3 Things You Need to Know About Stonemasonry

3 Things You Need to Know About Stonemasonry

Driving down the east coast, it is hard for me to look away from all of the history and beautiful architecture around me. This country, and most civilizations around the world, have something in common with one another. 70% were built with stone. From their churches, their monuments, and their homes to their schools, streets, and the foundation of the civilization itself. Stonemasonry has been around for thousands of years. As I reflect back on the history of Petrillo Stone, it is very gratifying to be a part of such an important part of history. There are a lot of unique facts about stonemasonry, but I wanted to share some of my favorite. 

Stonemasonry is Ancient

When I say ancient, you are probably picturing cavemen dancing in circles around the latest technology – fire. While cavemen did sleep inside caves of stone, it wasn’t long after that humans began to mine and produce bricks and stones for the building of stronger structures. 8,000 years ago, Native Americans were using and trading stonework for the making of pipes, pottery, cooking slabs, ornaments, and weaponry. As far back as 4,000 BCE, foundations and ruins have been excavated in ancient Jerusalem and Egypt that show sophisticated works of stonemasonry. The Pyramids of Giza were built using stones from quarries that date back nearly 50,000 years. When I say stonemasonry is ancient – I mean it.

It’s Hard to Destroy

You have probably seen documentaries or movies (like Indiana Jones) that depict ancient ruins being excavated in places like the Middle East and South America. Many of these ruins still look like old buildings, statues (as in ancient Greece), monuments, churches, and even the foundations of cities! How? Stonemasonry is hard to destroy. Strengthened by high heat and fire, the stonework is resilient. Winds, earthquakes, fires, water stonework resists it all.  Some of the most wonderous have been found in places like Jerusalem, Egypt, and Pompeii. Even covered in the desert sand and volcanic dust, the beauty remains.

Stonework Shows Progress

As it probably did to those cavemen, the discovery of stonemasonry changed lives. As stonemasons became more skilled and engineered bigger and better structures, cities began to spring up. Populations began to thrive as they were able to live in shelters that protected them from creatures and nature. It is no surprise that more than 70% of the world’s structures are built upon stone foundations and engineered with stonework in some form. While most people in the ancient world utilized stone due to its solid and resilient properties, as history progressed, stonemasonry became a symbol of beauty and prosperity. Furthermore, with its use in cathedrals and universities, stonemasonry is also a sign of an educated and thriving society.

It should not be a shock to many to learn that I am a history buff, but I am especially passionate about the history of my industry. At Petrillo Stone, we know the history, we lean into the knowledge, and we try to share what we know. I hope these facts have enlightened you to look around at the beauty and intrigue of stonework. Next time you take a drive through New York City or Boston, take the time to admire the not-so-distant historical stonemasonry that is around you.

Stonework From Around the World

Stonework From Around the World

By now, it should be well known that I love neat facts, history, and stonemasonry. This month, I decided to combine those loves and post about some of my favorite stonework from around the world. Enjoy!

English Cathedral Stonework

Exeter Cathedral in England

Exeter Cathedral in England

Some of the most eye-catching pillars of architecture from the old world are the cathedrals stamped across England. One of the most noteworthy for stonemasons, such as our team at Petrillo Stone, is the Exeter Cathedral, properly known as the Cathedral Church of Saint Peter in Exeter. Exeter is an Anglican cathedral, and the seat of the Bishop of Exeter, in the city of Exeter, Devon, in South West England. Gothic-styled stonework, the Cathedral was constructed from stone from more than 20 different local quarries. A combination of Salcombe Stone, Chalk, and Devonian Limestone, Exeter is genuinely a structure that architects, stonemasons, geologists, and historians appreciate. 

Ancient Greek and Roman Stonework

Acropolis Stonework in Greece

Acropolis Stonework in Greece

No one can talk or write about stonework without mentioning Ancient Greece. The Greeks were incredible architects, and they were not discouraged by the countless number of times invaders destroyed their masterpieces. Fortunately, the stonework erected in 482 BCE is still a sight to behold. The once gold and ivory statue of Athena stands atop the Acropolis in the city of Athens. Constructed mainly from limestone, these Greek architects weaved in Pentelic marble to create the jaw-dropping scene you see today.

Just a rock skip away in Rome remains the megalithic Theatre of Marcellus. The architectural influence of many theatres of the time, including the master Colosseum, was built from tufa and travertine, two types of stone known for their ability to resist water absorption. In addition, Marcellus was the first known structure built with fired Roman brick. These skilled architects knew how to construct a robust design, as this is the only theater from the period of Augustus (circa 11 BCE) surviving today.

Closer to Home

While we all seem to fancy ancient and olde worlde stonework, we cannot forget that we are surrounded by beautiful stone structures right here in our neck of the woods. Here is our top-three of the must-see stonework around New York City:

St. Patrick Cathedral in NYC

St. Patrick Cathedral in NYC

  • Empire State Building. Most of us have probably been to the top, but have you ever stopped to enjoy the stonework? We highly recommend it.
  • St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Built entirely out of stone in the mid-1800s, St. Patrick’s is an icon around New York City. 
  • Brooklyn Bridge. Next time you take a drive from Brooklyn to Manhattan, as you stop to take in the views of the city, construction, and rush hour, be sure to gaze up at the beautiful stonework of the piers. The Brooklyn Bridge, constructed mainly of limestone, granite, and steel cables, was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1964.

The Stonework of Petrillo Stone

Of course, I can’t write about my favorite stonework without mentioning the work we have done over the years. No, our work isn’t quite as old as Ancient Greece, but I still am quite proud of our accomplishments. Stonemasonry is not only my career; it is my passion. I would be honored for you to view any of our recent stonework projects

Carving and Installing Limestone Work at Fordham University

Carving and Installing Limestone Work at Fordham University

The team at Petrillo Stone was recently contacted by Fordham University. They were interested in adding two limestone carvings to their Rose Hill Campus in the Bronx, NY.

Our team started hand-carving a cross that was 10 ft by 8 ft and a University Seal that had a 12 feet diameter. It took us a few months to carve the cross and the seal at our Mount Vernon, NY facility. But once they were ready, we installed them in less than a week at the new McShane Campus center at Fordham University.

Get a closer look:

The Oldest Map of Europe Found Carved into Stone

The Oldest Map of Europe Found Carved into Stone

From time to time I like to feature unique stories about stone and masonry. Before pen and paper, our ancestors had to use the resources available to best record information. The most common way was carving important information into stone and stone walls.

Recently, a slab of stone with engraved intricate lines and motifs dating as far back to the Bronze Age has been revealed to be Europe’s oldest map, researchers say.

As reported by CNN, researchers used high-resolution 3D surveys and photogrammetry to examine the Saint-Belec Slab – an engraved and partly broken piece of stone that was discovered in 1900 but forgotten about for almost a full century. It was revealed to be the oldest cartographic representation of a known territory in Europe.

The Oldest Map of Western Brittany

It is said that in 1900 this slab of rock was moved into a private museum, the National Museum of Archaeology, in the castle of Saint-German-en-Laye. In 2014, it was rediscovered in one of the museum’s cellars.

After studying this slab, researchers noticed that its surface was deliberately 3D-shaped to represent a valley with lines in the stone thought to depict a river network. The team of researchers noticed similarities between the engravings and landscape of Western Brittany. There are still many unknowns to this story, including why the slab was broken in the first place.

This study was published in the French Journal Bulletin de la Société préhistorique française.

It is exciting and interesting to see the different functions of stone, and how it has changed throughout centuries.

Construction on a 50-Story Office Tower in New York City

Construction on a 50-Story Office Tower in New York City

The team at Petrillo Stone was excited to recently be awarded a multimillion-dollar contract for our most recent project with the CommonWealth Partners’ property in the lobby of their 50-story office at 787 Seventh Avenue in New York City. This building houses an athletic club, an Olympic-sized swimming pool, two restaurants, a parking garage, and offers direct access to transportation.

Our contract consists of removing and salvaging stone benches, planters, and lighting, known as Flanagan Sculpture. Our team is drafting, supplying, and installing over 20,000 square feet of Avorio Limestone, Calacatta Marble, Absolute Black Granite, Porcelain, Ceramic Tile, and Silestone. We estimate this project to be completed by the second quarter of 2021.

The Restoration of Notre Dame De Paris

Notre Dame CathedralOn April 15, 2019, Notre-Dame de Paris suffered extensive damage. It’s spire, lead roof, and oak frame were destroyed from a fire at the iconic cathedral.

Thankfully, the main structure of the building was unharmed. It was apparent that the fire started from an electrical short. Following protocol, the firefighters knew to keep the water pressure low and avoid spraying the stained glass windows so the cold water wouldn’t shatter the hot glass. They were able to save the buttresses, towers, facade, walls, and stained glass windows.

Restoring of an 850-Year-Old Cathedral

President Emmanuel Macron said the cathedral would be fully restored. He vowed to reopen Notre Dame by 2024. He has appointed a military general to lead the operation, involving many government agencies. President Macron launched a fundraising campaign and raised over €1 billion.

Materials for this project are being sourced from the same location as the original construction, with precautions being taken to prevent any similar disasters from happening in the future.

There is a debate over whether they are using traditional or more modern methods to rebuild the cathedral. According to BBC News, 11 months after the fire, in March 2020, there were workers seen scaling the building starting on reconstruction!

We are thankful and excited that this beautiful masonry structure will be saved!

Creating 14 Limestone Carvings Depicting Ignatius Loyola

Ralph Petrillo standing next to a carving of Ignatius Loyola The team at Petrillo Stone recently used Indiana limestone to create these 14 carvings depicting the life of Ignatius Loyola. We did this using the original molds from the 1950s. Ralph Petrillo is pictured next to one of the carvings.

Ignatius Loyola was a Spanish priest who co-founded the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits). He was born in 1491 to a family of minor nobility. He was one of 13 children.

When he was 30 years old, he was injured during a battle with the French. While recuperating from his injury, Ignatius began reading about Jesus and the Saints which inspired him to do great things. He took this as a sign from God about the path he should take in life.

Throughout the rest of his life, Ignatius was renowned as an expert in spiritual direction. This led to him founding the Jesuits, a group who he viewed as “contemplatives in action.”

These carvings are housed at a monastery in Shrub Oak, NY.

6 Types of Stone We Commonly Use for Our Projects

Lincoln QuarryAs you might guess, not all stone is created equal. Certain varieties of stone are not as useful for building materials. At Petrillo Stone, we commonly use these 6 materials in our projects:

  1. Basalt: This stone is usually between medium and fine grain. It’s commonly used to build roads, bridge piers, dams, and river walls.
  2. Granite: Granite has a crystalline structure, and the grain can be anywhere from fine to coarse. This stone is mostly made up of quartz and feldspar, with a little bit of mica and amphibole.
  3. Sandstone: When combined with silica cement, this material is used to build heavy, solid structures. It is so named because it’s made up of sand that has been compressed over time.
  4. Limestone: We limestone, but not all limestone can be used. Certain varieties have high clay content, which makes them not very durable. However, limestone that is compact and dense can be a great building material for floors, roofs, and pavement. However, it’s best to not use it in coastal areas, as the salty air can abrade it. It also does not fare well in highly polluted areas.
  5. Slate: Made of quartz, clay minerals, and mica, this gray stone is used in slabs to make roofing tiles and pavers.
  6. Marble: Marble is strong, uniform, imperious, and polishes beautifully. It can also be carved easily, hence all the ancient statues carved in marble. It’s an elegant building material associated with opulence.

Working on an Exterior Wall at Fordham University

Fordham University's Lincoln CenterRalph Petrillo and the rest of the Petrillo Stone team enjoyed working on the exterior of Fordham University’s Lincoln Center.

Built in the 1950s, this beautiful masonry building is home to the Metropolitan Opera and the New York City Ballet. It’s located a block east of Broadway, also near Central Park, in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen.

14 Stone Carvings at Fordham University

Petrillo Stone has been contracted for work on 14 stone carvings at Fordham University. So far, we’ve finished the first carving, with the second following close behind. The carvings depict the life of Saint Ignatius of Loyola.

Check out these photos of Ralph Petrillo and carver Michael Orekunrin:

The final 14 carvings will be put in a new building to be constructed this year at the Rose Hill Campus.

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