Dan Addison

After standing serenely in the woodsy garden of Pavilion VI for nearly 80 years, the Merton Spire was badly damaged in 2005 when a mini-tornado felled two maple trees, one of which landed on the spire and shattered a section of the ancient artifact.

The spire was originally a part of Oxford’s Merton College chapel tower, completed in 1450. The oldest architectural element on Grounds, the three-ton limestone spire was a gift from Oxford to the University in 1927.

To restore the broken spire, the University bought an 800-pound block of Clipsham limestone; the original is made of stone from Headington Quarry at Oxford, but it’s been closed for nearly a century. A New York conservation company and a Canadian stonecutter worked together to create a replacement for the shattered piece, then sandblasted it to match the original.

More than 550 years old, the worn spire is showing its age. Despite the recent preservation, “the spire will not last forever,” says conservator Mary Jablonski. Her team also cleaned several layers of wax off the spire. According to UVA landscape architect Mary Hughes, the spire had apparently been repeatedly used for some kind of ritual in which candles were burned on it, leaving extensive wax deposits on the limestone.

“That’s no way to treat a 15th-century artifact,” says Hughes.