Major restoration works in the oratory of St John's Co-Cathedral have been completed.

The project's completion was celebrated in a ceremony on Wednesday, when the new adjoining Caravaggio Wing was also inaugurated.

Those present included Archbishop Charles Scicluna and Culture Minister José Herrera.

Cynthia de Giorgio, CEO and curator remarked that this was a historic and significant landmark because 13 paintings by Mattia Preti had been restored together with the gilt wooden soffit.

Caravaggio’s most significant painting, depicting the Beheading of St John the Baptist has been fitted with a new LED lighting system, which will eliminate any damage caused by heat and UV light that was previously emitted by halogen lighting.

"The painting depicting ‘St Jerome Writing’, will be given the space that it merits just as it once graced the walls of Fra’ Ippolito Malaspina’s palazzo, before he left it to the Chapel of Italy after his death in 1624, it will now be exhibited in the Caravaggio Wing where its meticulous details can be appreciated," she added.

The restoration project also included work on the stone gilded carvings of the arch and vault in the apse, and the apse mural paintings executed in oil on stone technique representing scenes of the ‘Agony in the Garden’ and ‘Christ tied to the Pillar’.

The construction of the oratory began in 1602 during the reign of Grand Master Alof de Wignacourt. The Confraternita della Misericordia were also involved and contributed for its construction.

It was intended as a place of devotion and meditation for young novices and was completed by 1603. The confraternity used the oratory for their functions and for the investiture of the Knights and other ceremonies which culminated with the Feast of the Beheading of St John on 29 August.

The oratory was given its present appearance in the 1680s during a major decorative intervention between 1679 and 1690 ten paintings by Mattia Preti depicting Saints of the Order and a gilt wooden soffit were added. The marble cladding interior was added in 1740.

At the new Caravaggio Wing, besides the St Jerome Room, visitors can watch ‘Meet Caravaggio’: a short docu-drama on the life of the artist in Malta between July 1607 and October 1608, first as a novice, later as a Knight of Obedience and his dramatic escape from imprisonment in Fort St Angelo.

In 2019, when the historic doorway that once led to the Grand Prior’s house was opened, the former premises were reunited with the oratory.

The Caravaggio Wing project was part-financed by the European Regional Development Fund. Eighty percent funded by the European Union, and 20 percent by the St John's Co-Cathedral Foundation.

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