Cidade Velha excavations

Capela Nossa Senhora de Conceicao

The work proved hugely successful. Not only was the polygonal side-chapel (first located in 2007) fully exposed, and which had blue and white tiles still in situ on either side of its altar – with quantities of such tiles recovered from the building’s destruction horizon infilling – but on its eastern side was exposed either a tile-floored vestry or sacristy (Fig. 3). In addition, we were also able to excavate a trench (down to the church’s floor level) right the way along the church’s northern side. Within the latter was exposed the eastern wall of the nave (F. 101) and, at the other end, what may be its western wall was found (F. 100) with in situ yellow and blue tiles at its base.

View of the side chapel and vestry

Fig. 3: The side chapel and vestry (foreground).

Complications invariably arose from the investigations. Along the trench’s western end (beyond F. 100) was exposed a series of well-built masonry foundations (F. 105). In part, these were aligned with the main church wall (F. 1); their top was sealed by an alluvial horizon, so it is possible that the north wall proper actually continued beyond the line of F. 100 and, in which case, that wall (F. 100) might instead relate to an internal feature or perhaps even a tower. Alternatively, the F. 105 foundation – together with those exposed along the side of the western roadway (and seen in Trench I.A) – might relate to some manner of porch. The interpretation of these features will only be resolved by further excavation.

Another area of uncertainty is at the far end of the trench and relates to the vestry’s plan. In its first phase-form its walls (F. 102 & F. 104) appear to have had a quasi-polygonal arrangement. The building’s northeastern corner seems to have been badly damaged through seasonal stream flooding. As a result, a new wall – likely to be of 17/18th century date and directly associated with the tile floor – was added to join with the remnant portion of wall F. 104. By the trench’s exposure it is clear that the southern length of that wall had also been subsequently removed by flood damage. Indeed, the same might also eventually prove to be true of the chancel’s end; this being because of the steep bedrock rise along the site’s eastern side, down which seasonal flood waters must issue with considerable force.

Plan of the Site

Fig. 3: The Church site investigations.

Other complications may well also arise in relationship to the northeastern portion of the site. While the town’s 1769 map shows both the church’s side-chapel and vestry, another blackindicated linear feature can also be seen running north from the chancel beside the vestry (see Fig. 4). It is possible that the latter was some manner of enormous retaining wall intended to direct water-flow; though no evidence of it was seen in the (nor are any upstanding elements visible), its foundation may still be encountered.

It is proposed that the church’s excavation be completed during March/April of 2015 (six weeks in total) and which will then leave sufficient time for the building’s conservation before the start of the rainy season. This will again require upwards of 20 workmen for at least a month (we needing some weeks thereafter for recording). Considerable quantities of soil will have to be removed: generally c. 1.00m within the interior of the church itself and up to 1.50m depth in the area south of its wall F. 5, as that feature seems to have also served as a terrace boundary and ground surfaces are lower south of it (see Fig. 6). It is, therefore, proposed that throughout the area the top 0.50m be removed by careful machine excavation, with the spoil being taken away by truck. (Corresponding to the top of the church’s walls, we may decide to go deeper by this means exterior to its southern wall.) Below this depth excavation will be by hand, the dug soil will have to be temporarily stored on site and then occasionally removed by machine (and truck) off of it.

Currently the proposal is, upon its full exposure, to display the church as a ruin and not attempt any significant reconstruction. However, in order to preserve the side-chapel’s more fragile components, this will have a thatched roof carried upon a timber frame. The walls that have been exposed generally seem solid/sound and should probably require only limited conservation sealing, etc.. That said, some sort of appropriate adhesive sealing will probably need to be applied to the walls’ tiles and areas of fragile plaster, as well as to the side-chapel altar’s ‘wing-additions’ (F. 11, etc.). As to the ground surfaces, it seems unlikely that any solid church floor level will be found (e.g. tiled); though, it is likely that perhaps as many as five further in situ tombstones will be present.

There is also a need to ensure the preservation of the cemetery deposits that are known to exist beneath the church’s floor level. It is, therefore, proposed that within the church’s interior excavation continues to c. 10cm depth into the top of the cemetery soils and below the top of the tombstones. This horizon will then be covered by a geo-textile membrane and, then, with compacted stone chippings.

The impact of seasonal rainwater flow/flooding must also be considered and a hydraulic engineer will need to be consulted. At the very least, drainage pipes will have to be inserted into the site’s southern end and, buried across the width of the road there, these will have to empty into the next/lower agricultural plot on that side. Aside from rebuilding/reinforcing some of the site’s peripheral terrace walls, some manner of mortared retaining wall will have to be erected beside the stairway leading up to the convent along the site’s eastern side to stop seasonal flooding.

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