The 230-year-old statue of St Bartholomew which will be carried this evening in the procession on the occasion of the village feast in Gharghur is being restored by the Italian firm Sante Guido Restauro.

The wood carved statue of St Bartholomew, whose sculptor is unknown, was made in Rome in circa 1771.

Parish priest Fr Faustino Ellul said the statue is a fine piece of baroque sculpture and is similar to the famous statue by Pier LeGros at San Giovanni Laterano in Rome.

The statue appears to have been polychromised and gilted in Malta.

Claims that the statue may be the work of the Maltese sculptor Melchiorre Gafà is the subject of controversy.

The restoration project, which has the approval of the Sacred Art Commission of the Archbishop's Curia, is being carried out with the assistance of Dr Keith Sciberras and Fr Gino Gauci, a member of the commission.

The process, which will be carried out in three phases, started last July through the monitoring of the humidity levels in the niche where the statue is kept. The exercise is aimed at obtaining enough data to establish what kind of intervention was needed at its storage place.

The second phase, which is programmed for after the feast next year, will consist in an intervention on the niche itself.

The third phase, the restoration on the statue of St Bartholomew will be embarked upon later to be finished in time for the feast in 2005.

The intervention, which will be carried out at the church, will include conservation procedures and measures to protect the statue.

A follow-up study will be followed up in 2006 to establish whether the interventions were a success.

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