By German Reyes
San Manuel Colohete, Honduras, Jun 14 (EFE).- Lilian Mazariegos, a monument restoration expert, was overcome by sadness when she visited this western Honduran town a year ago and saw the level of deterioration of what had been one of the most beautiful Catholic churches in the Americas.
That same sentiment was shared by Leonel Santos, who is now working alongside her as part of a local restoration team helping to return that 18th-century, colonial-era church to its former splendor.
A town in the western department of Lempira, San Manuel Colohete is rich in colonial history and part of the so-called Colosuca Commonwealth, a region home to at least five of this Central American nation’s oldest churches.
Two of the most imposing ones are located in the colonial town of Gracias, while the remainder are situated in Belen, San Marcos Caiquin, San Manuel Colohete and San Sebastian.
The Nuestra Señora de Concepcion church in San Manuel is regarded by many as an architectural wonder because of its baroque architecture, rich ornamentation and the intricate details of its facade and interior.
“I felt bad and I was really pained to see all of the church’s paneling on the floor. I was about to cry,” Mazariegos told Efe, recalling the shabby condition of the church’s interior and its “musty smell.”
Even though she had come to San Miguel to carry out restoration work at the church, she had not imagined the task ahead of her would be quite so arduous.
Santos, for his part, said that it was an unpleasant sight to see that the boards of the church’s roof structure “were down below, quite damaged and full of dust.”
He also was well aware that extensive restoration work would be needed but still did not imagine it would require so much time, patience and care to restore the damaged boards while also taking great pains not to damage the “existing polychrome” part.
More than a year after the start of the restoration work, which is now in the second phase and has the backing of the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID), the two experts say they are greatly enjoying the task at hand but still are unable to predict when their work will be completed.
A third phase will still be needed to repair capillary humidity damage to the church’s lime plaster interiors, which contain murals highly valued at the national level.
The environmental conditions are unfavorable, and the lack of a rainwater evacuation system along the church’s outer perimeter makes its polychrome interior decor susceptible to accelerated deterioration during months of heavy rainfall.
The interior paneling, which supports much of the pictorial ornamentation of the church’s central nave, also has been adversely affected by humidity and biotic agent attacks.
The damage to the paneling is due to discohesion of the polychrome, the accumulation of surface dirt and damage to the wood support caused by humidity.
Mazariegos and Santos both received training in monument restoration at the Escuela Taller, a school located in the western colonial city of Comayagua that was founded in 1996 with the AECID’s support.
The sadness Mazariegos experienced in seeing the poor condition of the church has turned to joy now that clear progress has been made, an improvement reflected in an increase in both domestic and foreign tourists.
“They tell us the church is pretty, that it’s a relic and that the effort that’s being made is worth it,” she said, while her colleague added that “we’re happy because we’ve made strides with a project that can’t be rushed.”
“With restoration, we can’t hurry. These are very slow jobs. We have to take our time with the materials we use because we also must safeguard the original (material),” Santos said. EFE