Armed with rubber gloves and tiny scalpels, a team is delicately chipping through layers of paint and plaster on a church wall to reveal century-old works by one of Canada’s most renowned church painters.

The painstaking project, underway at St. Ninian Cathedral in Antigonish, N.S., is meant to restore several images of saints originally painted in 1902. Over the years, the depictions near the cathedral’s ceiling were painted over several times, obscuring the arches surrounding each saint.

That tampering has meant the saints appear to float in the air with little context, said Michelle Gallinger, a fine arts conservator working on the restoration.

“Right now as you look down the walls, they are just these pop-out images that have no sense of space and you have no sense of scale of them either,” Gallinger told CTV Atlantic.

The team is scraping through seven layers of overpaint and two layers of plaster.

The project comes with a hefty price tag. It costs about $30,000 to restore each of the 14 saints, and the restoration is expected to spill into 2019. The church is fundraising and accepting donations to pay for the restoration.

But it’s important work, according to church officials, who say it’s better to pay for the project than wait for the problem to get worse.

“Because the paintings deteriorate with the humidity and with the temperatures, and the longer we wait the more difficult and more time consuming it will be to restore them,” said Ernst Schuegraf of the art restoration committee.

The saints were painted by Ozias Leduc, a celebrated muralist whose works appear in more than 30 churches in Nova Scotia, Quebec and eastern parts of the United States.

Earlier this year, Leduc was recognized by the federal government as a National Historic Person in Canada, joining the ranks of insulin inventor Frederick Banting, pilot Billy Bishop and artist Emily Carr.

The restoration may be an arduous process, but Gallinger says it’s well worth the effort.

“He’s finally being recognized by the rest of Canada as being our pre-eminent church painter. He’s our Michelangelo of Canada,” she said.

With files from CTV Atlantic