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This paper provides new insights into understanding the causes of deterioration of the Corbii de Piatra rupestrian church and shows the significance of studying the geological environment of historical rock-cut settlements when undertaking preservation and restoration actions. The Corbii de Piatra church is one of the few rupestrian churches remaining in Romania and is an important part of the country’s heritage. The church is carved in a stratum of polymictic sandstone of Oligocene age, which is part of the Getic Depression, located in the southern part of the South Carpathians. In the 14th century the interior walls of the church were decorated with mural paintings of a high artistic value. Over the centuries, the church’s walls and mural paintings have been negatively affected by a series of physicochemical processes. These processes were studied through field investigations and laboratory analyses carried out between October 2007 and November 2010. The investigations revealed that tectonic fissuring and the structural anisotropy of the rock facilitate the infiltration of meteoric water through the walls into the interior of the church, from north to south, maintaining a high-level of humidity in the northern wall and in the interior of the church. The most harmful effects observed were: (i) the partial hydrolysis of the feldspars through reaction with water from the pores, producing a friable mass of phyllosilicates which led to a superficial disaggregation of the rock and to a diminished cohesion between the rock and the mortar of the fresco, (ii) the reprecipitation of the gypsum as efflorescences on the northern wall and ceiling, covering the mural painting in localized areas, as a result of the transportation of the gypsum by water from the upper strata, (iii) the alteration of the cinnabar pigment, as a result of water penetration by diffusion through the fresco from the wet rock to the pictorial layer (the secondary effect observed being the formation of sulfuric acid, which further reacted with the carbonate from the fresco to form gypsum), (iv) the development of biotic crusts, predominately algal, on the interior wet walls, which, facilitated by the permanent high humidity and the semi-obscurity of the interior of the church, have covered large surfaces of the fresco. Compared to the interior, the exterior vertical walls have been exposed to prolonged daily and seasonal variations of temperature and humidity. These variations have caused repeated variations in the volume of the sandstone, leading to contraction fissuring and peeling of the vertical walls. Any future procedures that might be used to conserve the church should strive to reduce the humidity of the sandstone in the interior walls.
Keywords : Rupestrian churches, Stone deterioration, Heritage conservation, Petrographic studies, Mineralogical analyses, Corbii de Piatra