Renowned architect Richard England had, in 1997, proposed a project to build a monastery adjacent to the iconic Manikata church, his own creation, The Times has learned.

Prof. England does not see any conflict between that proposal and his objection to the permit granted recently to another architect to build rooms beneath the church parvis.

A permit to build a store and a religious education room was granted in July but is being reconsidered after it was met with harsh criticism.

Prof. England together with other architects and NGOs piled pressure on the Malta Environment and Planning Authority to backtrack on its decision to grant the permit by scheduling the church and its parvis.

Prof. England had written to Environment Parliamentary Secretary Mario de Marco and the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage requesting that they issue a conservation order on the church.

“If the permit has been issued, the only way out would be to list the building. Issuing a conservation order, which means it should remain intact, is the sole possibility of rescinding the permit,” Prof. England wrote about the recent application. The permit was eventually forced into reconsideration last week when Mepa listed the Manikata church as Grade 1, safeguarding it and ensuring that any future interventions that could be carried out on the site would respect “the rich and unique architectural value of this building”.

When contacted, Prof. England insisted that the monastery he had wanted to build next to the church was designed to complement the structure and “did not in any way infringe within the parvis boundary”.

More than the extension to already existing rooms beneath the parvis, Prof. England explained that his bone of contention was that the proposed development would have definitely highly compromised the parvis with four-metre, factory-like skylights. He said this would have meant that the idea of the parvis as a piazza and a meeting place would have been lost.

The application he had filed on June 24, 1997 sought an outline development permission to construct a pastoral centre adjacent to the Manikata church. The centre would have consisted of a hall to seat 200 people and an adjacent block consisting of bedrooms, a kitchen, an office and toilets.

The application was refused because the site on which it was proposed was a scheduled area of archaeological importance with a degree of protection B, in view of important archaeological remains in the area.

According to the case officer’s report, the site adjacent to the Manikata church consists of a large virgin field to the west of the church – to its right as you are looking at the church. It says it encloses archaeological remains of different categories and periods, namely cart ruts, ancient quarries, a megalithic wall and two giren (a stone corbelled hut).

Over the past few weeks, Mepa scheduled more than 50 parish churches – those built before the 1900s were granted Grade 1 status while churches of the 20th century up until 1960 were given a Grade 2.

The Manikata church, dedicated to St Joseph, was mainly built in the 1960s but completed and consecrated in 1974. In designing the new temple, Prof. England had broken away from the traditional church design and based his concept on the then ongoing liturgical reforms promoted by Vatican Council II and the aspirations of the rural community.