Foundation students following the Diploma in Masonry Heritage Skills at the Malta College of Arts, Science and Technology (MCAST) have recently finished restoration work at St Catherine’s medieval chapel in Gudja.

The restored facade of the chapel. Photo: Jonathan BorgThe restored facade of the chapel. Photo: Jonathan Borg

The present chapel dates back to 1631 and its structure represents typical 17th-century ecclesiastic architecture consisting of one aisle, with a barrel vault and a main altar at the far end. Documents show that another chapel existed on the site, which dates back to about 1562.

When the parish priest asked MCAST for help to restore the chapel, we immediately welcomed the invitation. Firstly, this opportunity would have allowed our students following the Diploma in Masonry Heritage Skills to do practical work related to local heritage conservation. Secondly, MCAST would also have provided a helping hand to the Gudja community to preserve their village heritage.

The works carried out included the restoration of the roof, the external walls, the chapel’s interior, replacing deteriorated wooden apertures and painting all apertures. Since the chapel’s roof was leaking water and developed overgrowths, the whole roof was repaired using clay materials. This allowed us to maintain its authenticity.

MCAST students working on the restoration of St Catherine’s chapel in Gudja.MCAST students working on the restoration of St Catherine’s chapel in Gudja.

Students also replaced one of the damaged waterspouts. The newly installed spout, made of limestone and handcrafted by the students, replaced the old asbestos spout.

During initial inspections of the site, one could see that the external walls of the chapel suffered colossal damage. There was a loss of pointing at the joints, eroded stone blocks, contained delamination and there was also evident superficial erosion and honeycombing in some areas.

The final result showcases the students’ skills, dedication and talent

The stonework was repaired using the plastic repair methodology, cement pointing and infill was removed, joints were cleaned and loose materials removed and new pointing was applied. All metal inserts in external and internal walls were removed to eliminate further damage to the stonework. Students skilfully replaced deteriorated stone blocks in the side pilasters located on either side of the chapel’s doorway.

Inside the chapel, all detached finishes were scraped off. Joints were cleaned and filled with a mix of hydraulic lime and sand. The two small wooden windows at the rear of the wall were repaired and apertures that could not be saved were replaced and painted. On the facade, a new wooden window was installed in the oculus to replace the damaged one.

The final result showcases the students’ skills, dedication and talent in preserving what has been left to protect by past generations.

Being involved in the conservation efforts of this heritage site for future generations to witness gave our lecturers and students great pride.

The college, through its Institute of Engineering and Transport, offers various courses in building and construction, ranging from foundation level to degree courses. The masonry heritage skills courses give learners the necessary knowledge and skills in stone restoration and conservation. It offers learners the competences they need to analyse and generate solutions concerning specific restoration interventions.

The practical training is carried out in college-based workshops and laboratories as well as on heritage sites. Throughout the programme, learners have the unique opportunity to work on historical heritage sites and structures to master maintenance, protection and preservation skills as well as apply cleaning and testing techniques.

Online applications for courses starting in October are open until September 20. For more information and to apply, visit mcast.edu.mt.

Paul Borg is the deputy director at the Institute of Engineering and Transport, MCAST.

The restored altar. Photo: Jonathan BorgThe restored altar. Photo: Jonathan Borg

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