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Baptism by steam, cleansing a centuries-old church



THE San Agustin Church was declared complete in 1607, making it the oldest stone church in the Philippines.

San Agustin Church has been looted, burned, bombed and rebuilt three times. It has weathered the strongest of earthquakes, housed the casualties of war and witnessed a Catholic faith unwavering even at the point when the country was most bereft of law and God.

Now, at peacetime, San Agustin is a relic of the past long eroded and obscured by its packed urban setting — and molds.

Father Ricky Villar, director of San Agustin Museum, said that, like those who are given the titanic task to preserve old churches, they used to scrub San Agustin with soap and running water.

“A special monument deserves an equally special treatment. But we’re lousy with history,” Efren, a bystander who makes a living taking people to church on foot pedals, said, as a Kärcher cleaning expert from Germany demonstrated how to manicure a 500-year-old adobe wall.

Kärcher, provider of efficient and resource-conserving cleaning systems, is doing a restorative cleanup of San Agustin Church, a Unesco World Heritage site, as part of its cultural sponsoring program to preserve historical landmarks the world over.

SCRUBBING the ancient relic of the past.


RESTORATING centuries-old walls through high-pressure cleaners.

The oldest church in the country has accumulated organic vegetation on its natural stone exterior due to age and tropical climate.

“With our technology, we are removing the biological growth of algae, mosses, small plants, and emission pollution from the centuries-old limestone,” explained Thorsten Möwes, Kärcher cleaning expert, who is responsible for carrying out the work on site. “It is our goal to contribute to the preservation of this valuable building by cleaning it.”

Möwes is using Kärcher’s hot water, high-pressure cleaners that emit gentle steam that is harmless to the church’s delicate walls.

The steam delays the reintroduction of biogenic vegetation as its high temperature reaches deeper lengths and smaller nooks, and destroys even minute biological components.

Hot-steaming is known to be one of the gentlest and most effective techniques in deep-cleaning, restoring and preserving old structures made out of mineral materials.

The principles of restorative cleaning in mind, Möwes said he’s not just dealing with a structure, but a rare artifact, when asked how he decides which ones to remove and which ones to leave be.

“We chose to steam because it has less impact and less abrasion to the stone. We only want to remove the growth, which has a bad influence on the structure,” he said. “Old stones always have a patina, which we will keep not just because it is not removable by our cleaning technology, but because it tells a story of being there over the years.”

Photos by Bob Dungo