UNESCO ‘not concerned’ about ongoing Co-Cathedral works – Vella Gauci

Call another expert mission - Experts insist


Malta’s Ambassador to UNESCO, Gozitan Monsignor Joe Vella Gauci, said the international world heritage organisation is not concerned about what is happening at St John’s Co-Cathedral in Valletta, contradicting claims by various heritage experts and a decision from a recent UNESCO convention.

The Shift has reported that a number of alert reports were received by UNESCO, raising concerns about the negative impacts of the ongoing construction of the extension to St John Co-Cathedral’s museum.

The cathedral is one of Malta’s best-known historical sites and is situated in Valletta, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Vella Gauci did not previously respond to questions from The Shift but has now offered a right of reply letter in which he said that all concerns were settled with UNESCO eight years ago.

“It is to be noted that in 2015, it was through my direct and legitimate intervention, as ambassador, that, at the very last minute, the Planning Authority decided to suspend (the permit’s) approval pending an expert mission on site by the World Heritage Centre’s advisors,” Monsignor Vella Gauci said through a right of reply letter.

He said the 2015 expert mission analysed the project and gave their stamp of approval.

“Eventually, the project required some modifications, including the use of concrete, and this was again submitted to UNESCO, which, once again, gave its approval for the project.”

Eight years later, the actual construction work is still in its infancy.

Vella Gauci said, “As far as the project does not change, the World Heritage Centre has absolutely no cause for concern”.

According to Vella Gauci, the new concerns being raised by experts, including the impact the works may have on the line of sight and streetscape of the area, “may have been true in 2015 but hold no longer”.

Experts have raised several issues regarding the ongoing project, including large concrete walls, the impact on the oratory’s windows, the blocking of natural light onto Caravaggio’s artwork and digging on and around the burial site of the Knights of Malta.

Only last June, leading Caravaggio experts worldwide rallied together to request an investigation into the impact of the ongoing works at St John’s Co-Cathedral on the Italian painter’s work.

Art historian and Caravaggio expert Keith Sciberras flagged that the tapestry hall under construction is set to irreversibly obstruct a window that overlooks Caravaggio’s The Beheading of St John.

Speaking to The Shift, experts insisted that instead of claiming everything was settled in 2015, “it would be better if the Monsignor asks UNESCO for a new fact-finding mission, to see with their own eyes how things are being done.”

Furthermore, Vella Gauci’s statement contradicts a strongly worded decision issued last month during the UNESCO World Heritage Convention in Saudi Arabia. In it, Malta was given until the end of 2024 to present an updated report on the state of conservation of Valletta, including a management plan initially requested in 2011.

In 2017, two years after Vella Gauci said everything was settled, a UNESCO advisory mission again recommended that Malta complete a management plan for Valletta and a Views and Vistas analysis to address concerns over the impact of high-rise buildings in the city.

The convention also expressed concerns over the long-delayed cathedral project, the privatisation of the Evans building, and the development of Manoel Island.

Monsignor Vella Gauci

Vella Gauci was appointed ambassador to UNESCO in 2013 when Labour returned to power.

His appointment raised controversy, particularly in the Gozo diocese, as, contrary to Canon law, he did not seek permission from the Bishop to take a layman’s job.

Later, in 2018, Vella Gauci was also given a new full-time government job as director of the Gozo branch of the Foundation for Social Welfare Services.

His latter appointment, according to Vella Gauci, “followed an application and an interview to which I, like any private citizen, am entitled to.”

It is not known whether the priest asked for permission from the Gozo Curia and whether this was granted.

Lately, Vella Gauci was joined at his government agency office in Xewkija by another Monsignor, Carmelo Refalo, who given a government job after resigning as the archpriest of Xaghra.

Refalo, 62, also insists that he had followed all procedures to be put on the state salary but refused to provide any clarifications.


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A. Fan
A. Fan
4 months ago

So long as you seemingly abide by the first three or four, the other six or seven really don’t matter so much (particularly the knee-slappers about not lying or stealing). So sayeth the Gospel of MLP.

4 months ago

Pajjiz imsewwes u mnawwar minn guf ommu sal- qalba.

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