LONDON – Fix the gravesite. But don't touch the bones.
That's the work order, in a nutshell, for brave architects contemplating a fix-up job for the deteriorating gravesite of William Shakespeare inside the Holy Trinity Church in his hometown of Stratford-upon-Avon.
The illustrious bard is believed by many to have personally penned the threat on a stone marker above his grave.
"Blest be the man that spares these stones," it reads. "And curst be he that moves my bones."
That's all well and good, but the stones above his grave are starting to flake and fall apart. Clergymen have trod on the stones for nearly four centuries, and the foot traffic is taking its inevitable toll.
People who love the church and its place in British literary history want to fix it — provided they can do so without digging up Shakespeare's remains and facing the mysterious threat.
"We're avoiding the curse," said Josephine Walker, a spokeswoman for the Friends of Shakespeare's Church group. "We are not lifting the stones, we are not looking underneath, and the curse is for the bones underneath, so the curse is irrelevant for this work."
"It's our wish that we conserve this without anyone knowing we were there," said architect Ian Stainburn, who is working on the project. "We want to conserve it as it is and slow down the natural process of decay but we don't want to recut it. It's really a challenge."
The restoration work is delicate because the church, 100 miles northwest of London, is not only a functional house of worship where Shakespeare was baptized in 1564 but also a treasure popular with visitors from around the globe.
"We get 100,000 tourists a year, but they don't walk on the stones," Walker said. "But the clergy have to when they give communion, and the stones are flaking away, the surfaces are coming off. We want to clean the surfaces and then very gradually ease in some transparent grout and hold the surfaces together. Then we want to move the altar rail so that when the clergy give communion they don't have to walk over the stones."
The planned work on the gravesite, which has not yet been approved by the various agencies that oversee historic sites, is part of a much larger restoration of the church that began two years ago, Walker said.
The group is trying to raise an additional $8 million for the entire project, she said. One of the most urgent tasks is to repair the main nave windows, which are in very poor shape.
"The metal work is eroding and disintegrating," she said. "That's a really big, major job that has to be done, hopefully next year."
At least they don't face a centuries-old curse if they repair the windows. If they get the money and the approvals, they can do the work without worrying about angering the Bard's ghost.