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Statues for empty niches on St John's façade

On May 11, 1990, a local newspaper published a letter of mine in which I had suggested that statues be placed in the two empty niches on the façade of St John's Co-Cathedral. The feedback was very encouraging and positive. In fact two of the personalities who supported my suggestion were the late Mgr Carmelo Bianco, then rector of the Co-Cathedral, and Dott. Dino Marrajeni, then Ambassador of the Sovereign Military Order of St John.

The fact that the Knights, for some reason, did not place any statues in these niches after the building of their Conventual Church was completed in 1577 does not mean that they should remain empty forever. Indeed, they figured in the plans prepared by Gerolamo Cassar, the architect entrusted with the building of the church by the Council of the Order.

In raising the subject again, I suggest that the statues should be those of St John the Baptist, patron saint of the Order, and the Blessed Brother Gerard whom Pope Paschal II, in his Bull of 1113, named as the founder of the Hospice of St John the Baptist in Jerusalem and who has since been recognised as the founder of the Order of the Hospitaller Knights of St John.

An alternative to a statue of Blessed Gerard would be one of St Paul, who brought Christianity to Malta. We, Maltese, owe it to St Paul that we embrace the Catholic faith, which the Knights and the Maltese defended so bravely during the Great Siege of 1565. Thus we would have statues of the two saints who give their names to the Holy Father, John Paul II, who was the first Pope to visit Malta.

Yet, on second thoughts, one has to bear in mind the fact that we already have several statues of St Paul and several churches are dedicated to him, while, as far as I know, there is not a single statue of Blessed Gerard in Malta.

The proposed two statues would not mar the original architectural mannerist style of the façade of the Co-Cathedral. Such statues would only mitigate the austerity of the façade which presents such a sharp contrast with the sumptuous decoration, sculptures and monuments in the interior.

I also take the liberty to suggest that the statue of St John would be in a "preaching" position, perhaps resembling a painting of the saint by a famous artist, such as Titian (1540), Jacopo da Balsemo (15th century), or Bartolomeus Breenbergh (1634).

With regard to the statue of Blessed Gerard the artist may refer, for some inspiration and ideas, to the painting in the former Hospital of the Order (in Valletta), now the Mediterranean Conference Centre, to the mural painting on the vault of the Co-Cathedral, and to the canvas in the oratory of the same church.

I also suggest that the call for the submission of designs, models and other information regarding the proposed statues should be made internationally but, all things being equal, preference should be accorded to Maltese sculptors. The statues should be in marble or bronze in consonance with those in the interior of the Co-Cathedral.

Most probably the realisation of such an undertaking would be entrusted to the St John's Co-Cathedral Foundation whose council, executive secretary, curator and staff are so wholly and enthusiastically dedicated to their mission. However, I am sure that in this respect the foundation would find the support, help, advice and sponsorship of the Chapter of the Metropolitan Cathedral, Heritage Malta, the Valletta Rehabilitation Project, the University, Europa Nostra, the Maltese Association of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, the SMOM embassy, the business community and the general public.

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