A first insight on the biodegradation of limestone: the case of the World Heritage Convent of Christ


The present study is a multidisciplinary approach applied to architectural stone materials of the Convent of Christ in Tomar (Portugal) in order to understand and mitigate the active decay processes. The structure and appearance of the stonework from the Convent of Christ are strongly affected by stains, biofilms and structural degradation. To investigate these phenomena, a multianalytical approach comprising X-ray microdiffraction, scanning electron microscopy, microRaman and microinfrared spectroscopy was applied to the examination of altered outdoor stone areas being detected calcium oxalates, carotenoids and microbial proliferation. The presence of these alteration products seems to be correlated with the microbial activity of bacteria, microalgae, cyanobacteria and filamentous fungi. This work showed that the application of complementary methodologies is an efficient strategy to characterise the stone decay, and constitute a starting point for successful conservation intervention plans that are urgent to ensure the preservation and safeguard of this emblematic monument.

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The authors gratefully acknowledge HIT3CH Project “HERCULES Interface for Technology Transfer and Teaming in Cultural Heritage” (ALT20-03-0246-FEDER-000004) and MEDUSA Project “Microorganisms Monitoring and Mitigation—Developing and Unlocking Novel Sustainable Approaches” (ALT20-03-0145-FEDER-000015). Co-financed by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and ALENTEJO 2020 (Alentejo Regional Operational Programme) for the financial support, and, Biotechnology and Biochemistry undergraduate students Rita Santos, Mónica Lança and Carla Nogueira for helping in the laboratory analyses.

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Correspondence to Ana Teresa Caldeira.

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Rosado, T., Silva, M., Galvão, A. et al. A first insight on the biodegradation of limestone: the case of the World Heritage Convent of Christ. Appl. Phys. A 122, 1012 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00339-016-0525-6

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  • Carotenoid
  • Calcium Oxalate
  • Rose Bengal
  • Alteration Product
  • Stone Material