A chapel of the first phase of the Church of Our Lady of the Rosary, in the Old Town in Cape Verde, with preserved walls, floors and altar, was recently discovered during the rehabilitation works of this building, with more than six centuries.
The discovery, which surprised the team responsible for the archaeological excavations, which take place during the third mission in Cape Verde of the Concha project, of the Unesco Chair – The Cultural Heritage of the Oceans, along with rehabilitation works, will be the first phase of the church itself , dated 1495.
André Teixeira, a researcher at the New University of Lisbon and the Concha project, explained that this archaeological work arose from the need to combine the conservation work of the structure, by the Institute of Cultural Heritage (IPC), with an investigation into the structure.
Archaeologists had heard rumours about the existence of this chapel, which would have received restorations in the 1960s, but remained “systematically ignored.”
In the place that came to reveal access to the chapel, there was only a “completely walled” arch. When the wall was knocked down, the team encountered tons of earth with gigantic stones coming from a hillside next to one of the church’s sides, which, moreover, are very threatening to the building.
Despite the invisibility of the chapel, the researchers identified small signs: “First on the wall and then on the ground, there were things on the site, old structures and still preserved and that is why we started the investigation and the archaeological excavation itself.”
In the process of the investigation, he observed, observed the presence of several levels of plaster and later a “still preserved structure, with the area of prayer and altar”, the latter with “two phases of construction.”
According to André Teixeira, in the “great configuration” that was made in the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the chapel was integrated into space “originating in the primitive Church of Our Lady of the Rosary“. Later, it underwent adaptations until being buried.
Among these adaptations was the removal of a grave and the burial that were at the entrance to the chapel, which probably would sponsor the construction of the chapel, which was “usual.”
One of the reasons for this episode was, according to the investigator, the threat to which the chapel would be exposed, probably given the proximity of the hillside, whose stones and earth eventually buried the structure.
In the twentieth century, especially during the reconstruction of the Church by the Portuguese architect Luís Benavente, then director of the National Monuments Service (Portugal), although there is “vague news of the existence of the chapel“, it ended up being closed.
“There is a withdrawal, give up the chapel,” stressed the archaeologist.
Joana Torres, an archaeologist of the Concha project, told that there were many signs pointing to the presence of the chapel, namely the material that was found in the middle of stones and earth accumulated for decades.
“We noted that there was a very large mixture of contemporary materials and a 1970s coin, Cape Verdean, plastic, very recent objects, but also late medieval objects,” he said.
As the excavations progressed “to lower strata and closer to the original remains of the chapel,” the researchers noted that the presence of older materials was more frequent.
They also identified that some chapel structures, including the walls and base of the altar, included materials that were “used at an early stage of this chapel or church, were later reused in a very pragmatic way as a building material” and already “without any aesthetic mark“.
Joana Torres, who stresses the need for further studies on this structure, underlines the “various phases of construction” that the finding will have been subjected to.
“The altar clearly has two phases: in the first phase, it is narrower and longer and then takes on a more rectangular and more imposing form in which it uses these older elements in its own structure. is over-elevated relative to the circulation floor, where the tombstone would be and which may also eventually have several stages of construction. ”
It remains to analyze “the very mortars with which the various elements of the altar were constructed to perceive what was done at the same time or not,” he clarified.
To continue, the oracle of the chapel continues, to which the investigators hope to arrive with the identification, for example, of the person who was buried there.
The second phase of the project contemplates the correction of problems by replacing the roof, floor and church cover and replacing the tiles, for decades without respecting the standard design.
The last part of the intervention will focus on the exterior of the church, with the restoration of the wall and the replacement of the floor with more regular stones.
At the reopening, which will take place later this year, the Church will show the public the new chapel, along with another one of Gothic style, currently also targeted for intervention.