Saint Cecilia Tower and Chapel
The 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
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.
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 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.
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
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
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.
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
"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
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
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
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
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.