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Saint Cecilia Tower and Chapel

The Tower

St CeciljaThe Tower of Mgarr ix-Xini which was built to safeguard the island was not adequate and a bigger tower was built inland on the hill overlooking the bay. It is strategically situated midway on the road that links Mgarr Harbour to Citadel. The tower is at the very boundary of the village of Ghajnsielem at the corner of the road forking towards the Gozo Heliport.

The tower was raised by Bernardo Macedonia , Knight Commander of the Artillery Corps in 1613. The tower is known as the Saint Cecilia Tower from the name of a medieval chapel in its vicinity. This tower had to safeguard Gozo from  the common attacks of the enemy (especially from the Turks and pirates). Strategically the tower could receive and send signals from the north to the south coast of the island; the Ramla Battery on the north east coast and Mgarr ix-Xini Tower on the the south are both visible from its top. The tower also probably served as a fortified and safe dwelling for the Macedonia family during tier visits to Gozo.

The Chapel

Near this tower there is a small church known as 'Saint Cecilia Chapel'. Though partly dilapidated, the chapel is still in its original form, and is the best surviving example of the unaisled chapels that once dotted the countryside. The chapel has withstood the ravages of time and still stands as a witness to the resourcefulness of the inhabitants of Gozo past. The chapel has great historic and architectural value. It forms an integral part of the rich religious and rural heritage of these islands and merits full protection.

It was dedicated to Saint Cecilia, virgin and martyr from the 3rd century and patroness of church music. Her cult became very widespread because of the narrative of her sufferings, entitled 'The Passion of Saint Cecilia'. The chapel is still in its original forma and is the best surviving example of the many unaisled chapels that once dotted the countryside. Like other late medieval chapels it is a plain cube except for its slight pitch of the roof which has an approximately fifteen degree slope. The front, about 9 meters wide is simple but pleasantly proportioned.  Entrance to the chapel is down three steps as its floor is slightly below ground level. It measures seven by seven metres, nearly perfect square. The chapel is divided into four bays by three slightly pointed arches rising from wall piers to carry the shallow pitched stone roof. Each bay provides a recess in the wall. The interior is very dark as light can only enter through the slit above the door and another square window on its opposite. The chapel is a perfect example of medieval simplicity.

Although it is widely believed to have been built around 1540's, the chapel is first recorded in a pastoral visit of 1615 when its only internal ornament was a crucifix. By 1636 it was closed down because it needed extensive repairs. It was temporarily restored and it continued to function until 1644 before it was once again closed down and has been neglected since. The feast of the faithful was celebrated on the 22 November when a mass was said for the faithful.

Imminent danger of collapse

The Wirt Artna foundation is trying to secure its possession, which is now in danger of imminent collapse, so it can use this late mediaeval chapel in Gozo for its headquarters. Cracks are snaking through seven of the roof slabs. Two slabs have already come away. The rain is punching holes into the building, inflicting further damage to a chapel which was vandalised and torched on August 2007.

"We're expecting the roof to collapse soon. All we're asking for is the protection of a national monument. This is such a shame," Wirt Għawdex executive secretary Giovanni Zammit told The Sunday Times on the 25th November 2007.

Ten years ago the land on which the chapel stands - it forms a tiny part of a field - was expropriated by the Government and promised to Wirt Għawdex, which started establishing private sponsorships to finance its restoration. But according to the NGO, the move stalled after a crossfire involving the authorities and an individual who owns the land.

Fencing erected around the building was removed by unknown individuals in 1998 and has since not yet been replaced. The chapel was only temporarily 'supervised' by a watchman. And an ancient waterspout on the roof of the chapel for the overflow of rainfall has also been stolen.

Wirt Għawdex warned that works being carried out near the chapel may be causing further structural damage to the already fragile building. "Even though the chapel was promised to us 10 years ago, it doesn't matter who runs it at this stage - we just need to save the building," Mr Zammit said.

The costs to fix the chapel - located just off the main road connecting Victoria to Mġarr - were originally estimated at Lm10,000 (€23,000) though the figure has risen following the recent acts of vandalism. In a letter to the Gozo Ministry, Mr Zammit said that employees from the Department of Projects and Development said they were threatened when they tried to erect the fence. He insisted that action must be taken to enforce the expropriation.

"The safety of this most important monument should not be left at the mercy of a hard headed individual who believes he can flout the law at will. We appeal to you to take immediate action since we understand that it is solely up to the Gozo Ministry to enforce this expropriation," Mr Zammit wrote. A spokesman for the Gozo ministry was reported as saying that the size of the land to be expropriated was recently reduced. The process involving evaluation of the new area was currently underway and Wirt Għawdex was constantly being kept informed of such procedures.

On the 13th of January 2008, The Sunday Times reported that one of the walls collapsed despite repeated calls on the authorities to take action. Recent heavy rainfall took its toll on the St Cecilia chapel in Għajnsielem and most of its west wall has now given way. Probably, most of the damage was caused after an old waterspout on the roof of the chapel for the overflow of rainfall was stolen. The collapse of the wall had damaged the entire structure and the chapel could be reduced entirely to rubble the next time heavy rain falls. Cracks are snaking through seven of the roof slabs, two of which have already come crashing down.

Agreement for restoration reached

Finally, two months later, on the 1st of March 2008 an agreement between Wirt Għawdex and the Gozo Ministry has been reached to rescue the building. Works started 12 months later and project is manned by a project team composed of representatives of the ministry and the society. The Baron Group has undertaken to sponsor the restoration.

Architectural surveys were undertaken to determine the extent of the work that will be needed, especially because the late mediaeval chapel has great historic and architectural value.

Two of the walls which had collapsed are being rebuilt using old photos as guidelines and the stones salvaged from the site. The restoration job will also include the refurbishment of the façade and a room next to the chapel, which is thought to have originally served as a sacristy. The roofs of both the chapel and the adjoining room were partly caved in and are being rebuilt utilising the traditional medieval techniques.

The interior of the chapel is supported by huge arches under which a temporary stone structure was built to support both the weight of arches and the roof. This helped ease the excess lateral stress on the external walls. This provisional structure will eventually be removed as the original arches will be repaired and restored. The walls, which had been severely damaged by fire, will be cleaned and re-conditioned to their original state.

First phase of restoration completed

The first phase of restoration whereby the outside fabric of the chapel was strengthened and consolidated was completed in January 2010. The project now moves to the second phase, which will address the problem of water infiltration through the originally unpainted walls and the cleaning and restoration of the internal space.

Restoration complete and inauguration held

The extensive restoration programme funded by the Ministry for Gozo through the eco-Gozo scheme for NGOs and coordinated by Wirt Ghawdex was completed in the first quarter of 2012. The works were officially completed on the 24th of March 2012 when Minister for Gozo, Giovanna Debono inaugurated the chapel during a ceremony held in outside the chapel in the morning.  The Minister said that the chapel can now be enjoyed by the public after almost 400 years, not only by locals but by the Maltese and tourists who visit the island during the year. “It is just under two years ago that the extensive project of restoration first started on the chapel by the Ministry for Gozo, with the collaboration of Wirt Ghawdex and the Baron Group. Architects, technicians and other workers from within the Ministry for Gozo, who all worked in coordination with the contractors on the project,” The Minister also thanked Magistrate Paul Coppini, the former President of Wirt Ghawdex, for helping the Ministry in this project, Franco Masini, the new Wirt Ghawdex President and its Executive Secretary, Giovanni N. Zammit. The restoration work included the installation of wood flooring, energy saving lighting and the planting of endemic plants. The outer walls were rebuilt and the roof of the chapel was remade using traditional materials. Rubble walls surrounding the chapel were repaired or reconstructed.

The chapel is now available for exhibitions, lectures and other cultural activities.



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