Considerable national concern was expressed when news broke in January that the fabric of St Paul’s Anglican Pro-Cathedral in Valletta was in dire need of restoration and that severe problems had been identified which threatened the stability of the tower, the spire and the external stonework. The cathedral is a universally-recognised landmark and its spire is an iconic feature of the capital’s skyline.
The St Paul’s Anglican Pro-Cathedral Save Valletta’s Skyline Restoration Appeal was launched on the eve of the feast of St Paul and, six months later, first reports have been announced of the initiative’s encouraging progress. The restoration appeal has just received a generous donation from Prince Charles, who used to worship at the cathedral as a child and, later, as a young undergraduate on holiday in Malta in the 1960s.
Still, the royal donation, though most helpful, is not the only fillip to the fund-raising initiative. Already €500,000 have been received, not an inconsiderable amount in just a matter of months. The money came from charities, foundations, individuals and corporate bodies in Malta – including one from the Diocese of Gozo in a clear gesture of ecumenical solidarity – and the United Kingdom.
The good start to the restoration appeal bodes well for the future. But, of course, there is still some way to go. The ultimate aim is to raise €3 million by November 2019, the 175th anniversary of the building of the cathedral.
This three-year undertaking ought to be considered as a vital project for Malta’s cultural heritage and the survival of Valletta’s striking skyline, especially in view of the scars we witness almost daily across the Maltese islands. Yet, it is not simply about saving a prominent architectural jewel. It is not about a choice between a Roman Catholic or a Protestant cathedral. Nor is it about saving a British neo-classical cathedral as opposed to, say, saving a baroque auberge or a church built by the Knights of Malta (as was so successfully done by Din l-Art Ħelwa with Our Lady of Victory church).
Wherever we look from Sliema, Tignè Point, Gżira, Ta’ Xbiex, Msida and much further afield, the seaward view is dominated by the cathedral and its iconic 60-metre high tower. The appeal is, therefore, about saving another vital part of Malta’s cultural heritage, Valletta’s architectural landscape and its unique skyline.
The blunt message of the St Paul’s Anglican Pro-Cathedral Save Valletta’s Skyline Restoration Appeal is that we could lose that spire unless something is done to preserve it.
The appeal committee has engaged leading Maltese restoration architects, Architecture Project, to undertake the job. The planning application has been submitted and work on this outstanding Grade 1 building should, hopefully, commence in earnest by the first quarter of next year.
This is certainly a most worthwhile cause. It is no less than the challenge of saving another crucially-important part of Malta’s heritage landscape. Two full years still lie ahead. While there are inevitably many pressing demands on corporate donors and foundations there is still time for donations to be set aside to save Valletta’s skyline.
Few, if any, give much thought to the cathedral’s spire but if, God forbid, it is gone all will notice it. The fate of the Azure Window is a good, even if a very sad, reminder.