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Rabat people in shock as ceiling collapses over the altar at Ta' Ġieżu church

Parishioners survey the scene with tears in their eyes

Picture - Mark Zammit Cordina

Picture - Mark Zammit Cordina

Video - Mark Zammit CordinaVideo - Mark Zammit Cordina

Updated 12.20pm - Added BOV pledge

The people of Rabat were in shock this morning after part of the ceiling over the main altar of the historic Church of Our Lady of Jesus (Ta' Ġieżu) collapsed during the night, leaving a hole several metres wide. 

Some had tears in their eyes as they gathered outside the centuries old church, and Archbishop Charles J Scicluna also appeared emotional as he was shown around.

People on the scene said two old wooden beams appeared to have given way. The marble altar table, benches and light fittings were considerably damaged as tons of debris rained down. 

'I couldn't believe my eyes': Fr Martin Coleiro (. file)

Holding back tears and still visibly under shock, Fr Martin Coleiro, the prior of the Franciscan Fathers who run the church, said that he could not believe his eyes when he first noticed the debris as he walked into the church at around 5.45am.

"I walked in and the church was obviously still in the dark. As soon as I switched the lights  I realised there was some debris on the floor.

I looked up and saw a chunk of the ceiling had collapsed. I could not believe my eyes and at that moment I have to admit that I became hysterical.
- Fr Martin Coleiro

"I looked up and saw a chunk of the ceiling had collapsed. I could not believe my eyes and at that moment I have to admit that I became hysterical," Fr Coleiro said.

According to Fr Coleiro, no noise was heard at the convent but a neighbour claimed to have heard a loud sound between 1.30am and 3am.

READ: Parts of Ta' Giezu were restored 15 years ago

Architects who inspected the site said there was no immediate danger for the rest of the ceiling, according to a preliminary survey. The church, however, has been closed.

Parishioners who rushed to the church this morning were also visibly shaken, many holding back tears as they came to terms with what had happened.

"This is our church. We grew up here and have spent all our lives coming here. It's part of who we are so it's very shocking to see it in this state, especially after it was just refurbished a few months ago," a group of men, in their 80s, said.

The Infrastructure Ministry deployed workers to help volunteers clear up debris and remove the danger, and the prime minister contacted the Franciscan Fathers offering government help for the repairs. The offer was backed by the Nationalist Party.  The prime minister is also expected to visit the site. 

READ: Angry at the Church, man stole a painting from Ta' Giezu 

Archbishop Scicluna said that while appreciating the fact that nobody was at the church when the incident took place, the collapse should also serve to remind everyone of the importance of safeguarding such "treasures". This, he said, was everyone's responsibility.

'This is my church': residents speak of their dismay. (. file)

A choir performs at a Christmas carol event last December, right where the ceiling came crashing down. The event was organised by Natalis Notabilis.A choir performs at a Christmas carol event last December, right where the ceiling came crashing down. The event was organised by Natalis Notabilis.

"I would also like to thank the government for offering to help the Church pay for the damage. Luckily, nobody was injured but it's still sad to see such damage," Mgr Scicluna said.

President Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca also visited the church and appealed for solidarity. 

President Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca visits the church.President Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca visits the church.

Ta' Giezu Church was built in 1500 and enlarged in 1757. The first Grand Master L'Isle Adam lived in the adjoining convent when the Knights came to Malta in 1530.

Emergency fund for repairs

Bank of Valletta pledged to help bankroll restoration of the church, with the bank CEO Mario Mallia and a group of BOV executives paying the site a vist this morning.   

"The church is a national treasure and we take this opportunity to urge other organisations to follow the Bank’s example and pledge their help to restore this historical jewel," Mr Mallia said. 

Archbishop Scicluna speaks to reporters (. file)

The Franciscan Fathers this morning thanked all those who had offered to help and announced the setting up of an emergency fund. Donations may be made to Bank of Valletta account 40020868884.

In 1924, disaster in a church nearby

Today's collapse recalled the disaster, on November 29, 1924, when the dome and much of the ceiling of the nearby St Paul's Collegiate Church collapsed.

The church had been damaged in an earthquake the previous year. Measures were taken to save the dome, but it collapsed after a year. 

More pictures of today's collapse

'I couldn't believe my eyes': Fr Martin Coleiro
'This is my church': residents speak of their dismay.
Archbishop Scicluna speaks to reporters
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