Cidade Velha excavations

San Roque


The church of SanRoque

The church of San Roque occupies a very similar location upon the escarpment on the opposing, eastern flank of the valley to that of Santa Luzia/San Miguel to the west (Fig. 8). Unlike the latter, however, it remains roofed and in at least occasional use. Its dedicatee, Saint Roch or Rocco of Montpelier (c. 1348-79), was closely associated with the plague and is frequently invoked against disease. His cult spread rapidly after the Black Death, becoming especially prominent in Italy during the 1400s and subsequently expanding to encompass much of Europe and the New World over the succeeding century. As a result, this dedication appears likely to be testament to the endemic nature of diseases such as malaria in Ribeira Grande throughout the Post-Medieval period.

Two phases of build are apparent at San Roque (Phases I and II, Fig. 9). Although it is certainly possible that they in turn replaced an earlier structure, comparable in date to the original church of San Miguel, no direct evidence of a preceding building was apparent archaeologically (the surrounding terrace walls and associated paving having been repeatedly repaired/updated in modern times). Moreover, little or no reused moulded stone was visible within the fabric of the church’s walls, further arguing against a comparable pattern of direct building succession. Consequently, the earliest definite structure at the site is that labelled Phase I. This was single-celled in form, measuring 5.4m by 11.6m in extent, and was aligned northeast-southwest, parallel to the edge of the escarpment. It could be accessed via two doors. The first was located in the southwest wall, whilst the second was positioned midway along the southeast wall. Internally, the only division between the nave and the chancel comprised a raised dais situated at the northwest end, while the walls were pierced by two rows of put-log holes (initially used to facilitate the erection of scaffolding during the construction process and then retained to provide additional ventilation). There were no windows.

Interior of SanRoque

Interior of the church of SanRoque

Of the building’s remaining Phase I architectural features, however, little remained extant. The door lintels had been replaced in concrete, for example, as had the roof. Initially most probably a pitched tile structure, at some point in the 20th century this had been replaced by a reinforced barrel vault (Fig. 11). The removal of such diagnostic features as the lintels renders dating problematic, although the church was certainly in existence by 1769 – as revealed by cartographic evidence – and could have been constructed as early as c. 1600. appended to the northwest of the chancel. This addition, which measured 5.4m by 2.9m in extent (Phase II, Fig. 9), was carefully constructed. The quoining of the original build was removed and the new stonework fully integrated; only the difference in size of the constituent basalt blocks reveals the disjunction. Two doorways were also cut, connecting the vestry to the chancel. One of these was later blocked, probably at the same time that the concrete-built barrel-vaulted roof was installed, mirroring the roof within the main church itself. As a result, San Roque can be seen as a highly comparable church to Santa Luiza. Of approximately the same size, both were situated in semi-isolated escarpment locations, away from the principal area of settlement. Both also later had vestries appended to their original structures. The principal difference between them is that one continued in parochial use while the other was abandoned; a situation that may have principally arisen as a result of the relative density of nearby occupation (this being much denser to the east as opposed to the west of the valley proper).

Plan of SanRoque

Plan of the church of SanRoque

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Design Dave Webb