Cidade Velha excavations

Other Investigations

In addition to the principal excavation conducted at Nossa Senhora da Conceição, the opportunity arose during the 2014 season to undertake additional recording at three further sites in the town (whose locations are shown in Fig. 8). Although much more limited in scale than the main investigation, and focused entirely upon the surviving above-ground as opposed to below-ground remains, the results of this work were nevertheless informative. Two further churches were investigated, with a length of the town’s waterfront sea wall and an adjacent bastion also recorded.

1778 map of Cidade Velha

1778 map of Cidade Velha

Santa Luzia/San Miguel

Prominent against the skyline at the head of the western flank of the valley of Ribeira Grande stand the ruins of the small church of Santa Luzia. Roofless for decades, most probably since the late 19th/early 20th century, much of the remaining fabric of this structure has been robbed to facilitate construction of the surrounding terrace walls. Nevertheless, a relatively longlived and complex architectural sequence has been identified at the site. This includes two distinct phases of building, which are oriented at approximately 90 degrees to one another (Fig. 9).

The more recent of the two – that which remains at least partially upstanding – was initially of simple, single-celled form. Rectangular in shape and modest in size, the church measured 9.0m by 4.8m in extent (Phase II). Somewhat unusually, it was aligned northeast-southwest; an arrangement that was almost certainly determined by the surrounding topography, as the building lies parallel to the edge of the steep escarpment. Principally accessed from the south, via a doorway that has since been almost entirely robbed, a second, smaller entrance was also present to the east. The latter gave entry to the chancel, an area without apparent distinction from the nave – although the recent build-up of deposits within the church’s interior may disguise an original difference in floor levels. Externally, the walls stand up to 3.9m high. It is likely that they were originally surmounted by a simple pitched tiled roof, although no remnants of this structure has survived. Yet while the building itself was architecturally undistinguished, the constituent materials from which it was constructed are of some note. This is because they included an unusually high quotient of reused moulded blocks, most of which appear to have been imported either from other islands in the archipelago (in the case of tufa) or further afield (in the case of marble). Utilised principally for quoining, but also present in lesser quantities throughout the remainder of the walls, these pale reused blocks contrast starkly with the dark local basalt that comprised the other principal building material (Fig. 10). In the finished structure, however, such differences were concealed beneath a layer of whitewashed render.

Two notable alterations were made to this simple church prior to its final abandonment. Firstly, to the north of the original Phase II build a vestry was appended. Itself a simple structure, with no surviving windows or direct means of communication with the chancel, the vestry was constructed in a similar fashion to the remainder of the church; albeit with a much lower quotient of reused moulded stone. It measured 4.8m by 4.4m in extent (Phase III, Fig .9). The second alteration is somewhat more enigmatic. Situated at the southwest corner of Santa Luzia, it comprised a sub-square structure that measured 3.5m by 2.9m in extent. In contrast to the vestry to the north, the walls of this second structure had been keyed directly into those of the Phase II church (thereby implying, although by no means definitively confirming, that it may have formed an integral part of the original design). Unfortunately, the stonework in this area had been extensively robbed to foundation level, thus precluding a detailed understanding of its original function. Nevertheless, the location of the structure is typical for that of a bell tower; although in this instance the scale of such a tower, being relatively substantial, would not appear to have been commensurate with the limited size of the church. Perhaps its commanding location, partway up the escarpment at the head of the valley, imparted a particular role or importance to its tolling.

In sum, Santa Luzia can be seen as a relatively typical single-celled church with some limited degree of later expansion/reorganisation. It may also have included a bell tower. But perhaps its most notable aspect is the degree of reused stone that was employed in its construction. Although occasional reuse was common, especially during the later Post-Medieval period, in this instance the quantity of reclaimed stone is unusually high (as visible in Fig. 10); particularly in light of the building’s relatively inaccessible location, outside the principal locus of occupation in the valley base. This strongly suggests that much of this material was reclaimed from an earlier, closely adjacent building – an interpretation that is corroborated by the surviving cartographic sources. The earliest map to include the church of Santa Luzia dates from 1769. Here, as part of a highly detailed (and potentially quite reliable) depiction of Ribeira Grande, the northeast-southwest aligned structure is clearly labeled. Somewhat counterintuitively, however, a subsequent – albeit less detailed – colourised map of 1778 shows a west-east aligned structure in the exact same location, which is labelled as the church of San Miguel (Fig. 8). In this case, the later map almost certainly represents a copy of a previous edition of a few decades earlier, which may have been reissued by a different publisher; a relatively common occurrence during this period. Overall, therefore, such a combination of evidence presents a compelling case for a transition in buildings, from one aligned west-east to one aligned northeast-southwest, which is likely to have occurred around the middle of the 18th century. Furthermore, the footings of just such a preceding west-east oriented structure were identified archaeologically at the site (Phase I, Fig. 9).

Markedly more substantial than the succeeding Phase II walls, the extant Phase I footings – which were not completely exposed, in part because they were overlain by the southern portion of Santa Luzia itself – were composed of large basalt boulders bonded with dense offwhite lime-mortar. Such substantial foundations were almost certainly necessitated by the building’s precarious escarpment location, allied with the obtuse angle to the slope which a true west-east alignment required. Indeed, subsidence/collapse of the church’s east end comprises much the most likely reason for its eventual failure and subsequent replacement. Unfortunately, because it has been entirely reduced to foundation level, relatively little can be determined of San Miguel’s original architectural form. Overall, it appears to have been single-celled in design, without a distinct nave and chancel, measuring 7.0m wide by a minimum of 12.0m in length (thereby rendering it at least twice the size of its successor). Although ex situ, however, the extensive quantity of moulded stone that was reused within the fabric of Santa Luzia does provide useful additional information. All of the mouldings were of a similar type, which employed perpendicular, renaissance-style decorative motifs. Such material is likely to date to the second half of the 16th or, perhaps less probably, first half of the 17th century. The extent of the imported stone which was employed in its construction, along with the quality of its carving, all imply that San Miguel was a church of some importance, which had benefitted from significant investment. Yet by the mid-18th century the Phase I building appears to have collapsed beyond repair. A new, smaller and simpler chapel was constructed from its remains (Santa Luzia), which was set further back from the escarpment edge. This in turn underwent some small-scale modifications before eventually being abandoned around the end of the 19th century.

Finally, it is notable that the rebuilding of the original Phase I church was also accompanied by its rededication. In the Roman Catholic tradition the initial dedicatee, the Archangel Michael, acts as leader of the Army of God. In contrast, from Phase II onwards the new dedicatee, Saint Lucia of Syracuse (283–304), was a martyr of the Diocletianic Persecution. A prominent female saint, she was widely venerated across Europe throughout the Middle Ages.

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