A real discovery
The restoration of the Church of St. Agatha in Bongard allows neoclassical paintings to come to light.
The Catholic chapel was built in 1914/15 by the architect Julius Wirtz from Trier and is dedicated to the early Christian martyr, Agatha. The brick-faced church building with the prominent pagoda-type tower structure cannot be assigned to any historical style in its exterior appearance, but the interior however bears neoclassical features. The ornamental original painting of the church interior of 1921, which originates from the Düsseldorf church painter Julius Held, was redone in the '50s and in 1972 it was completely painted over in white as a consequence of the Second Vatican Council.
With the agreement and financial support of the diocese the necessary interior renovation was initiated in 2009. At that time it was not known what was concealed underneath the plain white coating. In fact neoclassical paintings were revealed under a thick layer of white dispersion paint. "Actually, there was a new surprise each day," reports the Master Painter Erwin Müsseler who carried out the renovation work. With the removal of the synthetically bound paint the neoclassical paintings below were discovered and the office for ecclesiastical monumental care of the diocese of Trier, Dr. H.B. Busse, was contacted. During a site visit he assessed the quality of the paintings as extremely valuable and recommended to the parish full exposure and restoration.
"The paintings are a wonderful treasure which have to be retained and restored," was the view of Pastor Klaus Kohnz and those commissioned with the demanding job, Wolfgang König and Frank Neumann, who were experts in restoration and church painting. The original paintings were exposed, partly in good condition, partly damaged and even some were destroyed. The worst damage was in the choir where the original painting was badly affected by the overcoating, on the triumphal arch where it was distorted by cracks in the plaster and masonry due to building movement, and in the areas in which the plaster had been renewed due to damage by moisture. Depending on the state of preservation, the paintings had to be retouched, repainted or, as with the paintings in the apse calotte and in the rosettes, painted anew. The religious motifs for the paintings which could not be reconstructed were devised by the restorers together with Pastor Kohnz and the parish. "In a case like this it is expected that the painter works creatively as an artist and develops his own designs," says Frank Neumann. "The theme should obviously be decided in close consultation with the pastor and the parish.
Heritage protection required an implementation with lime-based paint for the interior renovation of the wall surfaces. Those in charge of the project decided on Histolith Innenkalk from Caparol, a dull matt, low stress lime-based coating with high water vapour permeability. "Previously, I mainly worked with slaked lime," declared Wolfgang König, "but I must say that Histolith has convinced me. When the material is correctly adjusted, it is super to work with."
The colour used was in line with the findings of the restorer's examinations; vault cells and apse are in oxide red, the transverse arches and plinth areas complementary umbra green, the ceiling and wall surfaces in an off-white. These colours were factory tinted according to the colour card and compared on site with the findings using pigments formed to a dough with water.
The heritage protection authorities required that the retouching work on the original paintings had to be identifiable, reversible and colour fast, so König and Neumann chose aqueous gouache paints, whereas the ornamental art, meander strips and the new motifs were implemented in lime-casein paint.
Today, the renovated church now appears as a complete work of art from one source. The colours, motifs and ornamental art group and decorate the plain church interior. They give the place of worship its own identity and the parish a cultural and spiritual home.
Author: Susanne Mandl
Photographs: Caparol Farben Lacke Bautenschutz / Martin Duckek