churches

Being Confused in a Historic Building

Harvey Tesseyman, Heritage Research Archaeologist

I went to visit a local church knowing that it was Grade I listed (the Church of St Mary, Broughton, North Lincolnshire, 1161801, I), because I thought I could find some historic inscriptions, and it sounded like an interesting building. It’s common for historic buildings to be remodelled over time, and given that churches are quite often the oldest building in town they’ve got a lot of history packed in. What follows should illustrate how complex historic buildings can get, and how difficult it can be to get your story straight when it comes to recording!

The oldest fabric of the church is the Anglo-Saxon herringbone masonry which makes up the bottom of the tower (tower-nave churches are typically Saxon).

St Mary, Broughton, North Lincolnshire

St Mary, Broughton, North Lincolnshire

The tower used to be four exterior walls, but one of them is now an interior wall, part of which has been ground down to make healing powder (!?).

Ground down stonework

Ground down stonework

The tiny blocked up windows are another Saxon feature along with a side door, although don’t confuse them with the blocked up Norman windows which are a different type of tiny, and match the surviving fragments of Norman arcade, which wrap around the original church replacing the Saxon chancel. Another sticky-out-bit which seems to be of 13th century origin, based on the Early English Gothic-style windows, looks like it wraps round the bit that wraps round the original bit (but the cupboard doors in here are 15th century). The round bit sticking out of the edge of the tower is a set of very precarious spiral stairs leading most of the way up the Saxon tower on the way to the 14th century belfry they put on top as an extension, possibly on top of an older belfry.

Precarious stairs

Precarious stairs

When they extended the belfry they cut down the height of the stairs and recapped the roof. The central pillar of the spiral stairs is made from reused Roman stone, and the roof seems to be capped with some reused medieval beams and supported by a modern one. When you get up into the belfry there’s a pile of Victorian glass, some unidentified machinery, and a door taken from somewhere else in the church (we’re not sure where) which has been plastered in newspaper bearing a date of 1868. The floor of the church is also Victorian, they laid it down when they installed heating pipes, and while they were doing it found the original Saxon floor surface.

Victorian ephemera

Victorian ephemera

 

A really fancy daisywheel

A really fancy daisywheel

 

Undated inscription

Undated inscription

As with below-the-ground archaeology, layers often get mixed together and it becomes difficult to work out what should have gone where, but that’s part of the intrigue. Trying to analyse historic buildings can leave you feeling as out of breath as climbing the spiral stairs might, but I did find some historic inscription…Please don’t ask me to come up with a date for it…

Une journée dans les pas d’une archéologue : fouille à la Cathédrale de Nîmes

Bonjour, je suis Marie Rochette. Je suis archéologue médiéviste au Centre de recherches archéologiques Inrap de Nîmes. Ce Day of Archaeology me donne l’occasion de vous parler d’une de mes journées de fouille à l’intérieur de la Cathédrale de Nîmes.

La Cathédrale de Nîmes © Marie Rochette, Inrap

Cette opération est considérée comme un chantier de fouille, mais son organisation est très particulière car elle dépend de l’avancée des travaux de réfection du sol de la nef de l’église.

Ainsi durant trois mois, trois collègues, Odile, Claire et Frédéric, et moi avons travaillé en co-activité avec les maçons, les électriciens, les foreurs… qui participent à ce chantier.

Le cadre de l’opération est exceptionnel ! C’est la première fois que l’on va pouvoir observer, dans quatre sondages, le sous-sol de l’édifice. L’église que l’on visite aujourd’hui a été en grande partie reconstruite à l’époque moderne.

Dès la préparation de l’opération, de nombreuses questions se posent et attisent notre curiosité :

Comment était l’église romane ? Et auparavant, y a-t-il eu une église paléochrétienne ? Le quartier était-il occupé par un bâtiment antique public comme les historiens le pensent ? Ces vestiges seront-ils accessibles au fond des sondages ?

J’ai beaucoup de chance car même si le contexte de cette opération atypique s’annonce complexe, les enjeux scientifiques sont passionnants.

La chantier de fouille à l’intérieur de la Cathédrale © Marie Rochette, Inrap

Le premier jour, l’arrivée à 8h dans ce bâtiment majestueux impressionne. Notre vestiaire est installé dans le déambulatoire de l’abside. Le confessionnal et quelques tableaux religieux font le décor ! Le réfectoire se situe à l’étage dans une grande salle voûtée.

La première matinée est consacrée à la visite de l’édifice : la nef et le chœur, les chapelles, le triforium, le clocher… et la terrasse ! Aux premières heures de la journée, cette dernière offre une vue imprenable sur la ville !

Vue de Nîmes depuis la Cathédrale © Marie Rochette, Inrap

Nous devons creuser les deux premiers sondages entièrement à la main. Le premier se trouve près du chœur, le second est à l’opposé. On convient de mettre toute la terre au centre de la nef, elle sera emportée dans un camion dans quelques semaines. Au bout de quelques jours, le tas est impressionnant !

Premiers sondages dans la Cathédrale © Marie Rochette, Inrap

Deux autres sondages, l’un au sud de la nef et l’autre au nord, sont creusés à l’aide d’une petite pelle mécanique.

Sondages à la pelle mécanique © Marie Rochette, Inrap

À 1,30 m de profondeur sous le dallage de l’église, les vestiges apparaissent enfin : les maçonneries de fondations filantes séparant la nef et les bas-côtés. C’est bien la cathédrale romane. Un petit sondage complémentaire, dans un placard entre une chapelle et la nef, nous permet aussi d’observer une portion du mur gouttereau méridional. Bâti avec de grands blocs en remploi, il est renforcé par un contrefort.

Les maçonneries mises au jour sous le dallage de la Cathédrale © Marie Rochette, Inrap

Après quelques semaines de fouille, ces quelques points d’observation nous permettent de restituer la nef romane : elle est constituée de trois nefs. La nef centrale est plus étroite que celle actuelle. On en déduit aussi sa longueur minimale qui est au moins équivalente à l’édifice actuel.

En poussant un peu plus profondément la fouille, des couches plus anciennes sont mises en évidence. Au vu du mobilier recueilli (céramique, plaquages de marbre, moulures), elles datent de l’Antiquité et de l’Antiquité tardive. En fond de tranchée, et malgré le blindage qui a été installé pour notre sécurité et nous complique un peu la tâche, nous avons malheureusement peu d’espace pour poursuivre l’investigation.

Un gros bloc nous intrigue… Mon collègue Frédéric le dégage un peu plus. Il s’agit d’un très grand bloc de corniche antique, retourné, qui a pu appartenir à un édifice important !

Bloc de corniche antique © Marie Rochette, Inrap

Aurélien, le topographe de l’équipe, qui vient chaque semaine sur le chantier pour relever les vestiges mis au jour, pourra dans quelques jours faire une série de photographies pour rendre compte en 3D du riche décor du bloc.

Chaque soir après 17h, la cathédrale retrouve son calme. Outils rangés, lumières éteintes, nous sortons par la place du chapitre. En ouvrant la porte, le soleil nous éblouit et nous ramène aussitôt dans le mouvement de la ville !

High Crimes: Studying the Illicit Antiquities Trade in the Bolivian Andes

Painting of Santa Rosa

Painting of Santa Rosa stolen from the church of the Bolivian village of Jesus de Machaca and recovered on the London art market in 2011 (image via. Bolivia’s Ministry of Cultures)

Although I am a trained field archaeologist, I now work for a criminology department. I study the looting of archaeological and historic sites and the transnational trade in illicit cultural property. That is what I am doing now, in La Paz, Bolivia, 3700 feet above sea level, thanks to a Fulbright grant and a Leverhulme fellowship.

I am part of the University of Glasgow and the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research’s Trafficking Culture project. My research group is approaching looting and antiquities trafficking from new angles to hopefully come up with interesting regulatory responses to this problem. Besides larger criminological and market analyses, our project is engaged in several regional case studies. That is where I fit in. I am looking into this phenomenon in Latin America and, right now, in Bolivia.

At the moment I am working on the looting of remote Conquest-era churches and the international market for stolen ecclesiastical paintings, sculpture and silver. The Andes are filled with rural churches: they were part of the evangelising mission of the Spanish Conquistadors. These churches are filled with spectacular and regionally-specific art. Most notable in Bolivia is silver work: for several hundred years the majority of the world’s silver came from Bolivia and Indigenous artists had a ready supply to make thousands of beautiful objects of devotion. Unfortunately there are collectors out there who are willing to buy stolen church art and, as supply meets demand, poor Bolivian communities are robbed of their heritage.

Stone Church at village of Laja

This church at the Bolivian village of Laja was robbed in 2012 (wikimedia commons)

Bolivia is culturally rich but economically poor. These churches are in bad states of repair and are insecure. Many cannot be alarmed, even if they are located in an area with electricity, because there is no money for such things. In most of the villages where churches are located residents live well below the poverty line so the idea of paying a full time guard is laughable. Increase police presence? Not when the nearest police outpost is 100km away over an unpaved road. Not when this country is thought to have one of the most corrupt police forces in the Americas.

But even the most important and well-protected Bolivian churches are not safe. In April the church of the Virgin of Copacabana, Bolivia’s most holy and miraculous shrine, was robbed of the silver and gold that anointed the Virgin herself. The baby Jesus in her arms was stolen as well. A priest who was at Copacabana on temporary assignment was jailed this week for involvement in the robbery. The holy pieces have not been recovered. My guess is that they were carried into Peru and then on to anonymity. That was the 6th church robbery in Bolivia in only 4 months.

17th Century Painting of the Virgin of Copacabana

A 17th century painting of the Virgin of Copacabana surrounded by silver (public domain)

I am constantly asked why these silver-filled churches were not robbed before. If they have been sitting out there, vulnerable, for 500 years why are they only being robbed now? The best answer I can give is that there was no illicit market for these items before. These churches are being robbed because terrible people want to own beautiful things.

I warn I am writing in advance because my day will include being without internet.

So what will my day be? On this day of archaeology I will take a taxi to the La Paz cemetery then squish myself into a minibus. I will head westward for about two hours until I reach the famous UNESCO World Heritage Site of Tiwanaku.

Tiwanaku is a vast, monumental, pre-Inka site that I excavated at (when I was a diggy-archaeologist) back in 2004 and 2005. I am sad to say that in 2011 Tiwanaku’s conquest-era church was robbed. It wasn’t the first time. The thieves have not been arrested and the objects stolen have not been recovered. I am going out there to talk to old friends about the robbery. I am interested to hear their perceptions about how the theft could have been prevented, their thoughts on the response of public authorities, and how they feel the robbery has affected the community. I want to hear the facts but I also want to hear wild speculation, rumours, and emotion. I think emotion is very important in this kind of work.

Tiwanaku's church

Tiwanaku’s conquest-era church was built by the Spanish from stoned looted from the nearby World Heritage site. It was robbed in 2011 (photo by the author)

And, really, this is an emotional issue with grave consequences. Just last year two men were caught robbing the church in the small Bolivian village of Quila Quila. The villagers apprehended the men and, in a public display of frustration, insecurity, and fear, they lynched the alleged robbers and buried them behind the church.

A ruined church in Bolivia

A ruined and abandoned church in the Altiplano, Bolivia’s high plain (Jduranboger, CC attribution)

I don’t think most people imagine that what I do is archaeology (even the Day of Archaeology website doesn’t have a category for this post to fit into!), but I think that it is. The past is what we say it is, and we believe that the physical remains of the past are important. That they are worthy of being preserved as tools of both memory and identity. When they are ripped from their contexts and sold on the black market,  everyone loses. We are all robbed because we will never get to know the information those objects contained. “Neocolonialism” is a word that is bandied about quite a bit in Bolivia: it is a word that even people with no education know. The illicit antiquities trade is a prime example of neocolonialism. When objects are stolen from vulnerable areas of the developing world and moved into the hands of rich people in the developed world, we perpetuate an unjust imbalance. We keep people down.

This is my dream job. I am so thankful to be able to do this research.