In search of the remains of ‘El Escorial de Canarias’, a convent devoured by flames 220 years ago

The General Directorate of Cultural Heritage, in collaboration with the City Council of La Orotava, finances several surveys in the Church of San Francisco located in the historic center of this municipality of Tenerife, to try to locate and corroborate the archaeological potential of the old convent of San Lorenzo .

An in-depth archaeological excavation begins in a Canarian cave that could have been inhabited since the 1st century

An in-depth archaeological excavation begins in a Canarian cave that could have been inhabited since the 1st century

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Its historical importance lies in the fact that “El Escorial de Canarias”, as Viera y Clavijo called it, was one of the first Franciscan convents after the conquest of the Canary Islands, in fact, it was the first monastic foundation in Villa de La Orotava, so that this institution is key in the original organization of what would be the later city, says a statement from the General Directorate of Cultural Heritage.

In 1519 the Franciscan friars constituted the convent of San Lorenzo at the initiative of the conqueror Bartolomé Benítez de Lugo, nephew of the Adelantado Alonso Fernández de Lugo and this monastery came to have 60 monks and served as the chapter house of the province of the Canary Islands already in the century XVIII, however, in 1801 much of the structure was destroyed by a great fire.

The flames consumed the buildings, images, furniture, and documents, and only the stonework portal of the church and some works of art were saved from the fire, which is why this archaeological investigation led by the PRORED team is decisive in recovering the almost three centuries of history of this enclave.

Among the objectives that are intended to be achieved with this first intervention is to provide archaeological evidence if the old monastery continued its orientation towards the South and “identify what could have been the original floor of the convent that disappeared in the 19th century,” explains Hacomar Ruiz, co-director of the project.

According to the main hypotheses, the convent of San Lorenzo was located in what is now the Hospital de la Santísima Trinidad and the Church of San Francisco, but its extension was much larger, occupying approximately 2,600 square meters.

As it is such a large area, four surveys were carried out in an unbuilt space attached to the Church, where vestiges that could have been part of the original construction were found.

“The documentation tells us that the old convent was in this area and with the archaeological intervention, the trail of construction elements that already indicate the architectural importance of this space with a Corinthian column or a stone arch is being followed”, says the co-director of the project.

Through the Archeology of Architecture and the photogrammetric record, “different wall units and construction elements can be recognized that explain the architectural evolution of this space,” says the archaeologist, such as landslides, remodeling, subsequent construction, reoccupation, structures combustion, among others.

The study of the sediments contributes to deciphering human behavior in relation to that place since each archaeological stratum preserves different historical events superimposed on each other, and therefore each one contains varied information about the functionality of the convent.

Cultural Heritage indicates that the recovered sediment has been sifted to ensure the maximum recovery of the archaeological material that includes fragments of vessels, glass and metal elements, various fragments of fauna, but also debris from the time when the Hospital was in operation.

After this first phase, a possible second archaeological intervention is proposed, already in extension, in order to be able to relate the different stratigraphic units located and the registered construction elements.

In addition, the work team proposes the possibility of developing different outreach activities, encompassing this space within the rich cultural and artistic heritage that Villa de la Orotava already possesses in order to understand its past.

The general director of Cultural Heritage, Nona Perera, indicates that the leading role of the Church and Christianization was fundamental in the conquest and colonization of the Canary Islands and the establishment of temples and religious orders supported a model of conquest “that we need to know so that the past of the Canary Islands have fewer shadows and for this it is essential to study these enclaves”.

For the delegate councilor for Cultural Heritage of the City Council of La Orotava, Delia Escobar, “with this first phase, historical justice is done in an enclave that was fundamental for the development and evolution of the municipality no more and no less than three centuries ago.

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