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Italy Begins Restoring Church

October 10, 1997

ASSISI, Italy (AP) _ Workers hoisted a 42-ton crane over a convent next to the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi on Friday, clearing its medieval roof by just inches.

The risky operation could have wrecked a portion of the basilica, but salvage crews need to put the crane in an inner courtyard next to the basilica in order to repair damage from a series of earthquakes. The only way in was over the 33-foot-high tiled roof of the convent, where followers of St. Francis live.

The crane came far closer to the roof than anticipated, wavering dangerously at one point. Anxious onlookers applauded when it cleared the roof and landed safely in the courtyard.

The 13th-century basilica, one of Italy’s most beloved shrines, was badly damaged Sept. 26 by a pair of strong earthquakes.

Portions of the vaulted ceiling fell in, destroying frescoes attributed to Giotto and Cimabue, and part of the facade of the south transept crumbled.

Hundreds of mattresses donated by churches and charity organizations now line the interior to cushion pieces of ceiling fresco brought down by aftershocks.

The crane will be used Sunday to lift a retaining cap 130 feet onto the transept to help support the structure. Once the basilica’s outer walls and roof are deemed stable, restoration work on the ceiling and its frescos can begin.

Experts say it will take $62 million and years of work to restore the basilica and convent.

The Basilica of Spoleto, another of the Umbria region’s medieval masterpieces, was also heavily damaged by the earthquakes.

Two of the four pillars holding up the cupola partly sank into the ground and a third is cracked. Part of the basilica’s front facade is on the verge of collapsing.

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