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Wrocław archaeologists study medieval church in Sicily

13.05.2016 History&Culture

View of the excavation and the southern wall of the apse of the church. Student from the Institute of Classical Studies, Anna Czerepok during measurements. Photo by Anna Kubicka

Polish archaeologists discovered previously unknown walls and burials from the Middle Ages in the vicinity of the church of San Michele del Golfo (Santa Maria di Campogrosso) on the north coast of Sicily near Palermo. The first large-scale archaeological project started in May.

"The results from the first research season confirm the XI-XII century metric of the church. At that time, the island was recaptured from the Arabs by the Norman ruler - Roger I" - explained Prof. Slawomir Moździoch from the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology PAS in Wrocław, who leads the project together with Prof. Tadeusz Baranowski.

 

Interestingly, the construction of the fortified church began before the recapture of nearby Palermo from the Muslims. "Being in the field and with the sight of the place of its construction, it is easier to understand the intentions of the founders. This building was intended to dominate the area, and it was built close to, if not in the centre of the old Arab settlement Ayliel" - added the scientist. According to the researcher it was an intentional "Christianisation" of the landscape.

 

The structure was built on a hill, in a strategic position. Until now, scientists knew only about the relics of the church. Geophysical research, including GPR, made by the Polish expedition allowed to discover traces of the walls adjacent to the temple. "We believe that these are the remains of the church monastery, about which until now we could only read in the records of the period" - said Prof. Moździoch.

 

"We chose this church for our research also due to a significant degree of destruction risk, hence the most important task in the first season was to make a precise inventory of the monument" - he added.

 

During excavations, archaeologists stumbled upon two burials. The first was a skeleton of a baby covered with tiles. "This is a surprising discovery - this type of burial was significantly more likely to occur in this area in antiquity, in the Middle Ages it was rather rare" - said Prof. Moździoch. A few away an adult was buried. The baby was buried in the foundation ditch of the medieval church, which is a big mystery for researchers.

 

The heyday of the Basilian church and monastery falls on the twelfth and thirteenth century. In the early fifteenth century the complex and the nearby village were deserted. The ruins of the church became home to robbers who robbed travellers. In 1583 a royal visitor Franciscus Puteus (Francesco del Pozzo) decided on the church desacralisation and partial demolition. "We are dealing with a building that has been in ruins for almost 450 years. At the end of the nineteenth century an attempt was made to temporarily secure the ruins - but it was not possible to complete the reconstruction" - said the researcher.

 

Analysis of preserved remains of the church allows scientists to reconstruct it as a three-apse, single nave building, on a cruciform plan. But it is difficult to make a full reconstruction of the church - further work in the field is needed. It is already known that over several hundred years of its existence, the complex was rebuilt, although detailed information on this issue is not known.

 

New archaeological work should shed more light on the picturesquely situated ruin. There is a chance that in cooperation with Italian researchers this time it will be possible to study it in a comprehensive manner - said Prof. Moździoch.

 

The initiators of the research project are employees of Wroclaw Centre for Late Antique and Early Medieval Studies of the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology PAS and the Institute of Classical, Mediterranean and Oriental Studies of the University of Wroclaw. The first season of work took place in October 2015. The new season began on May 1. The work will continue until June 6. Research in the church of San Michele is part of a research program, which aims to assess the role of the Normans in the process of shaping the culture of medieval Europe, including the role in the creation of state organizations and the transmission of cultural patterns.

 

PAP - Science and Scholarship in Poland

 

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Noninvasive tests south of the ruins of the church carried out by Piotr Wroniecki and Marcin Jaworski. Photo by Blazej Stanislawski

Burials discovered in the ditch by the southern side wall of the apse. Photo by Anna Kubicka

Start of excavations. View of the dig from the west. Students of the Institute of Classical, Mediterranean and Oriental Studies UWr.; from right: employee of Palermo conservation office - Dr. Gabriella Albamaria Calascibetta and the project leader: Prof. Slawomir Moździoch. Photo by Anna Kubicka

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