The massive edifice of Helsinki's Lutheran Cathedral soars from the heart of the capital to greet visitors arriving by both land and sea. For nearly 150 years, zinc statues of the Twelve Apostles have observed the comings and goings of the humans below from their high perch around the edge of the roof. But sunshine, rain, snow and ice have taken their toll of the Apostles' strength. A big conservation job was necessary and began in autumn 1995.
In their day, the zinc sculptures represented the state of the art. The artists commissioned to execute them - six each - were two Germans, August Wredov and Herman Schievelbein. In a list made by a Berlin foundry in 1845-47 they are presented as the world's biggest zinc sculptures. They were installed on the cathedral in 1849 and given a protective coating of paint. They had to make do with that until 1991, when they were finally given a physical. It emerged that they badly needed help. Their internal structures were in pretty bad shape and only vestiges of the protective paint remained. In fact, the statues were in danger of collapsing. To save them, they had to be taken down to earth again.
The first to be lowered to the ground was Simon, heavily swaddled in soft protective material. A brass band and a large audience of onlookers were there to give him moral support on his way down. Once on the ground, he was loaded onto a lorry to continue his journey to the repair shop.
Conserving the whole set of statues is a challenging task. They are 3.2 metres tall and weigh 800 - 1,000 kilogrammes each. They were originally cast in sand moulds, in parts of different sizes which were then soldered together. The biggest parts are 60x60 cm, the smallest 5x3 cm.
Quite apart from the difficulty of saving the Apostles, it is also a costly job. The total budget is 3.2 million markkas ($720,000), towards which the European Commission is contributing 70,000 ECUs ($90,000). Other supporters of the project have included Outokumpu Oy, whose expertise in relation to zinc has been a great help. The first rejuvenated Apostles, Simon and Peter, returned to their vantage points as guardians of the city on 10 April 1996. The third taken down with them, Thomas, was in such poor shape that he could only renew his vigil when the second trio, Andrew, Thaddeus and Philip, went back up in autumn 1996. All twelve were rehabilitated and back in place by the end of 1997.
The restoration of the statues was merely the first step in a comprehensive renovation scheme that cost over 70 million markkas (11.6 million Euro) in all. The corner towers needed extensive repairs, the facade had to have a new paint job and parts of the nave had to be renovated. Services were held in the crypt below the church while the work was in progress. It was all over in November 1998 and the church was ceremonially reopened with a concert by the Cantores Minores choir.