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Three Romanesque churches of the Bourbonnais region in the French Massif Central have been investigated. These date back to the twelfth century, and are mainly built of red and white sandstones. Their ashlar blocks were extensively repointed in the mid-twentieth century with cement-rich mortar. In order to quantitatively assess the impact of repointing on the decay rates of the sandstones, the following methods have been used: dating of reference surfaces (‘zero datum levels’) based on stone-dressing marks, stone-by-stone and terrestrial LiDAR (Light Detection And Ranging) surveys, and petrographical analyses including on-site non-destructive tests. This study reveals that, between the twelfth century and the mid-twentieth century, intrinsic geological factors have been a key control on weathering rates. Stone surface recession has proceeded, on average, 500 times faster in the poorly cemented soft white sandstone compared to the iron-cemented red sandstone (4 mm/century v. 0.008 mm/century). Since the mid-twentieth century, the replacement of the original lime mortar with a cement-rich mortar has resulted in a marked increase in weathering rates and resulting surface recession of the poorly cemented white sandstone: this increase is fivefold where cement-lime mortar (‘bastard mortar’) has been used and 10-fold where harder cement-rich mortar has been applied. By contrast, the application of cement-lime mortar between the ashlars composed of iron-cemented red sandstone had no deleterious effects. This study confirms that the use of cement-based mortar should be avoided on soft and porous masonries. It also stresses the fact that accelerated stone surface recession rates are systematically associated with heritage sites that are subject to significant anthropogenic effects caused by inappropriate interventions or excessive pressure on the monuments or their environment.

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