About Lm80,000 have been spent on the restoration of the façade of the Jesuits` Church in Merchants Street, Valletta, and work is now underway to extensively restore its interior.

For the past 40 years, the church, which stands back to back to the old university, was painted in dark greens and browns which gave it a glum, dark atmosphere.

Valletta Rehabilitation Project coordinator Ray Bondin said the dark colours were being replaced with the traditional stone colours of cream and beige.

The church has a long history and its foundations were laid in November 1593 based on the designs of engineer Filippu Bonamici.

The Jesuits` Church was part of the congregation`s college, which remained under its direction until the end of Grandmaster Manuel Pinto`s reign in 1768.

After that, Pope Clement XIV left all the congregation`s money in the hands of the grandmaster on the condition that a university be built.

Over the years, the church was used for the degree conferment ceremony of the university students. However, this practice stopped when the university transferred to Msida.

Recently, the church was once again the venue for a degree-awarding ceremony when Czech Republic president Vaclav Havel was given an honoris causa.

The church had fallen into disrepair and its restoration became urgent. Work on the façade started six years ago and the restoration work is now focusing on the interior.

One of the headaches that the team is anticipating is the restoration of the dome which has structural problems.

Infrastructure Minister Francis Zammit Dimech yesterday visited the church to see the progress of the works with Mr Bondin and Valletta mayor Paul Borg Olivier.

Dr Zammit Dimech said that another Lm15,000 would be spent on restoring the church to its former glory.

Art historian Daniela Apap Bologna, who is carrying out a detailed inventory of everything within the church, said the church was crammed with high quality paintings by Maltese and international artists.

The nine side chapels used to be owned by private patrons, ranging from members of the Order to merchants, so they were usually adorned with a wealth of paintings.

"This church is full of great works of art from paintings by Baldass Peruzzi, Stefano Erardi to the mysterious Neapolitan Nicolo de Simoni and Mattia Preti - the works range from the 1590s to the late 18th century," Ms Apap Bologna said.

The main painting of the church is dedicated to the circumcision of Jesus by Filippo Paladini.

Dr Zammit Dimech said that an agreement had been reached with the Wall Painting Department of the Courtauld Institute of Art in the UK to restore the two frescoes in the church.

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