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St Ubaldesca church (1)

Dr giovanni bonello continues to delight readers with his writings on various personalities; I enjoyed his latest contribution "Random notes on artists related to Malta" (The Sunday Times, October 9, 16).

I was particularly struck by his reference to the painter/architect Bartolomeo Garagona (1584-1641), about whom apparently very little is known.

Dr Bonello might be interested in a large canvas by Garagona depicting St Ubaldesca, a patron saint of the Order of St John, who lived in the first half of the 13th century. The painting is found in the church of the same name in Paola, the town projected by Grand Master de Paule in the 1620s.

Originally the painting was the altar-piece and was commissioned by the Grand Master who is shown in the same painting kneeling with a page in attendance. The foundation stone of the church was laid on August 25, 1630, apparently with much pomp and ceremony. All through the period of the Knights the projected town never seems to have really caught on and by the mid-19th century had a population of less than 500, half of whom were inmates or employees of the newly built civil prisons.

The church was substantially enlarged in 1902 when the St Ubaldesca altarpiece was replaced by Lazzaro Pisani's canvas and the Garagona relegated to one of the side walls. By the time the extension of the church was completed the town had become a new parish, detached from Tarxien, and the new parish church dedicated to Christ the King was built.

Unfortunately the church of St Ubaldesca was abandoned and is now badly in need of restoration; the immediate neighbourhood, especially the parvis, is crying out for attention.

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