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Desecration of the Great Siege Cemetery

While the proposed Caravaggio Centre and Cappella Ardente hall are well-conceived, blocking the view of the Cathedral by the massive new structure on Merchants’ Street is far from acceptable.

1 August 2015, 11:10am
The St John’s Cathedral Foundation has applied to expand its museum onto the Great Siege Cemetery on Merchant’s Street, flanking the Cathedral. This cemetery is dominated by the communal grave where the remains of the heroes of the Great Siege were buried, however this is to be dismantled and a far smaller ‘monument’ rebuilt on the side, in order to make space for ticketing booths, turnstiles and a giftshop.
 
In order to exhibit all the Flemish tapestries together, the Foundation is proposing to build a long hall over the cemetery, which will thus be covered over.
 
MEPA’s Heritage Advisory Committee has voiced its concerns about the height of the exhibition halls, stating: “the Panel has misgivings about the negative effect that they might have on the Cathedral which is one of the major European Landmarks. Therefore the Panel requires that before making its recommendation, it is certified that the Cathedral and its outlying buildings do not provide any space that could be utilised for the said purpose.”
 
For some reason, this was brushed aside. Similarly MEPA forgot the regulation that the developer is obliged to produce photomontages of the proposed building.
 
In approving the project even before all details were submitted, the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage overlooked the fact that such changes are not allowed by the law on Grade 1 scheduled (protected) buildings: “Demolition or alterations which impair the setting or change the external or internal appearance, including anything contained within the curtilage of the building, will not be allowed. [The proposed extensions will change the appearance of St John’s Co-Cathedral from three sides].  Any interventions allowed must be directed to their scientific restoration and rehabilitation. Internal structural alterations will only be allowed in exceptional circumstances where this is paramount for reasons of keeping the building in active use.”    Creating exhibition space can neither be considered restoration nor rehabilitation of the building, and certainly St John’s Cathedral is already in active use.
 
While the proposed Caravaggio Centre and Cappella Ardente hall are well-conceived, blocking the view of the Cathedral by the massive new structure on Merchants’ Street is far from acceptable.
 
 All this changes the area from a cemetery for the heroes who fell to defend Malta and Europe, into no more than a lobby where a museum makes its money from the sale of tickets and gifts.
 
It is especially ironic that the Cathedral that calls itself “The Home of the Knights of Malta” has chosen to pull up this grave on the 450th anniversary of the Great Siege, when we are constantly being reminded of the valour and sacrifices of the Great Siege heroes.
 
The desecration of this cemetery by the St John’s Cathedral Foundation would be an outrage.  The Great Siege was Malta’s finest hour, when it was universally acclaimed to have saved all of Europe and Christendom.  It is unthinkable that the Church could permit its martyrs to be treated in this way.  No wonder foreigners look on in horror as we set about destroying our precious heritage for financial gain.
 
FAA maintains that with commitment and goodwill, alternative solutions that accommodate all the Cathedral’s requirements can be found.

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