By Edith Honan
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Saint Patrick's Cathedral, New York City's iconic house of worship on Fifth Avenue, is getting a facelift.
The $175 million restoration will take about five years and will include what church officials described as a thorough scrubbing: its 1,300 panels of stained glass will get protective glazing, pipes from its massive organ will be cleaned and acid rain and other deposits will be wiped away.
The Roman Catholic cathedral, which is visited by some 5.5 million people every year, will remain open throughout the restoration. The first phase will involve mainly St. Patrick's exterior and will begin in April.
In an announcement on Saturday ahead of the annual St. Patrick's Day mass, Cardinal Timothy Dolan told reporters the landmark was "beginning to show her age."
"Since I've arrived, we've all heard the chant: 'Archbishop Dolan, tear down this scaffolding! Rebuild this Church!'" said Dolan, who has led the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York for the last three years and was named a cardinal in January.
The construction of St. Patrick's began in 1858, though the American Civil War of the 1860s brought work to a halt. The first mass was held at the cathedral in 1879, and a century later it was declared a National Historic Landmark.
The cathedral was partially restored in the 1940s and again in the 1970s, but this is by far the most ambitious effort in its history.
The project's architect Jeffrey Murphy described a particularly exciting discovery as the planning got underway: the restoration team was able to locate a source of Tuckahoe marble, a unique light-colored stone that forms the bottom portion of the cathedral.
In previous restorations, different types of marble have been used to replace the original Tuckahoe as it deteriorated, creating a "mismatched" facade, said Murphy.
"We were lucky enough to actually find Tuckahoe in someone's backyard up in Westchester County," Murphy said. "It's a wonderful find and its going to make for an even better restoration."
The Archdiocese of New York hopes to raise $125 million for the second and third phase of the renovations from its 2.6 million members and other sources.
"We're reaching out to all New Yorkers, we're reaching out to all the nation, we're reaching out to all the world," said Helen Lowe, the executive director of development for the Archdiocese of New York.
"It's difficult in this time because there are so many needs... but we're asking people, to stretch a little to beautify the cathedral and put it back to where it was," she said.
(Reporting By Edith Honan; editing by Dan Burns)