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Basilica prepares to reopen

| Friday, January 17, 2014

The Basilica of the Sacred Heart will reopen for the 5:00 p.m. vigil Mass on Saturday following its most significant renovations since the 1989 and 1990 restoration projects.

The Basilica closed Dec. 26, 2013, after Christmas Masses, and workers began the process of removing the carpet and replacing it with a new tile floor, according to a University press release.

Fr. Peter Rocca, the rector of the Basilica, said these renovations constitute the first phase of a plan to install a new pipe organ sometime in 2015. He said all of the carpeting has been or is in the process of being removed, including inside the nave, along either side of the sanctuary area to the Lady Chapel and the side chapels.

Basilica photo, provided by Fr. RoccaPhoto courtesy of Fr. Peter Rocca

“If you talk to any organ builder worth his salt, they will tell you they will never build an organ for a space that’s carpeted,” Rocca said.

Rocca said the person hired by the University to build the organ stated the carpet needed to be removed because the organ’s sound would not resonate well.

“When you carpet a space, oftentimes the only person you can hear singing is yourself,” Rocca said. “All of the most recent chapels we have built on campus, none of them have been carpeted because [a non-carpeted floor] lends itself to a more vibrant sound and better singing.”

Rocca said the new tile floor would greatly improve the sound quality of the choirs and instruments in the Basilica.

“It won’t eat up the sound; it will reflect the sound,” Rocca said. “It will help with the vibrancy and the resonance and the reverberation.”

Rocca said the Basilica was not carpeted until after the Second Vatican Council, when it was common practice.

“In the renovations following the Second Vatican Council, they carpeted the Basilica to give it more of a warm, cozy feel,” Rocca said. “As a result of that, it affected the acoustics.”

University Sacristan John Zack said these renovations occurred in 1969 and 1970 and the Basilica did not see any significant work again until its restoration in 1989 and 1990.

“Part of the reason for this restoration [in 1989 and 1990] was that the Basilica had not really undergone any restoration or any cleaning like this for decades, and it was really pretty filthy, especially in the upper parts of the Basilica,” Rocca said. “There were some murals up there we didn’t know existed because they were so covered with dirt, soot and smoke from incense.”

Basilica SMALLERPhoto courtesy of Fr. Peter Rocca

Rocca said the 1989 and 1990 restorations included new pews, restored stain glass windows and a new slate roof, among other improvements.

“That’s when they decided to keep the carpeting, but they added all new lighting, redid all the frescoes in the Basilica and air-conditioned the Basilica,” Rocca said.

Rocca said the most recent renovations to the Basilica occurred in 2000 when marble was installed in sanctuary and at the base of the baptismal font. He said the current renovations will leave the marble in place in these two areas of the Basilica.

Rocca said the sound system in the Basilica could accommodate the new tile floor and therefore the floor would not detrimentally affect musical or spoken sound.

“We have a sound system in the Basilica that can easily be adjusted to this, so that it’s not something that makes hearing more difficult,” he said.

About Jack Rooney

Jack is a 2016 graduate of Notre Dame, and The Observer's former managing editor. He is currently spending a year living and working for the University in Ireland, and writing columns to keep him busy. For more random thoughts and plenty of news links, follow Jack on Twitter @RooneyReports.

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