Part of medieval chapel collapses

Dark age for St Cecilia Chapel, which was built in 1540.

Dark age for St Cecilia Chapel, which was built in 1540.

Gozo's main heritage association is outraged after one of the walls of the island's only medieval chapel collapsed despite repeated calls on the authorites 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. The incident took place just weeks after The Sunday Times highlighted the precarious state of the chapel.

Wirt Għawdex executive secretary Giovanni Zammit said: "Shame on the authorities for dragging their feet for so long. We warned them about the impending danger and they did nothing. Now look what's happened!"

Mr Zammit believes most of the damage was caused after an old waterspout on the roof of the chapel for the overflow of rainfall was stolen.

He said the collapse of the wall had damaged the entire structure and he envisages that 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.

The chapel was set on fire last August, yet even this failed to prod the authorities into taking action, Mr Zammit protested.

St Cecilia chapel is believed to have been built around 1540, but by 1636 it was closed down because it needed extensive repairs. It was temporarily restored, before it was once again shut and has been neglected since.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.

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.

Mr Zammit said that the Gozitan NGO has been campaigning to restore the building for the past 10 years.

The site was expropriated in 1997 and promised to Wirt Għawdex, but the authorities have been reluctant to proceed with the execution of the order, claiming there was an issue of compensation.

According to the NGO, the chapel appears to have been caught up in crossfire involving an individual who owns land nearby. Under the Cultural Heritage Act, Mr Zammit said, the Superintendent of Cultural Heritage had the authority to request the owners to carry out the necessary repairs if there really was the will to preserve this monument from destruction.

In a statement, Alternattiva Demokratika attacked Gozo Minister Giovanna Debono for ignoring warnings from different entities about the state of the chapel.

AD spokesman for Gozo Victor Galea said: "It's useless for the Gozo and tourism ministers to expect the tourism niche to grow when this destruction is taking place in front of their very eyes."

If ministries shied away from the €23,000 (Lm10,000) originally required to fix the damage, then such monuments should be donated to voluntary organisations, Mr Galea said.

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