said.