Saturday, August 23, 2014

St. Paul's Hill


Behind the Porta, a stairway ran up the hill to the ruins of Saint Paul's church, perched high above Dutch Square with a 360 degree view of the city and out to the port. I hadn't really planned on going up to the church tonight--I have to leave something to do tomorrow, after all--and had passed a couple of paths up already.  But who knows what the weather will be tomorrow, and the soft evening light might be the best time to photograph the old walls. So, up I went. Lovely, steep stairs on a hot, humid evening; as if I wasn't sweating enough already.  The sun was low in the sky, but the cool evening certainly hadn't started yet.  At least the stairs wound up through a flower garden.  I came out at the back of the church, a looming brick block from that angle.  A gap in the wall marked what had once been a doorway, and I stepped inside to find the walls standing tall and strong but the roof and doors and any decor long since gone.  I remembered another ruined church I'd seen once, roofless but all the more picturesque for that, out in the Burren in Ireland.  

The church began life under the name Nossa Senhora da Annunciada (Our Lady of Annunciation) in 1521, ten years into the Portuguese occupation of the area. From 1567 to 1596 it was converted into a fortress in rough times, but was a church again by the time the Dutch sieged the city and renamed it St. Paul's.  The Dutch used it was a burial ground; large ornate tombstones line the walls inside.  Although most were predictably in Dutch, I stopped to read one that was in English: 

"Sacred, To the memory of Mrs. Jane Charlotte Westerhout, born on the 20th Sep. 1806, and departed this life on the 19th January 1841, Aged 34 years 3 months and 29 days."   

Many of the stone had beautiful reliefs carved at the top; most resembled elaborate coats of arms, but one had a full-sailed ship, a reminder of the years when these merchant ships would have been a common sight here in the Straits.  As to that, merchant ships are still an every-day sight; the modern ships piled high with metal boxcar-like containers with heavy-duty cranes piled on deck just don't have quite the same romance.  
From the front of the church I had my first view out over the Straits, still crowded with ships and small islands, fading into a soft silver as the sun set behind a veil of clouds.  




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