Examining the Damage, St. Augustine’s

I think by now most of my readers know about the serious fire that struck the former St. Augustine’s on the night of December 8th on the western edge of the St. Louis Place neighborhood.

I went out early on Saturday to take a look at the church and assess the seriousness of the structural damage. I obviously stayed a safe distance away from the building and did not go inside; that is how we got to this point–from people going in without permission.

The first thing we always need to remind ourselves is that this is a Gothic Revival church, not a Gothic church. It was built in the late Nineteenth Century, not in the Medieval Age, so there are many structural members available in the construction of St. Augustine’s working in its favor that the renovation of Notre Dame of Paris does not have. For example, when I was allowed inside with permission back in February of 2020, I noted a large amount of structural steel used in the construction of the church, which I think obviously makes the building stronger than a church built during the original Gothic period 800 years ago.

Likewise, while the apse (the hexagonal shaped structure on the back of the church which has seen the most damage) has suffered some loss of brickwork, mostly likely due to the high pressure water hoses used by the firefighters, the main nave of the church is largely structurally sound.

While the beautiful stained glass seen above in this photo from February of 2020 (and the plaster and wood lath star vaulting which had already sadly collapsed) is all gone, I look optimistically at the huge double pointed archway which connects the nave to the apse. That is one strong arch. So even if the structural stability of the apse is (and perhaps already has been) compromised, the main body of the church is safe.

Back outside, I am optimistic that since the bricks of the pointed arch above are intact, the arch is still holding some of the forces of the pier to the right and left. Arches are strong together in an arcade, channeling the forces of the weight above downward; if they don’t have a “partner,” the forces push outward, which can cause the arch to kick out, collapsing.

The sacristy above, where I suspect the fire started, is largely destroyed. And that is why the arch below bore the brunt of the intense flames. That is also why I am most concerned about the compromised arch below, which has collapsed. The forces are now not channeled down properly since the arch is broken.

But the first window of the nave below, while open, is completely intact and thus again I still think the main body of the nave is secure. Obviously not from water, since the roof is leaking, but this is a well built church with steel supports built into the walls, so it is stout.

I took this photo through the window in the front door. As I mentioned before, there was a major loss of some beautiful, one of a kind Emil Frei and Associates stained glass. And that is a tragedy.

To all the fools who say that it has to be demolished now, you don’t know what you’re talking about. Thank God all of our ancestors weren’t such a bunch of quitters.

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Andrew Gordon says:

    This is terrible. I just watched the fire video, looks like flames were coming out the highest point of the roof….that stained glass…😥😢😭…was it someone staying in there or were they trying to burn it down to steal the rest of the copper?

    1. cnaffziger says:

      Considering the fire seems to have originated in the sacristy, a self-contained, one story section of the church, I suspect it was someone who had broken in and was trying to keep warm.

  2. Jtw says:

    Someone must have a connection at city hall…with 93 million available to the north side, this church, and Brittany’s mission for it should be on the list…

    1. Jtw says:

      Does anyone here know Michael Allen or someone like that who could figure out how to use some of the millions that are supposed to be used in the Northside for this building? Seems like a community center would be worthy of an investment for that area.

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