A sensitive attention to detail preserves the heritage of a Tortuga Church
“Our Lady of Montserrat” RC Church is located high on a ridge of the Central Range in the village of Tortuga facing westward towards the Gulf of Paria. It is a wooden church, which was built by its first priest Fr. Marie Jules Dupoux and blessed on December 24, 1878. The church was named after the Montserrat Hills on which it stands, a name given by the Spanish settlers who named the area after the Montserrat Mountains of Catalonia, an area found within the heart of the Barcelona region in Spain.
The Friends of the Tortuga church.
Building Exterior - Before
The restoration of this Historic landmark received first place in “The National Trust of Trinidad & Tobago Preservation Awards - 2006”
We were fortunate that the church was never changed over the years, and site analysis and historic documentation determined that the original structural detailing was sufficiently intact to make restoration possible and to salvage the building’s heritage values.
The project approach was to ensure that the structure should be restored/rehabilitated to its original state with the minimum of changes and reusing as much of the original materials as possible. This was done with great care and attention to detail and the preservation of the original architectural features.
Building Exterior - After
Originally the Church would have been lit with kerosene lamps and candles. Electricity was introduced to the building, years later, as it became available in the area. Installation of new electrical systems was necessary to meet life-safety codes and the needs of modern day users.
The entire Church was originally made from local hardwoods…roof and floor structure, finished floors, walls and ceilings, sitting on foundation piers made from bricks (salvaged from ships that used them for ballast).
Termite infestation and wet rot was rampant.
After an initial survey of the structure, the stained Glass windows were carefully removed and crated.
The hill on which the church was built had shifted over the years causing some concern. As a result new foundations had to be built. The old brick piers were stabilised and left in place as far as possible, as a historic detail for the education of future generations.
Stained Glass Window - Before
Stained Glass Window - Before
Structural Caribbean hardwood (greenheart) was sourced and over 50% of the floor structure was replaced. Timbers that were only slightly damaged were left and new ones installed alongside to ensure safety. These timbers had to be specially ordered since the sizes were quite large and no longer in regular use for modern building.
The original floor timbers were removed, sorted and rotted boards discarded. All the salvaged boards were reused in the side chapel, and the nave received new hardwood floors.
All timber walls and roof trusses were repaired with similar care, only replacing what was structurally deficient and repairing the rest. Timber trims, moulding and other decoration were replaced as necessary with the same patterns as the original.
It was a privilege to be part of the restoration/ rehabilitation team, to be able to extend the useful life of this building and preserve its unique architectural, historic, and contextual characteristics for generations to come. Rudylynn De Four Roberts.
Name of Project: Our Lady of Montserrat RC Church Location: Tortuga, Trinidad. Client: Friends of Tortuga RC Church Date: 2001 - 2002 Photos Courtesy: De Four Farmer & Associates Ltd.
De Four Farmer & Associates Ltd.