The People of Gibraltar
1530s - Nuestra Señora del Rosario - Gibraltar

When I was much younger than I am today I lived with my family in number 45 Alameda House, Red Sands Road. (See LINK) Going down town invariably meant going through Southport Gates (see LINK) and then walking a short distance to a house that stood in the corner of Kings Yard Lane and Main Street (see LINK) where I would meet up with one of my best friends. Lengthy and leisurely discussions would then take place as to what the hell we were going to do for the rest of the day.

The reason for my mentioning this bit of trivia is that I must have gone through that small bit of the northern section of Main Street at least twice a day and on just about every day. And I can truly say that in all those up and down trips over the years I never ever noticed an unusual, blind, medieval archway on the eastern side of Main Street more or less immediately after Southport gates, opposite Inces Hall. 

This is the oldest photograph I can find of the archway - it probably dates from the late 19th century   (Unknown)

In 1883 most of the buildings making up this site were demolished and a new Barracks was built for the use of the Royal Engineers. It was completed in 1897 and later named St Jago’s Barracks - perhaps a reference to the nearby St Jago’s Bastion - el Baluarte de Santiago. Both these rather attractive names were soon ditched for the far more prosaic Flat Bastion which is what it is called today. It lies south of the barracks and also projects southwards from Charles V Wall. (See LINK

The “new” 1897 building extended all the way back to Hargrave’s Parade (see LINK) to the east which even before the early 19th century had been used as a drilling ground for the Royal Engineers. In those days it was also known as Sapper’s Parade.

Sappers’ Parade aka Hargrave’s Parade     (1820 - Henry Sandham) (See LINK)

During the late 19th century - and it was still more or less the same half a century later - Gibraltar was still very much under the thumb of the military establishment  and the preservation of old Spanish buildings - in particular places of Roman Catholic worship - was treated with philistine contempt. This archway - an exception that proves the rules perhaps - somehow escaped the usual destruction meted out by British military engineers although my guess is that it was saved not because it was of any importance from a heritage point of view but simply because somebody probably thought it would look nice - with the addition of an appropriate wooden doorway - as an entrance to an ordnance store.

The archway I never noticed as it looked like in the 1930s   (Unknown date - Beanland Malin photo (see LINK) in E.R.Kenyon’s Gibraltar. (See LINK)

The notice on the photograph above reads “Chapel Doorway - Site of St. Jago’s Chapel, East of the Wall” - which is self explanatory - apart from the “east of the wall” which I don’t understand. East of what wall?  Whatever it meant the sign was soon replaced by another one.

The red tourist plaque reads:
 “This doorway is believed to have been brought from the parish church of Villa Vieja, the oldest part of the town, badly damaged in the 1727 siege and later demolished to make Casemates Square.”

These red, cast iron plaques were the brainchild of Dorothy Ellicott, (see LINK) a lady of tireless energy, who in addition to her ground-breaking involvement as Gibraltar’s first female politician did much to popularise the history of the Rock.  There were probably more than fifty of these plaques in situ at one time or the other - I think some of them are still around. Understandably a few of them contain incorrect information - it was not until perhaps the 1970s that properly researched general histories of the Rock became available. And even these rarely had very much to say - not say anything at all - on the social rather than the military history of the Rock.

But let me first of all quote from Alonso Hernández del Portillo writing in the early 17th century:
. . . otro grandísimo (Baluarte) que hizo al cabo de la primera muralla (Charles V Wall) que cerca lo habitado de la ciudad hasta meterlo en la mar y traerlo bien cerca de la puerta de ella (Puerta Nueva - Southport Gates) a quien nombró Nuestra Sra. del Rosario, ermita que está allí cerca de este nombre, ni otro baluarte que hizo por cima de la puerta entre ella y la casamata no están acabadas.

Two Spanish bastions near Charles V Wall  - Puerta Nusva would become Southport Gate   (1627 - adapted from Louis Bravo de Acuña )   (See LINK)

The quote usefully confirms that the church of Nuestra Señora del Rosario was near the Puerta Nueva of Charles V Wall but does not make clear whether it was on the southern or the northern side of the Wall. 

The idea - which persisted for quite a while - that the archway on St Jago’s Barracks originally came from elsewhere may have had its origins in E. R. Kenyon’s Gibraltar which was published in 1911 and revised and enlarged in 1933. In this latter edition he wrote:
The author of a satirical pamphlet (see Link) written to   . . to attack a certain Lieutenant Colonel described as “deputed Deputy’s Deputy” says ‘to repair the church he pulls down one half of it, and with the materials built storehouses on the “esplanade”. . . . and from (Thomas) James (see LINK) we learn that the “esplanade” was on the site of Casemates Barracks and that it was cleared of rubble in 1731. On this site once stood the parish church of the quarter of Villa Vieja . . .  
It seems possible that this was the church referred to in the satire, and that the doorway, in St Jago’s Barracks and the similar one in the stables of Government House were removed from  it.
It seems to me that Kenyon’s logic was extremely suspect. For a start I would have expected to find the parish church of Villa Vieja inside this particular quarter of the town and not in the Casemates area which was then known as la Barcina and which lay below and to the west of it.

The Quasbah, Villa Vieja and la Barcina - The three main quarters of the older part of town   (1627 - Adapted from Louis Bravo de Acuña )

However suspect Kenyon’s reasoning, Dorothy Elliott seems to have agreed with him in that the archway had been moved from the parish church of Villa Nueva - presumably taking it for granted that this church was indeed in Villa Nueva - hence her red plaque. 

George Palao a local historian who produced in the 1970 perhaps the best overall summary available of Gibraltar’s long gone Spanish churches gives us a different perspective. 
Church of Santiago - Only the doorway of this 16th century church has been preserved when it was built into St Jago’s Barracks near Southport Gates. The Barracks were reconstructed in 1883 but the actual church was once used as an ordnance workshop. 
Other researchers place the site of St Jago’s Church (Iglesia de Santiago) in the Grand Casemates Square and say that when it was demolished its west doorway was re-erected into the present barracks facia.
Palao’s first choice seems to be that the archway belonged to la Iglesia de Santiago and that the church stood on the site of the reconstructed barracks. When the church was demolished during the reconstruction work, its archway was incorporated into the west wall of the new barracks.

The only other church which Palao identifies as being anywhere near Southport Gates is la Iglesia de Nuestra Señora del Rosario, a 16th century church which he locates to the south of Charles the V wall and on Ragged Staff Flank. It was, he wrote, used as a guardhouse for the nearby Royal Engineers’ Yard up to 1947.

This suggestion corresponds more or less with its positioning on a map that appears in Francisco Maria Montero’s  Historia de Gibraltar y su Campo. (See LINK) Unfortunately Montero’s map is full of mistakes and I would be loath to use it as evidence for anything.

Plan of Gibraltar which I suspect interprets another very similar one shown below   (1860 - Francisco Maria Montero)  

Despite the date shown on it the plan of Gibraltar it is actually from 1725    (Unknown)

Palao’s location of the church, on the other hand, is slightly at odds with the anonymous author of the Old Inhabitants Travellers’ Handbook published in 1844 (see LINK) and among the oldest of Gibraltar ever published. He confirms that:  
At Southport stood a chapel dedicated to La Señora del Rosario
Palao’s second paragraph, however, suggests that la Iglesia de Santiago was nowhere near Southport Gates. It was originally found in the Casemates. When this church was demolished the archway was transferred and built into St Jago’s Barracks. This theory corresponds with Dorothy Ellicott’s premise that the archway on St Jago’s Barracks came from a church in a different location. 

Since George Palao published his study, another local historian - Tito Vallejo - also tried his hand at unravelling the mess. His solution was to identify the church on the northern side of Southport Gates - near where St Jago’s Barracks would one day be built - as either la Iglesia de Santiago or Nuestra Señora del Rosario while at the same time hedging his bets by identifying another Nuestra Señora del Rosario well to the north of Charles V Wall 

Detail of plan showing suggested locations of a large number of the old Spanish Churches  (20th century - Tito Vallejo - adapted)

In 1989 local government passed the Gibraltar Heritage Trust Act. The “doorway” at St Jago’s Barracks appears on it as a B listed structure but without giving any other information as to why it had been decided to include it. A couple of decades later yet another local historian Manolo Galliano came to the conclusion that the site of the Iglesia de Nuestra Señora del Rosario was to the north of and close to Southport Gates and on the eastern side of Main Street. The archway, he claimed, was all that remained of this chapel. It had not been transported there from another church elsewhere but had simply been incorporated into the facade of the 19th century St Jago’s Barracks when the rest of the buildings found on the site - including that of Nuestra Señora del Rosario del Rosario - had been demolished.

He arrived at this conclusion by firstly acknowledging Portillo’s claim that the Rosario church was near to and was responsible for the name of the Baluarte del Rosario. He also claimed that a plan by Anton Wyngaerde (see LINK) produced in 1567 shows Nuestra Señora del Rosario more or less where one would have expected it to be. 

Galliano failed to publish any of Wyngaerde’s plans of the Rock but that does not stop me from doing so.  Wyngaerd’s plans certainly include a reference to the church in question In fact it appears twice - once on his general plan of the entire Rock and Bay and then separately in a small sketch.

On this Plan, E = the Iglesia del Rosario appears more or less in front of la Puerta Nueba - today Southport Gates   (1567 - Van Wyngaerde) 

The building to the right of Gubelaltar  S. Franco - the Convent - is identified the old chapel of Nra Señora del Rosario just opposite la Puerta Nueva circled in red    (1567 - Anton Wyngaerde)

Although Galliano does not mention it yet another earlier Spanish engineer also shows what is almost certainly Nuestra Señora del Rosario exactly where he suggested it should be.

Plan showing a diamond shaped Baluarte del Rosario and what appears to be a building captioned as “elrrosario”  (1608 - Cristóbal de Rojas - detail)  (See LINK)

In 2013 conservation and restoration work was carried out on the archway by the Gibraltar Museum and the following year a nicely cleaned up version was revealed to the general public. The red plaque had been removed and had been replaced by an information board which reads as follows:
For many years it was believed that a large doorway opposite the Ince’s Hall had been brought there from a nearby site. However, conservation and restoration work carried out by the Gibraltar Museum in 2013 confirmed that it was, in fact, in its original location. Drawings and plans dating back to the late 16th and early 17th Centuries show that this was indeed the location of the Roman Catholic Church of Nuestra Señora del Rosario. Conservation works have exposed new parts of the doorway and have confirmed that it is in its original location. The doorway belonged to the original church. Now professionally conserved and restored, this ornately carved sandstone entrance and parts of the building’s adjacent walls are the only clearly identifiable remnant of the original building. 
The rest of the remaining walls now form part of the building known as St. Jago's Stone Block, which is of later British construction, and which was named after the nearby 16th Century Bastión de Santiago that lies just east of the Trafalgar Cemetery, and was renamed Flat Bastion by the British. St Jago's Arch had been suffering from significant erosion for a number of years. 
In 2013, Her Majesty’s Government of Gibraltar took the decision, based on advice from the Gibraltar Museum and the Gibraltar Heritage Trust, to conserve the monument. This was restored by the Gibraltar Museum between August and October 2013, in consultation with the Gibraltar Heritage Trust.
The completed works will be inaugurated by The Honourable Steven Linares, MP, Minister for Heritage of Her Majesty’s Government of Gibraltar, on the 22nd January 2014.

The archway of la Iglesia de Nuestra Señora del Rosario after conservation work

Have we got it right at last?