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St Luke's Garrison Chapel at Tigné being restored

The west façade.

The west façade.

The consortium carrying out the Lm140 million development of Tigné Point and Manoel Island, MIDI, has commissioned work on the rehabilitation of St Luke's Garrison Chapel at Tigné.

The St Luke's Chapel restoration follows the careful dismantling of the 19th century barrack buildings, including the Clock Tower, and the storage of the enumerated stones in a sealed off area, until they will be reused for the rebuilding of the Clock Tower barrack buildings at a later stage in the project.

Last year, work started on the restoration of Fort Manoel at Manoel Island.

"In the case of heritage sites which are situated within the project's area, we feel it is our responsibility to set the highest standards of restoration," said MIDI chief executive, Mr Benjamin Muscat.

"MIDI has invested heavily and undertaken an enormous amount of planning, finance, research and impact assessment studies over the last nine years. The same rigorous procedure applied in the case of the St Luke's Chapel, which was left neglected for two decades. It is now being professionally restored to its original splendour."

St Luke's Garrison Chapel was built in the beginning of the 20th century. A foundation stone records the date of January 16, 1910.

It belonged to the British Army barracks at Tigné Point and was reserved for the use by officers and soldiers during the first 75 years of that century.

The chapel was still used up to the departure of the British Armed Forces in 1979. In 1980s and 1990s, St Luke's Chapel was used as a public space for drama and carnival dances.

MIDI commissioned a historical study which was necessary to define the main lines of evaluation of the chapel.

Although the research from historical documents revealed a dearth of information, probably because St Luke's Garrison church belonged to a British military complex and therefore relevant information may have been contained in confidential files, some important historical plans were uncovered at the National Maltese Archives, situated at the former Santo Spirito Hospital in Rabat.

AOM Consultants, MIDI's appointed lead consultants, carried out a study based on these available plans, together with a visual study of the building itself. The restoration method, approved by the Malta Environment and Planning Authority, is based on a study of the construction techniques used for the building, on a visual observation of the building itself aided by an illustration of a photographic survey.

"The technical interventions and the approved restoration work recommendations which will be carried out in the coming weeks, are all based on scientific studies already carried on similar edifices and similar limestone degradation with positive results," explained Dr Alex Torpiano, architect at aoM Consultants.

"Although, in general, the chapel is in relatively good condition, there is some limited deterioration in the lowermost courses, in the areas above the cornice, in the window columns, and in sporadic individual stones," said Dr Torpiano.

Externally, the restoration work includes the examination of salt content through depth profiling, cleaning with low-pressure salt-free water, careful removal of vegetation and extraneous fixtures such as electricity cables that have accumulated over the years, stone replacement and consolidation as well as stone preservation treatment. The wild bushes and trees that have took root around the chapel, and in some instances even causing damage to the structure, are being removed.

Stone replacement will be kept to a minimum. An appropriate depth of the damaged stone will be cut out and then a new stone is worked to the same profile and size. Stone replacement is necessary in some instance below the cornice, within the lowest three courses of the building, and on two window columns, while the missing belfry stone cross needs to be replaced.

The new stones would necessarily have a different colour, but it is expected that, even without artificial aging, the new stones would quickly develop a patina, which will be close to the adjacent stones. The asbestos cement pipes will be replaced by cast-iron originals salvaged from the Tigné Barracks.

The same operation would be carried out in the interior. The existing floor finish would be retained, while the electricity services installation needed to be re-done. Inappropriate light fixture and other recent additions would be carefully removed.

As regards to Fort Tigné, which has been left in a neglected state for many years, this has now been sealed off so as to protect it from further vandalism.

Work on its restoration may start next year.

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