This ornate sandstone arch is set into the western façade of the former St. Jago's Barracks at the southern end of Main Street, near Southport Gates. The arch is all that remains of the 16th century Spanish Hermitage of Our Lady of the Rosary [Spanish: Ermita de Nuestra Señora del Rosario].
During his 2013 budget, Minister for Culture and Heritage, Steven Linares MP, announced that conservation works to the medieval wall in Southport would be extended to include the restoration of the historic arch at St. Jago’s Stone Block. A restoration team under the supervision of the Director of the Gibraltar Museum in consultation with the Gibraltar Heritage Trust completed the first phase of the project by September 2013, with phase two, which included interpretation of the site and lighting of the monuments completed by October. The completed restoration projects were inaugurated by the Honourable Steven Linares MP on the 22nd January 2014.1
The Hermitage of Our Lady of the Rosary was situated in the Turba district of the city. During the Moorish period the area beyond La Barcina (now Casemates Square) was known as the Turba al-Hamra which literally means the Red Sands. The Turba was originally the part of the city where the poorer inhabitants lived but the town expanded the Turba began to be populated by more affluent inhabitants who fled the claustrophobic confines of La Barcina and Villa Vieja. During the Spanish period, the area of cultivated land stretching from the convent of St. Francis to Charles V Wall was known as La Huerta de Ceberos. This large orchard covered the grounds of what is now the Convent garden, John Mackintosh Hall and Ince’s Hall. The Hermitage of Our Lady of the Rosary stood at the south-eastern fringe of this orchard. Portillo clearly describes the existence of this hermitage near the defensive wall whose gate was “called Our Lady of the Rosary after a hermitage that stood there by that name.”2 This gate was subsequently referred to as the Gate of Africa by Luis Bravo, perhaps not to confuse it with the Bastion of Our Lady of the Rosary (now South Bastion). The wall itself has been known by various names: Charles I, El Rosario and Mediodia.3
According to Manolo Galliano who has done extensive research on our old Spanish Churches, the hermitage was a double aisled chapel measuring 85 feet by 27 feet, with the raised altar placed in the east and a large doorway leading out to the main street opposite la huerta de Ceberos. A statue of Our Lady of the Rosary stood on the main altar, with another of St. Benedict on a smaller side altar.
The doorway is all that remains of the Hermitage of Our Lady of the Rosary which was built circa 1530/40. It is constructed of sandstone in the Renaissance style architecture, encompassing elegant fluted columns, an archway with roundels and an architrave decorated with rosette symbols. It is almost identical to the existing blocked-up archway which formed the main entrance to the church of the Franciscan monastery, remodelled and enlarged circa 1533, now the Governor's residence and situated inside the garages at the back of the Convent.4
For many years it was believed that the doorway was not originally from this site but had been erected there in the mid-18th Century and incorporated into the façade of an existing building. Mrs Dorothy Ellicott OBE JP, whose brainchild had been to erect the cast iron red plaques between 1959 and 1975 perpetuated this idea with a description on the iron plaque stating that the ‘doorway had been brought from the parish church of Villa Nueva, the oldest part of the town, badly damaged in the 1727 siege and later demolished to make Casemates Square.’ George Palao did not dispute that assertion restricting his observations to the simple view that ‘other researchers place the site of St. Jago’s Church (Iglesia de Santiago) in the Great Casemates and say that when it was demolished its west doorway was re-erected into the present barracks facia.’5
The source of this erroneous hypothesis seems to have been based the work of an anonymous author who wrote a satirical pamphlet entitled ‘Reason for giving up Gibraltar’ which criticised the blatant abuses and perceived corruption of the then Governor of Gibraltar William Hargreaves. James in his 1771 history describes one of the charges laid out against the Governor:6
‘Amongst other witty inventions (says the above pamphlet) to get money, the Church wanted to be repaired, and that a key was necessary to land goods at the water side, for the latter, subscriptions were raised among the inhabitants; and for the former a dollar per butt extraordinary was laid on wine: to repair the church, one half of it was pulled down, and, with the materials, storehouses were built on the esplanade, which were sold to the inhabitants: the sum that was to repair what was pulled down, was pocketed; and to save expense, all soldiers who swore, and were caught in the act, were obliged to work one or more days.’
The pamphlet makes no mention of the name of church in question but it seems that both Thomas James and later E. R. Kenyon assumed, without any evidence, that this church was probably the old Hermitage of Nuestra Señora de la Cabeza, formerly a small mosque, located in the Villa Vieja district.
Ayala tells us that ‘there was a very ancient one [hermitage], and it is in the Villa Vieja, (which as I said, this district, and the castle was the only part inhabited by the Moors), and now known as Nuestra Señora de la Cabeza, to the very old inhabitants of the city I always heard them say Santiago, and later santa Brigida, and lately Nuestra Señora de la Cabeza.’7 The confusion caused by the old Santiago in Villa Vieja and the later Santiago in La Turba together with the pamphlet’s opaque reference to the destruction of an old Spanish church wrong-footed later British historians into believing that the old arch-way at St. Jago’s barracks was all that remained of the former chapel at Casemates. Kenyon’s account dismissed the assumption that any religious building existed there at all: ’8
It is sometimes stated that a convent dedicated to St. James stood on the side of St. Jago’s Barracks. There is however no shadow or foundation for this belief. The doorway at the west end of the barracks is clearly not in its original position but has been brought there from elsewhere. The name of St. Jago (Santiago or St. James) as applied to these barracks is derived from the fortification now called “The Flat Bastion,” the original name of which was “The Bastion of Santiago” under which title it is shown in a Spanish plan dated 1627…
Had Kenyon looked more closely at the 1627 Bravo map he would have noticed that a small Spanish church existed on the site now occupied by the old St. Jago’s Barracks near the baluster de Santiago from which indeed the present building derives its name. Today it is understood that the pamphleteer who completely threw off James, Kenyon, and even Ellicott amongst others was in fact referring to the part of King’s Chapel truncated by order of William Hargreaves in 1749: the surplus stone work being transported down to the esplanade and used as construction material and not the other way round.
The Hermitage of Our Lady of the Rosary was one of several churches, chapels, convents and shrines founded in Gibraltar during the Spanish period. Ayala, who based much of his work on the writings of Alonso Fernández del Portillo’s 'Historia de la Noble y Mas Leal Ciudad de Gibraltar,' a work which he wrote between 1610 and 1622, stated that ‘in most of these establishments there are different Brotherhoods under different appellations’.9 The Hermitage of El Rosario appears to have been one such Brotherhood [Spanish: Confradia]. According to tradition, the devotion to Our Lady of the Rosary dates back to the early 13th Century, when it is said the Virgin appeared to St. Dominic in a vision, giving him a rosary and teaching him how to recite it. This Marian apparition received the title of Our Lady of the Rosary. Devotion to Our Lady had declined by the early 15th Century but the practice was once again successfully revived in around 1460 by the Dominican preacher and theologian Alain de la Roche, and the devotion spread rapidly across Europe once more. The Confraternity of the Rosary appears to have been founded in Gibraltar between 1688-90 thanks to the charismatic sermons of Capuchin Fray Pablo de Cadiz. From 1691-94, the practice of Public Rosaries, consisting of torchlight processions in which the rosary and litany of saints was recited, was initiated on the Rock. Such was the appeal of this confraternity of El Rosario that this Brotherhood together with that of the Ánimas were the only two fraternities successfully transferred to the Hermitage of San Roque in 1711 following the British capture of the Rock.10
Portillo placed the Hermitage of Our Lady of the Rosary close to the New Gate [Spanish: La Puerta Nueva]11 further claiming that the Baluarte de Nuestra Senora del Rosario (now South Bastion) was so called due to the proximity of the hermitage to the said fortification.12 As the Hermitage was also known as la iglesia de Santiago, its sister bastion, the Baluarte de Santiago (now Flat Bastion) covering the entrance to the New Gate, was also named after the same church.
The proximity of the chapel of Santiago to the defensive bastions overrun by Turkish pirates under the command of Caramani and Ali Amete on the 10th September 1540 meant that the hermitage would have been amongst the first religious houses to be sacked in the raid. In his ‘Dialogue’ the Chronicler Pedro Barrantes Maldonado does not mention the chapel but he does mention that the Turkish corsairs did sack the nearby monastery of St. Francis which was just up the street and in the direction of the advancing horde:13
“The Turks, as has been said, had already reached the city, and spreading themselves through it, they entered through the principal street from the direction of the suburb (south) and began sacking the street all the way up to the Monastery of St. Francis, where the friars hearing the noise, fled to the Barcina district, with the Turks looting the monastery.”
Following the attack, the Baluarte de Nuestra Señora del Rosario was re-fortified and a defensive wall, extending all the way from the bastion to the Hacho [Signal Station], was built in 1540 protecting the Turba district from further corsair attacks. The initial wall was later strengthened by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V in 1552.
Tito Benady claims that by the early 17th Century the old church had been abandoned. His premise is based on assumption that ‘the old church of Santiago which stood close by Prince Edward's Gate is not mentioned by Portillo so it must have fallen into ruins by his time.’14
Neville Chipulina believes Benady’s reasoning was based on the notarized documents held in San Roque which were subsequently transcribed and published under the title of Un Protocolo Notarial de Gibraltar in 1983.15 In one of the official records dated 1644 the old Church of Santiago is briefly mentioned:16
...and set on some houses that bordered on those of Baltazar Sanchez Trujillo, with the high ground and with the street that went up to the old church of Santiago. . . and as owner and gentleman that I am from the said beautiful house... down by the said alley that goes to the said old church of Santiago and at the rear by the hill range and ahead with the high street that goes right of the country houses to the royal wall (Charles V Wall…
However, different sketches and plans of Gibraltar during the 16th and 17th Century not only show the Hermitage of El Rosario as a distinguishing architectural feature, but subsequent cartographers show the edifice re-modelled over time. This suggests that far from being a ruin, the hermitage was in fact occupied and evolving over time.
For example, in his panoramic sketches of the Rock of Gibraltar, drawn in 1561, Anton van den Wyngaerde the Hermitage of El Rosario is clearly labelled (E) and his sketch show that the church was neither small nor insignificant but was considered as one of the more visible structures within the city. The church stood right next to La Puerta Nueva (South Port Gates) dismissing the idea that the doorway had been transferred there during the British period. Wyngaerde drawings shows a façade built in the arched style and of considerable height in relation to the defensive wall and surrounding buildings. Only the Cathedral of St. Mary the Crowned and the Convent of St. Francis appear to have been larger.