Inside repairs to earthquake damaged Basilica of the Assumption

BALTMORE - The maze of arches in the basement supports as much history as they do the weight of the nation's first Catholic cathedral.

Built in 1806 and completed after the war in 1821, it took a historic earthquake to make it crack.

"It [arches] probably absorbed and that's why the plaster cracked, but the structure itself held the weight of the building steady throughout.  [So when people started discovering these cracks, what was your reaction to that?]  Oh a great disappointment," said Basilica Rector Monsignor Arthur Valenzano.

Because these aren't exactly chips, rather long meandering cracks in the dome, fractures on the inner skylight ring, a feature suggested by Thomas Jefferson… to even chunks of plaster hanging from an archway.

Damage when viewed with a powerful zoom reveals an ugly reality so soon after a masterfully beautiful renovation just six years ago.

The cracks look like cracks, but when you get up close they may be a lot deeper; the church doesn't know that yet until the repairmen come, construct scaffolding and get up close to see the extent of the damage.

The dome is almost a hundred feet off the ground so, while we've inspected it thoroughly I am sure there are some hairline cracks that we might have missed and certainly the cracks we know about are expanding and we know that for sure which is why we don't want to prolong the work anymore," said Archdiocese Director of Communication Sean Caine.

So on June 1, the Basilica goes back under construction to fix the more than 50 cracks from the earthquake.

It will remain closed Monday through Friday but open for weekend mass and the 21 weddings currently scheduled because engineers assure it is still structurally sound

 The Archdiocese actually had earthquake insurance which should cover the three to five million in repairs but it is unclear if it will cover the loss of revenue from the 135 thousand tourists the first cathedral in the United States attracts per year.

"The earthquake hit in August and we're still measuring how much of an impact it will have on this historic building," said Caine.

It may be a loss of revenue, but also a landmark continuing to build on more than 200 years on American and Religious history.

The Catholic Church estimates the work to be completed by February of 2013.

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