The opening of the St John’s Co-Cathedral Museum extension has been delayed to the end of 2023, five years later than its original target date.
The new date for the completion of the long-awaited, €10 million project has been set by the St John’s Co-Cathedral Foundation – a joint administrative organisation between the government and the Church entrusted to manage Malta’s most prestigious monument.
This new schedule – considered by people familiar with the project to be “optimistic” – is a full five years behind the timetable outlined in the original plans, which stated the museum extension would be up and running by 2018, in time for the Valletta 2018 EU culture capital activities.
Last week, during a visit to the initial works, Cultural Heritage Minister Jose Herrera and EU Funds Parliamentary Secretary Stefan Zrinzo Azzopardi claimed ‘progress’ at a new wing forming part of the overall project – the “Caravaggio” wing – which, they said, was at an advanced stage.
During a presentation by the Foundation’s CEO Cynthia De Giorgio, neither the foundation nor the government representatives made any reference to the date when the museum extension – supported by millions of euros in EU Funds – will be reopening to the hundreds of thousands of visitors it hosted annually before its ‘temporary’ closure in 2016.
In response to questions, De Giorgio – cited by observers as among those responsible for the museum project ‘fiasco’ – responded with oblique criticism of The Shift for asking questions aimed at holding those responsible accountable.
“Please be informed that the St John’s Co-Cathedral Foundation is an independent institution, it is autonomous and has juridical personality, so it can enter into contracts and make its own obligations,” De Giorgio said.
“In other words, the Foundation is not a public entity, nor it is financed by public funds. Its income is from the entrance tickets purchased by tourists visiting St John’s church,” De Giorgio insisted, in reference to The Shift’s request for answers on the museum’s project progress.
The project, estimated to cost some €10 million, is mostly being financed through EU funds – that is, taxpayers’ money, including Maltese citizens.
Pressed to state when the project is expected to be opening its doors, after missing its 2018 targets, De Giorgio said that the project is now “estimated to be opened to the public by the end of 2023”.
She said that so far, €4.6 million have been spent on the project, with work on its foundations having just started.
The project was originally intended to be managed by AP Valletta, however, The Shift is informed that another architectural firm – Edwin Mintoff Architects – has recently been brought on board too. This move means the project’s overall costs in professional fees have been substantially increased.
While the project team, including the architects, is ostensibly led by the President of the Foundation, Reverend Emanuel Agius, people familiar with the project said De Giorgio is instead actually making all the decisions.
In a press release issued after The Shift’s questions, the Foundation described the ambitious project as making significant progress.
“Although not much is visible to the public, a large amount of work and intense preparations were being carried out,” the statement said.
“Passers-by in Merchants Street will notice that a tower crane has been erected on site where the Tapestry Chamber is going to be constructed, together with the spiral staircase and a piston lift that is unique to Malta,” the Foundation said.
The museum project, which has been planned since 2013, includes the building of a 700 square metre tapestry hall, intended to showcase a set of unique 17-century tapestries donated to the Co-Cathedral by Grand Master Perellos.
It also includes a Caravaggio Centre and a new entrance and exit from Merchants Street, which will mean visitors no longer have to go through the church to access the museum.