Arts: How to Move a $25,000 Chandelier

We recently built a new church for our Orthodox Christian parish. The old church was small and cramped and the hospital next door wanted its land for an expansion.

Our former priest, Father Joseph, had suggested six years ago that we build a new church and he even had picked out a site. So we bought the land and built the new church. Wonderful. The new church is a tribute to Father Joseph, who is declining in health. But he was well enough to attend the consecration, and that was very gratifying to have him there.

We were offered a chandelier for our new church by Monsignor Michael from the closed Polish Catholic church. It had hung in the cavernous Holy Family for decades and was the last item of value remaining in the building. It has European leaded crystal on it and is reputed to be worth $25,000 or more. I cannot vouch for this figure but several anecdotal stories seem to confirm that it indeed does have a high value.

The gift came with the usual caveat: We could have the chandelier, but we needed to move it ourselves.

This was no simple task. The chandelier weighs more than 150 lbs. and first it needed to be lowered. This required that two brave men make their way up two separate ladders into the dark netherworld above the high church ceiling to lower the chandelier on a hand-crank system. This was frightening for the men who went up; they were still talking about it a month later. And the Holy Family ceiling was not under an attic with a floor that they could walk on; they had only a plank walkway running above the vaulted ceiling. Their sole illumination was a flashlight.

We finally got the chandelier lowered, very slowly but surely. This photo shows what it looked like as we got our first close look. The chandelier was dusty, but it still lit up perfectly well.

The next step was to remove the crystal, and for two reasons: To allow the chandelier to be transported without damaging or losing the crystal; and to clean the crystal.  So we had a crystal removal ‘party’ where we labeled the pieces and placed them in plastic bags according to their position on the chandelier. At the same time I made the final measurements of the stripped-down chandelier and the church doorway to make sure that everything could proceed as planned.

I had constructed a wooden “cradle” to move the chandelier. It needed to be the proper dimensions so that the delicate chandelier would hang without swaying or hitting the ground. And the cradle needed to be designed in such a way that four men could carry it to and from the truck, and so that the chandelier would be stable inside the moving truck. The cradle was 62 inches wide – 5 inches wider than the chandelier – but narrow enough that it could fit through two crucial doorways at our new church.

These are photos of our crew carrying the chandelier out of the old church hanging on a pole, and then transporting it down the front steps of Holy Family secured in the cradle. We then loaded it into the truck and moved it to our new church without incident.

Fellow parishioner Pat and I cleaned all the crystal by hand, washing it in warm, soapy water and repackaging it carefully in plastic bags. Helena, Pat and I then cleaned the chandelier itself.

Then we spread the crystal out on a pew and Tanya began placing each piece back on the chandelier. It was a very delicate job and we had a confusing start; we got some of the similar-looking pieces mixed up. But finally after many hours of work we had reconstructed the chandelier and it was sparkling clean and ready to hoist.

Except that it needed to be re-wired. To get it out of the Polish church we had cut the suspension chain with a bolt cutter and thus had cut the old electrical connection too. So we purchased new wire and ground wire and had the electrician come to attach them. But first he needed to check the polarity and do other tests. At one point the chandelier lit but it made an alarming pop. Then we tested it several times more and it was fine.

This picture shows the chandelier lit for the first time in our new church before we hoisted it. That was a relief to see. That’s our electrician holding the wires.

After a few minor glitches we got the chandelier up on its original chain to the precise height that we had carefully chosen. This required an exact measurement of where the chain had to be cut when we took the chandelier down six days before.

Here is the chandelier lit fully for the first time in its new home. It is beautiful, isn’t it? Its scale is just right for our church – almost 5 feet across. It certainly will light us for the next century… beyond the light that God gives us every minute of every day. And here is an added treat: Here is a "cross in the sky" above our church the day we were preparing for our festival to show off our church and our new chandelier. What a wonderful sign…

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