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A discoid stele from the Mértola Museum collection

A discoid stele from the Mértola Museum collection
Miguel Serra
Archaeologist/Senior Technician of the Serpa City Council/CEAACP

The Main Church/Mosque of Mértola was the subject of restoration works in the 1940s, which allowed identifying the countless transformations experienced in this space. The demolitions carried out at the time revealed an important set of reused elements, such as Roman tombstones and medieval funerary stelae, among others, which are clear testimonies of the continuous changes it underwent.
Of the small set of five discoid stelae or tombstones, generically attributed to the Christian medieval period, we highlight one in particular.
It is a stele with a cruciform motif on the front and a circular motif on the back, with the upper part shaped as a disk and the lower part shaped as a spike so as to be anchored to the ground.
It is complete and in relatively good condition, just showing some flaws due to chipping at the top of the edge of the side that bears a cruciform motif and some traces of mortar, possibly resulting from its reuse as construction material.
It was made from a block of marble and bears the Greek cross on one side, in relief, with crossed arms and a radially engraved border. On the other side it has two concentric motifs, the inside of which is defined by an engraved circumference and the outside by a lowered circular crown. It is the only specimen identified in Portuguese territory with these characteristics.
The fact that it was reused in the structure of the Main Church of Mértola does not allow us to confirm its provenance with certainty, but it is perfectly possible for it to have been part of the 14th/15th centuries’ Christian necropolis in the surroundings of the church, which was later desacralized and its tombstones used as construction materials during renovation activities.
The stele is currently in the Museum Centre of the Main Church of Mértola together with other specimens of different typologies, which attest to the immense variety of tombstones in Mértola’s territory.

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