Heritage

Introduction

St Paul’s Pro-Cathedral was built between 1839 and 1844 on the initiative of the Queen Dowager Adelaide, widow of King William IV and aunt to Queen Victoria.

The Cathedral is a universally recognised Valletta landmark, especially to those approaching Malta from the sea. With the bell-tower and its spire rising to over 200 feet (60 metres) from the ground, it is a historic and iconic element of the skyline of Valletta. It is a vital part of Malta’s rich cultural heritage and deeply symbolic of close Anglo-Maltese relations over more than two centuries.

To imagine Valletta’s skyline without the tower of the Pro-Cathedral is just as inconceivable as imagining St Mark’s Square in Venice, another World Heritage City, without its historic campanile.

A Brief History

When Queen Adelaide spent the winter of 1838/39 in Malta, she was keen to found a Collegiate church in the Anglican tradition. Anglican services were then being held in a room in the former Grandmaster’s Palace, but “it was insufficient to contain more than the chief English families” and the vast majority of English residents were unable to worship together.

Queen Adelaide’s offer to pay for the church overcame any possible objections. The British government provided a site where the Auberge d’Allemagne (the conventual home of the German Knights Hospitaller) had previously stood.

Queen Adelaide, the Royal Benefactor of St Paul’s Pro-Cathedral, laid the foundation stone on 20th March 1839. Her Arms and Banner now hang below the organ case.

A Dramatic Beginning: From Lankesheer to Scamp

Richard Lankasheer, the Superintendent of Civil Artificers and a cabinet-maker by profession, was entrusted with the design and supervision of the new church. When appointed, he was thirty-six years old and had very limited work experience in large construction projects.

Work started in earnest in accordance with his designs. But his lack of understanding of local construction methods and, in particular, the properties of Maltese limestone, proved to be his undoing. Within two years, “cracks, splits and crushings” began to undermine the fabric of the building.

Lankasheer’s reputation lay in tatters, he could not come to terms with his failure and died suddenly on 8 March 1841. Shortly after his death, the serious structural defects found meant that all construction on the Cathedral had to be suspended.

The suspension of works coincided with the arrival from England of the Admiralty architect, William Scamp, who had been employed as Clerk of Works to Sir James Wyattville when remodelling Windsor Castle. Scamp made a number of changes to Lankasheer’s original designs and in November 1841, work on the church resumed. Together with the Naval Bakery at Vittoriosa, the Cathedral was to become Scamp’s other architectural masterpiece, as well as his lasting legacy to the Church of England and to Malta’s cultural heritage.

Following its dramatic and turbulent birth-pangs, the Collegiate Church of St Paul’s was formally consecrated by the Bishop of Gibraltar on 1st November 1844, even though the spire had not yet been completed. The Dedication of the Church to St Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, was a reminder of the first Christian missionary to Malta when he was shipwrecked in Malta in 59/60 AD, and the spiritual father of the Maltese nation.

Scamp was presented with a silver candelabrum on his return to England “in grateful remembrance of his services in completing the Collegiate Church of St Paul, at Malta”.

William Scamp

Interior

The building is designed to a neo-classical architectural style with a grand temple-front portico incorporating Ionic columns. An array of eight Corinthian columns embellish its interior.

Scamp’s plan had envisaged the High Altar at the west end and four side doors, giving the additional benefit of a cooling breeze during the hot summer months. The Bishop of Gibraltar, however, insisted on a more orthodox layout with the altar to the east, so Scamp contrived an apse inside.

Scamp’s rather severe interior with its pillars (made of good quality stone quarried from near St George’s Bay and transported to Valletta by the Royal Navy) and fluted engaged pilasters topped by Corinthian capitals supporting a cornice are architecturally harmonious and provide a dignified grandeur.

Despite the Cathedral’s prominent and vulnerable position during the Second World War in the most bombed city in Europe, it miraculously escaped serious damage. But the plain glass windows had to be completely replaced after the bombing and further necessary repairs prompted a return to Scamp’s original layout.

The Archbishop of Canterbury dedicated the new Chancel on 2nd December 1949 (the centenary of the death of Queen Adelaide) in the presence of Princess Elizabeth who was visiting Prince Philip during his period of naval service in Malta. HRH Prince Philip has since become the Patron of the Friends of the Cathedral.

The west end was transformed into a choir by building a new stone screen across the nave. The former Sanctuary at the east end became a Baptistry and the baptismal font was moved from the centre of the west end to the Apse. The new screen incorporated a stone pulpit as well as a wooden lectern commemorating Sir Winston Churchill.

Memorials to the Fallen

The Cathedral survived the Second World War to bear testimony to the valour of those who fought to defend Malta. It now houses the memorials of all units of the Royal Navy, Army and Royal Air Force on the oak panels around the Sanctuary. A Merchant Navy Memorial is located on the north wall and a Submariners Memorial Plaque is situated outside, on the north-west wall of the Cathedral facing Manoel Island which once hosted the submarine base. Countless British servicemen have passed though its gates and worshipped at the Cathedral, been married and baptized their children there.

The Organ

The historic organ and casework originally built in 1684 by Father Smith for Chester Cathedral (Bernard Smith the 17th century anglicized German organ builder who built the Chapel Royal organ in 1667) was restored in 2013. It now has a new console and more speaking pipes. The instrument, which was played by George Handel for the first performance of his “Messiah”, is used extensively for Church services, recitals, concerts and teaching. It forms an integral part of the vibrant musical life of the Pro-Cathedral.

The Bells

Below the spire of the Cathedral is the belfry in the detached tower at the north-west corner of the building. This contains six bells, which were cast by C and G Mears of London (now known as the Whitehall Bell Foundry) in 1845. The bells are still sounded by volunteer bell-ringers to this day.

The Paintings

A head and shoulders portrait of St Paul, painted by Mattia Preti and his school, stands behind the Altar as part of the Reredos in the Memorial Chapel. The Reredos was completed (for the first time since its construction in 1949) by the painting, Ecce Homo, which was executed by A E Chalon, Court Painter to Queen Victoria, in 1844, the year of the Consecration of the building. It is housed in the Cathedral on a long-term loan through the generosity of the Marquis de Piro Estate.

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