This year marks the 175th anniversary of the foundation of St Paul’s Anglican Pro-Cathedral. The church forms an intrinsic part of the iconic skyline of Valletta and the cultural heritage of Malta. When the restoration has been completed, the cathedral will stand at the epicentre of a regenerated part of the capital city and act as a vibrant community centre and tourist attraction. Indeed, the church has already, through its own resources, restored the undercroft of the cathedral into a thriving trattoria and historic visitor centre.
When the news broke two years ago that severe structural problems threatened the stability of the tower and the spire, considerable national and international concern was expressed. The analysis of the state of the fabric and the structure of the cathedral has taken two years thorough research and analysis by Maltese architects, Architecture Project.
It was therefore encouraging to learn that the Save Valletta Skyline Restoration Appeal – the very aptly named appeal to save the cathedral – has just received an EU-funded grant of €4.2 million for phase one of the restoration project. Combined with the Restoration Appeal’s own co-financing contribution of €1.050 million – an obligation for all EU-funded projects – this will give the Appeal a budget of €5.25 million to undertake the project’s first phase.
This will consist of repairing the most vulnerable part of the church to ensure the safety and stability of the iconic 60-metre tower. Tenders for this element have been issued and it is hoped that work will start within the next three months.
Under this phase of EU funding allocation, work on the spire will be followed by the external fabric of the church (for example, ensuring direct accessibility between the undercroft and the church itself, and other essential repairs to the stone fabric).
Given the range of other deserving demands for EU funding from cultural heritage NGOs, this commitment of EU funds of €4.2 million is a most helpful and positive response by the government. But although it is very welcome, it does not mean that this ambitious and complex restoration project is a done deal. Far from it.
The Save Valletta Skyline application for EU funding also included phase 2 of the project, for which funding is still under review. It is very much hoped that this funding – focusing essentially on the dramatic restoration of the roof and ceiling of the cathedral which collapsed 45 years ago - amounting to a further €3 or €4 million, may become available to the Appeal in due course. The public response to the Save Valletta Skyline Restoration Appeal has been excellent. The support of major trusts, foundations, businesses and individual donors, both in Malta and abroad, has been remarkable. It has to date raised the €1 million needed for the 20 per cent co-financing of phase 1 of the project. But given that co-financing for phase 2 remains, more money is needed for this ambitious and important cultural heritage project to be completed.
The task now is hopefully to secure phase 2 EU funding and for the Appeal to raise further co-financing monies to secure the future of this outstanding building. It is a CSR challenge to which it is earnestly hoped major Maltese businesses and foundations and the many gambling and financial services companies in Malta will respond to with generosity.
This is a Times of Malta print editorial