SMITHFIELD, VA. -- A 350-year-old organ tucked into a corner at Smithfield's historic St. Luke's Church for years has been declared priceless by a leading expert on the instrument.
"I've never seen anything like it," said Stephen Bicknell of J.W. Walker & Sons Ltd. of Brandon, Suffolk, England. "The St. Luke's organ has not been altered in any way. It is in extraordinary condition. When you look inside, the wooden pipes look as though they were made yesterday. Its only major defect is that it doesn't play."
St. Luke's, the oldest brick church of English foundation in the country, has had an electric organ for 40 years and has brought out the old one only for special services.
Until Bicknell visited the church in June, its board of directors was unaware of the value of the little organ, curator Richard L. Austin said.
Wooden pipes, part of the organ's musical works, are set into a central painting that gives the illusion of any archway in a cathedral with screens showing Bible scenes on either side.
Bicknell and others are urging that the organ be restored. He estimated it would cost about $20,000 to restore it, and $20,000 to restore the artwork on the screens.
"There are many Stradivarius violins; there is only one Smithfield organ," he said. "We think its value as one of America's most important early musical instruments will be recognized."
The value of the organ cannot be calculated, he said. He said he believes it is the only one of its kind.
"In artistic terms, it's priceless," he said. The organ is "of remarkable international status and importance."
Bicknell said he first learned of the organ 10 years ago and described his June visit as a pilgrimage.
Bicknell said he believes the organ, made of Flemish oak, was built by the Dallam family of organ builders in England. One member of that family took a similar organ in the 1600s as a gift to the Sultan of Turkey from Queen Elizabeth I.