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”.