Preliminary Report on the Nidhe Israel Cemetery.
Draft version -in progress.
Evan Philip Millner.BA (University of Canterbury, NZ) MA (Jews' College, University of London) Dip.Arch.Masonry (Building Crafts College, London), Dip. Arch. Carving (City & Guilds of London Art School)
a short history
In arriving at a procedure for restoring the cemetery to its original appearance, a number of factors must be taken into consideration.
The first, and perhaps overwhelming factor, is the need to follow the expectations that those people who are buried in the cemetery would have had.
It is also important that familiarity with the procedure of burials is understood, or else there is a serious risk of graves being unwittingly disturbed.
Of great concern, is that the original Carrera Book, where the position of the burials was recorded, is missing. It cannot be assumed that empty spaces are empty -on the contrary.
The burial register only dates from 1831, and we know that people who did not have a tombstone, are not listed in it prior to this date. This notwithstanding, there is a discrepancy of 200 people who do not have a gravestone, who obtained burial between 1831, and the last burials in the 1930's.
The register was reconstructed after the 1831 hurricane, from visible tombstones -thus anyone buried without a gravestone before 1831, remains unknown, and the number of such people remains unknown. However, we do know that there were a large number of very poor Jews on the Island, working as freemen, or as indentured labor. These people, and indeed, many who were not badly off, would not have been able to afford a tombstone. Thus, at a conservative estimate, for every grave with a tombstone, there is probably an unmarked grave with no tombstone.
This matches what we know of other S&P cemeteries from this time period. Even at Ramsgate,(UK), some 25% of the graves have no stone. In Barbados, with the expense of importing a stone, and the time-lag, and organization required, it is not surprising that so many have no tombstones.
It was the practice to bury premature babies at the foot of any woman's grave, between the rows. There would be few visible remains of such burials, and infant mortality was high.
After Graveyard "A" was filled, graveyard "B" was opened, then "C", followed by White's Alley. There are also apparently graves with tombstones, under the ancient "Dutch" house on the corner of Lucas and James Street. This property is now owned by Barbados Hardware. (This information was provided to me by The Clerk of the House at Parliament)
In the late 1800's,additional land was acquired to the North of graveyard "A", where Rev. Daniels is interred. This area does not appear to have been filled, and this is the area where new graves should be opened. This piece of land is delineated on the survey maps as being "off" the synagogue property, as recorded in the deeds surveyed. (Mr. Bird brought this to my attention, and thus solved a problem of accounting for the new graves from the late 1800's at the North of Cemetery "A".)
Burials took place at Westbury after this date, but those buried there appear to have married out, and so not qualified for burial in the cemetery.
TYPES OF STONE PRESENT IN THE CEMETERY AND CONSERVATION ISSUES RELATING TO THEM.
1. York Stone. This is a sandstone, and must be treated accordingly. There is not much York Stone in the cemetery, but it is badly degraded. This is a result of the calcite matrix being dissolved by the constant dampness, releasing the clastic component of the stone.
2. Portland Stone. This stone was not, apparently, used for tombstones, but most of the remains of the sides of the Box Tombs are of this material. The stone appears to have weathered extremely well, and the arrises are in many cases as sharp as the day on which they were cut. What calamity brought about the destruction of these fine architectural elements, is a matter for speculation, as they were evidently destroyed many years ago.
3. Marble -various origins. The marble stones have for the most part weathered well. However, many are shattered to pieces, as a result of the activities of Mr Henderson, as recorded in correspondence of Mr Shilstone, to mr Nabarro of the maham,ad in London, protesting at the damage being caused to the Cemetery. The stones were hsattred -many into innumerable fragments, when the great timber trees surrounding the cemetery were felled to make way for parking. I sopke with some older people,who told me they recalled seeing cars parked ON the tombstones. This area is now walled off.
4. Slate - Some of the slate has delaminated, being of an inferior type, but many of the slate stones are still in fine condition. Of particular note, is the slate stone set into the wall of cemetery A, which was legible for the most part in the 1940's, but is not totally delaminated across its entire surface.
5. Purbeck Marble. This is not a true marble, but is quarried close to the Isle of Portland. The stone is characterized by its extreme hardness, and richness of texture, as a result of its fossiliferous nature. This stone has fared very badly , and the surfaces have delaminated in most cases, rendering the inscriptions illegible.
6. Unidentified -a red stone, that appears to be a sandstone, run through with white veins, very distinctive. This stone does not appear to have weathered well.
Brick -ballast brick, for the most part (imported), and possibly some local brick. The brickwork is soft, and fragile. Only lime mortar with no concrete of cement added to it, should be used in re-pointing.
REPOSITIONING THE STONES.
Repositioning the stones is going to be an involved procedure. As the foundations of the graves yet exist, and the Shilstone numbering scheme enables these foundations to be correctly identified, without any doubt, it is correct to replace the stones onto their original graves.
The foundations excavated to date, have been repaired with lime mortar, and are awaiting the transfer of their stones, across the cemetery.
The stones are not so fragile as to prevent them being moved carefully on padded rollers across the cemetery, possibly on "railway tracks" made of scaffolding boards, or possibly, long scaffolding poles. This means the stones can be moved with a minimal amount of labor, (once the stones are on the tracks, they can be moved easily by two people) but careful planning will be required to put this into effect. This needs to be supervised by a conservator. It would be preferable to lift the stones, and not roll them, but I do not see how this could be done, given the weight of the stones, and the shortage of labor. Some form of winch will be needed, set up on a frame, to lift the stones up so the tracking can be run beneath the stones.
As the stones will be placed horizontally, no pinning should be done, not should any glue or adhesive be applied to the stones, under any circumstances. This will degrade, discolor, and ultimately result in irreversible damage to the stones. Drilling may damage the stones, and is unnecessary in 99% of cases. Careful bedding in lime mortar, and plastic repairs with pure lime putty, tinted where necessary to match the stone, is all that is required. This is reversible, and will not damage the stones.
2. Cleaning .
The stones should be gently cleaned with a soft horsehair brush, of the type readily available on the Island, with a low sudsing detergent. Cleaning must be done only in the rainy season, when the frequent downpours will wash away any residue, and also wash away the salts that could enter the stone from the local groundwater. Tap water may be used, but only if cleaning is done during the rainy season. During the dry season, cleaning must be done using distilled water.
Ms. Mary Gundy has undertaken to clean the stones over this rainy season, and has been instructed how to do this.
It is not good to clean the stones often, however, only a light rubbing with detergent will be necessary to remove the algae growth from the stones, and although they will not be white and pristine, they will be clearly legible. Frequent cleaning will damage the stones. However, gentle rubbing with a soft horsehair brush and detergent on an annual basis, should be acceptable.
Some stones should not be cleaned - notable, the fragile purbeck stones, and any other stone appearing to have a fragile surface. Almost all of the marble stones are able to be cleaned.
Very poor quality stone should be cleaned carefully with alcohol in situ, and then a photographic record should be obtained. It would be best to take these photographs in the late evening, just before sundown, as then the shadows across the stones make the inscriptions most legible. Alcohol is the least damaging cleaner available. Either pure methylated spirits (with no coloring in it) or something like 100 proof rum.....
Poulticing is important where excavating new stones, as they will have been exposed to soil with high salt content, and the salts that have been absorbed into the stone will migrate to the surface, eroding the lettering rapidly. Much of the damage to the stones in the cemetery will probably have been caused by chloride salts, (wind-borne), and salts that the stones absorbed while they were buried.
These salts rise to the surface, and crystallize, and pulverize the stone, and this is what makes the lettering and carvings wear away.
Thick acid-free blotting paper is ideal for poulticing. The stone must be isolated from contact with the ground, and with concrete, and poulticed from both sides, with great care. Poulticing will draw the salts out of the stone, and can be used where the thickness of the stone is not too great.
There is always a danger that poulticing can weaken the stone, and damage it.
NOTE: Stones newly excavated were not poulticed, as it was considered unnecessary, due to the constant washing that the stones were subjected do in the tropical weather. It was also not feasible, due to time pressure. There is much to be done on the site, and with only one person on-site with the requisite knowledge, it was necessary to be selective about which procedures were possible.
This was recommended in the previous report (1994), and under no circumstances must be done.
Consolidation is not an option for stone that will be exposed outdoors in the B'dos climate. Stones that are so fragile as to require consolidation, will need to be re-buried, or well documented, and allowed to deteriorate.
Re-burial of the stone in a prepared environment in situ, which will slow down deterioration until perhaps future improved technology can deal with the problem, is recommended.
As an interim measure, I would recommend re-burial for a number of the stones, until they can be re-mounted properly on their new plinths. These stones should first be cleaned gently with alcohol, and documented.
One of the stones excavated this season, was re-buried, after photographing the inscription. This was necessary, as the surface of the stone began to dry out on contact with the air, the surface started to delaminate and decompose, in a matter of minutes this occurred. The stone was cleaned with alcohol, documented, and immediately re-covered. This stone was re-buried, after covering with a layer of sand, then plastic, and then earth. However, ideally, re-burial should be carried out as specified below:-
Method for re-burial:
The stone should be placed on nylon open-weave fabric, which is then covered with a layer of sand (washed to remove salts) or vermiculite. The same is placed on top of the stone, and then covered again with more nylon fabric. The nylon fabric prevents roots reaching the stone and damaging it. It also makes re-excavation more secure. The location of the stone is then clearly marked.
No adhesive resins or epoxy resins should be used, on any stone, under any circumstances. They will cause the treated areas to break away,as they form an impermeable barrier. Permeable materials are available, but they are highly toxic, and most conservators are unwilling to use them except absolutely necessary, in ,for example, an atrifact of high financial or cultural value, which could not be treated otherwise. Polyester resin will turn yellow in the Barbados climate. Furthermore, if used, the resins would not penetrate damp stone, and the surfaces thus treated would eventually spall.
Taking Casts. It is advisable to take casts of the best preserved carvings and lettering, using a silicon or alginate material. Alginate will shrink in the heat, unless the mould is refrigerated, so casting needs to be done immediately the mould is made.
Alginate can be melted and re-used. Silicon is expensive, and cannot be re-used.. It may be possible with some stones, to take moulds , and place a cast in the cemetery, and bury the original stones. This will be cheaper than conserving a badly degraded stone.
If the stone is so fragile that it will fall to bits if moved, (I observed no stones that were so fragile, although some stones had fragile surfaces, this did not appear to be structural through the entire stone, to the degree that the whole stone would disintegrate, although there are stones that are much weakened.)
In one case, aa mould was made of a damaged piece of stone, using plaster .Casting the object damaged it irreversibly -however, at least a cast of it, in addition to the photographic record -was obtained, and a cast could then be placed in situ, or in the museum. Only two words were still visible on this stone, and they were decomposing, and delaminating, as a result of the stone being exposed to the atmosphere, and subsequently drying out. As the inscription that remained was so small, it was felt that preserving it as a cast was desirable. Re-burial was not an option for this particular stone, because of its location, and also, the inscription that remained did not merit such treatment.
No pinning should be necessary, as the stones will be lying horizontally.
No polyester resins should be used outdoors, especially in a tropical environment.. The only appropriate adhesive in this circumstance is lime putty/lime mortar and stone dust.
Cement should not be used in any of the mortar mixes, as this is unnecessary, and could make the mix too strong.
The mortar must always be sacrificial to the stone.
Resin may be too hard, and thus damage the stone, for the same reasons. Resin will not penetrate damp stone. Also, any repairs must if possible be reversible.
Patching should be done with well aged lime putty, admixed with stone dust, and allowed to dry very slowly on the stone, wrapped in plastic/clingfilm. Polyester resin patches will age and yellow with exposure to heat and light, and colour matching will not work. It will also damage the stone, as the resin would be harder that the stone. Salts rising up would crystallise around the resin infill, and eat away at the stone.
Recutting: Re-cutting the lettering is justifiable if the inscription would otherwise degrade, even on stones of the date of those discussed here, and there are precedents for doing this. A tombstone, in the final analysis, is an object with a function, and no purpose is served by preserving a sheet of blank stone. Care should be taken, and the client should be made aware, that there is always a chance of re-cutting damaging the stone, especially if it is fragile. What is not acceptable, is re-cutting where it is uncertain what the original inscription said.
Some trial re-cutting was done, although this was not possible on a large scale. Stones would need to be raised vertically to be re-cut, as re-cutting is not viable on stone lying horizontally on the ground, due to technical problems.
Some stones had been damaged by having had concrete mixed on them, at some stage in the past. One stone had most of the concrete removed, a slow and painstaking task. Some of the lettering and some of the carving on this stone were also touched up. This was documented photographically. Cleaning these stones -of which there are a number, will take some time, and should only be performed by a qualified stonecarver. Where concrete has got into the lettering, it can only be removed by a competent letter-cutter, who has
been trained in historical replacement carving.
This photo shows the excavations at the North End of the Cemetery. An examination of Shilstone, showed that the bases of the gravestones presently located on concrete blocks at the Kimchi end of the cemetery, mostly belonged here. I was anxious to locate the original graves, so that these stones could be returned to the right locations. My hunch was correct, and at a depth of approximately two feet, the foundations of these graves were found. The covering dirt was due to the accumulation of two centuries of leaf mould, from the trees which formerly shadowed this part of the grounds.
The graves were checked against the references in Shilstone, and were found to be in the correct place. A number of graves were found which had been buried for over 200 hundred years, and which were not recorded in Shilstone. Interestingly, one of these graves -that of a child, just to the North of the reconstructed Box Tomb, showed traces of ancient lime mortar adhering to its surface, indicating it has been used as a mortar board by the labourers who reconstructed the wall around the synagogue after the 1831 hurricane.
This wall was built out further away from the wall of the synagogue itself, and is actually on top of the first graves in the carrerot. This is permissible, as the graves were not disturbed, and people would still not be able to walk on the, This wall was originally of considerable height, so there was no danger of Cohanim leaning across it. It has now been lowered, so an unwary Cohen would become tameh, merely by resting his hand on top of the wall.
6 Re-setting on plinths.
The original brick plinths, where possible, should be reconstructed, using only lime mortar. Concrete is too strong, and will damage the ancient brickwork. A layer of lime mortar must be put on top of the plinths, and on top of that, a DPC.
Bituminised paper can be used, such as is used for roofing, or plastic DPC.
On top of this, lime mortar.
Garden fabric (open nylon weave) on top of the mortar.
This allows moisture to penetrate to some degree, and also allows the stone to have some key and stay in place. It makes removal of the stone for future conservation possible, or should the stone need to be moved for any reason later.
6. The Mortar mix.
The mortar mix recommended in the report is not advisable. There is absolutely no reason to use cement, especially with stones of this age and condition. The mortar must be softer than the stone, and some of these stones are very fragile. The idea is to protect the stone. The mortar should always be sacrificial to the stone.
Local lime was used, with a variety of trial mixes being made, and the contractor was instructed in the manner of mixing the lime mortar, as per English Heritage Specifications.
The original mortar used ash, as the pozzolan. Ash contains the correct mix of aluminates and silicates, but unfortunately, it absorbs water, weakening the mortar. This was replaced in the mortar mix with ground terra-cotta, as per English Heritage specifications. There was difficulty in obtaining a source of this material on the Island, and in future, it may need to be imported.
An amount of mature lime putty will be needed for plastic repairs.
A note regarding putting graves over old graves.
On pg. 7, it is noted that Rabbi Aizenberg ruled that this practice is forbidden according to halacha. This is not correct, and indeed one of the ancient cemeteries in London has a raised section in the centre of the graveyard, where earth was brought in, and a new layer of burials was carried out on top of the old graves. The halacha requires a man to be buried above a man, and a woman above a woman, or a husband above wife, etc. The general principle is -anyone who was close in actual life, can be buried close together in this manner, even brother and sister in the same grave. It may be the case that rabbinic sanction was obtained for the doubling up of plots at the cemetery.
It is now standard practice at the Spanish & Portuguese Cemetery in London at Edgewarebury, to do double burials.
There is evidence that this occurred in Barbados in the past, as some tombstones have double inscriptions, indicating a double depth burial. This only seems to occur with children's graves.
The Ground level of the Cemetery
The original ground level of cemetery A, and probably that of B and C, is about 1.5 to three feet below the present level. This is a result of over 300 years of leaf-fall, from the great trees that originally stood overhanging the cemetery.
This has also proved to be a problem at the ancient Velho (Spanish & Portuguese) cemetery in London, where the present ground level is about 2 feet above what is was originally, because of leaf fall. The surplus earth is presently in the process of being removed.
Also, as evidenced by the amount of pottery,metal,and animal bones (dog,sheep,horse,etc) etc., excavated, much of the cemetery was used as a rubbish dump by the local residential population, once the community had shrunken . It must be remembered, that by 1860, there were only 8 members of the Kaal (congregation) left on the Island, (although there were more Jews than that living in Barbados, they were not members of the Kaal.) This depleted group was elderly, and had enough trouble maintaining the synagogue, let alone the cemetery.
Once the last member of the Congregation became to elderly to carry on alone, he arranged to wind up the Congregation, in accord with the agreement of the trustees. There were other Jews on the island at this time, some former members of the S&P congregation, and yet others, newly arrived Ashkenazim, however, none of these were members of the congregation.
NUMBERING SYSTEM FOR CEMETERY A.
David Raphael de Mercado's tombstone, was designated as being in row zero. Rows towards the warehouse, are designated 1,2,3etc, and rows towards the Montefiore Fountain, -1,-2,-3,etc.
The Mercado stone is thus given the co-ordinates 0,0.
Dyas Sarah Lopes de Acosta
Sarah & Moses de David de Yshac de Mercardo
David de Mercardo
Hizkiyah de Acosta
Rachel Sarah Senior
Abraham Gomes Henriques
Note: It appears that the Henriques family in Jamaica and Barbados, were Cohanim. This information was communicated to me by Mr Ainsley Henriques, Organiser of the Spanish Town Synagogue restorations, of Jamaica. This fact then would explain their burial at the edge of the cemetery, so that relatives could visit their graves, without entering the cemetery itself. This would indicate that at the time of these burials, the rabbi's house that later stood on the edge of the cemetery, along the line of these graves, did not yet exist.
This also ties in with the fact that the foundations for this house are over some of the graves -graves that evidently were hidden by a covering layer of soil many years before the rabbi's house was constructed. This would point to 1831, when the synagogue was re-built, as the date for the construction of the house and communal offices that stood here. This is now the site of the car park in the synagogue courtyard.
This image shows the excavations carried out along the wall - an area previously thought to be free of graves. These graves were found at a depth of between four and five fet below the actual ground level. I dug for them, after consulting and analysing the information in the description of the cemetery by Oliver.They date from the very earliest days of the cemetery.
As an addendum, it also appears that the warehouse is from this period. If it were older, the plastering of the walls would go down further into the ground. A wall from the 1600's was found, at a depth of 3 feet, which still retained its original plastering. This wall originally closed the gap that now exists between cemetery "A" and "B", and runs along the same line as the wall of the warehouse.
Moze Rodryges Soares
Stone 1, (position in row not yet determined)
This stone was found to be very fragile, and has been reburied.
Yshack Rafael Pacheco
Rabbi Amnuel Isaac Burgos
Rabbi Burgos was probably the Rabbi of the Speightstown Community. His wife is listed as being a head of household in Speightstown in the 1690 census. Rabbi Burgos's presence on the island was unknown, prior to his grave being discovered. It has a particularly fine and lengthy Hebrew inscription.
Row between rows 3 & 4 is a children's row. Most of the stones in this row are still buried under two to three feet of soil.
Ishak Mendez Gutteres
Stone with fine Italian letterform, found near the warehouse, marble, running E-W.
Mosheh son of Isaak Naftali Ashkenazi & Abraham son of Isaak Naftali Ashkenazi.
This is a double depth burial, with the two bodies one above the other.
Ribcah da Silva
Some of the stones newly excavated still have not had their inscriptions recorded, and this will await a further visit to the island.