Basilica of St. Mary

Minneapolis, MN


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Reconstruction of the Great Chamber


           After past roof leakage issues the plaster ceiling of the Great chamber is badly deteriorated and has started falling apart and dropping plaster debris into the pipes of the Great Organ.  It was decided that the only way to fix this problem is to empty the Great chamber of all pipework and have the ceiling properly repaired.  The pipes will be removed and stored in the walkway behind the organ console.  This will be the first time most of these pipes have been out of the chamber since 1949.  The smallest pipes are the size of soda straws and weigh only a few ounces while the largest are up to 20' long and weigh several hundred pounds.  Check back often for pictures and updates as work progresses.



Work has now begun and the pipes of the Great Organ are being removed and stored in the church.  


The Great organ chamber.  From floor level to the chamber is about 24 feet.  Access is via the ladder on the right.  Everything mus come out the small opening behind the railing.


The way up.  24 feet up to the chamber entrance.


Plaster damage in the Great chamber. 

Past roof leaks have damaged the plaster arches and ceiling in the great chamber.  The large pipes of the 32' contra bombarde are in the foreground.

Chunks of plaster have been dropping off the ceiling and falling into the pipes.  The top of the 32' Contra Bombarde is to the left.

The north east corner of the Great chamber is by far the most damaged and we decided to clean up some of the debris to make way for the contractors who will repair the ceiling.

Close up of damage to the north arch

Everything must be lowered one piece at a time.  This is a rack which holds up some of the 32' Contra Bombarde pipes.

There are approximately 1700 pipes in the Great chamber.  All the pipes are lowered to ground level mostly one at a time although some of the smaller pipes can be lowered by bucket.

Pipes under 4' long are carefully stored in trays.  These pipes are from the 8' Gemshorn rank.

Pipes are stored leaning against the sanctuary wrought iron.  These are the the larger pipes that don't fit in the pipe trays.

3 pipes of the 16' Violone

Pipes and windchests stored at ground level.  Trays of smaller pipes at the left.


Plaster dust and debris laying thick on the Great offset windchests. 

More plaster.  This was completely cleaned 4 years ago.

The Great main windchests.

Great main chest

We shoveled up about six 5 gallon pails of plaster debris from just the north east corner

Large chunks of the plaster molding from the north east corner

What a mess!

The largest pipes will be lowered to the floor laying across the top of this large scissor lift


The largest pipes of the 32' Bombarde (silver) and some pipes from the 16' Open Wood


Bombardes and Violones

The pipes in the storage area




The ceiling has been repaired


Everything must go back up.  The smaller pipes are lifted manually with ropes like this 16' Bombarde pipe.  The larger pipes go up on the hydraulic lift.

While we had everything out we took the opportunity to rearrange the chamber a bit to improve access for servicing and tuning.  By moving some windchests we were able to install this walkboard to provide access to the 32' Bombarde pipes (on the chest to the left) as well as provide better access to the other offset pipes.  We replaced all the old crushed and leaking metal windlines with new PVC lines.


This is the view when looking up from the new walkboard shown above.  The pipes of the 32' Bombarde are on the left and on the right are pipes from the 1st and 2nd Open Diapasons with the pipes of the 16' Open Wood behind them to the right.  The top of the 16' Diapason (metal) is visible in the distant center.


The mouths of the 16' Open Wood mentioned in the last picture.  The bottom of the 8' Gemshorn rank is visible behind the board at center.


The new walkboard makes it so much easier to access this area for tuning.  (no, my shoes do not light up.)


The mouths of the largest pipes of the 16' Open Wood.  These pipes are HEAVY!  Not to mention too big to actually remove from the chamber so they had to be protected in place.  They are so powerful when played that, if you're standing in front of them, you can feel things moving inside of you that don't normally move around quite that much!


This is the windchest for the 16' octave of the Bombarde as well as 4 of the 32' Bombarde pipes.  Before, this chest was next to impossible to access for tuning.  We moved it back and closer to the floor and now it is possible to walk right up to it and tune.  These pipes are "mitered" to improve their physical strength as well as reduce the overall height.  The curl you see in each pipe is called the "miter."


The top of the pipes shown on the chest in the last picture.  16' Bombarde

The 32' Bombarde as seen from the organ chamber floor looking up.  You can also see the repaired ceiling (gray) above the pipes.


The Great V-VI Mixture with the chimes hanging behind it.