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Fire In Minn. Church Reveals Exquisite Mural

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- A church fire in southwestern Minnesota revealed a surprise that members are now working to restore.

Flames and plumes of smoke were pouring out of St. Gabriel's Church in Fulda when firefighters arrived in April.

The church is now off limits as repair crews do their work.

It has served as Fulda's skyline for more than a century; the cornerstone of a small, mostly Catholic community.

"It's the first and biggest thing that you can see from across the lake," said Father Andrew Vogel.

So, when someone spotted smoke spilling out of St. Gabriel's just 10 days before Easter services, firefighters were on scene within minutes.

"I thought the damage was, you know, somewhat minimal, but I've since learned of what smoke and water damage can do," he said.

A fire contained to a small plant room still caused $800,000 in damage. From the ceiling, pews and carpet, Father Andrew Vogel's been told it all needs work.

But it's what those flames revealed behind a coat of white paint that art restorers believe might be the most important repair of all.

"They said it was actually some of the most exquisite art that they had ever seen," Vogel said.

A massive mural behind the altar shows St. Gabriel appearing to Mary to tell her of Jesus's birth. It remained for 50 years until the 60s, when the Vatican wanted their churches to simplify. All of the sanctuary's ornate artwork was covered.

"All of this is there. It can be uncovered, but all for the right price," Vogel said.

Church members are now working to raise $500,000 to make it look the way it did before. Katie Clarke has been a member for nearly 10 years.

"In out-state Minnesota … population is dwindling, but I can tell you that our commitment to Christ, to the Catholic Church and to our parish community is very, very strong," Clarke said.

Parishioners will drive to another town a dozen miles away for Sunday services until the fall, when the work should be finished. This is all done with the hope that their home church will one day look like it did decades before the fire.

"The people have been here for over a hundred years, so this is their heritage, even more than mine," Vogel said. "There's a lot of history here and we want to preserve that."

Fire investigators couldn't pinpoint an exact cause of that fire, but have ruled out arson.

If you'd like to help St. Gabriel's art restoration, click here.

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