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NEWS | Wednesday, 04 February 2009

Church reiterates ‘strong objection’ to cathedral extension

The Church has objected to the controversial extension to the St John’s Co-Cathedral museum at least three times in strongly worded letters to the planning authority.
A MEPA spokesman yesterday confirmed that the Catholic Cultural Heritage Commission sent two letters of objection on 28 March 2008 and more recently on 23 January.
“Both letters strongly object to the proposed extension … in view of any damage that might be caused to the Co-Cathedral by the proposed works,” the spokesman said.
In another letter dated 20 January, the Metropolitan Cathedral Chapter also took a similar stand, expressing its disagreement about the construction of an underground museum in St John’s Square and against moving the historical tapestries into any other building outside St John’s precincts.

Last Sunday, MaltaToday revealed that the cathedral chapter had taken a secret vote on the proposal as internal dissent was mounting against this contentious plan that has also raised opposition from the government’s backbench.
Also on Sunday, Labour leader Joseph Muscat also referred to the church’s opposition to the project proposed by the co-cathedral foundation.
Mgr Prof. Carmel Cassar, who is one of the 25 canons on the chapter, warned of “irreversible damages” that might be caused if the project goes ahead as planned.
“My personal opinion is that we would be going against the wishes of the benefactor, the Grandmaster, who donated the tapestries to be housed inside the Co-Cathedral and nowhere else,” Mgr Cassar said.
“The only place for those tapestries is inside the church. I understand there might be difficulties because of pollution and other elements, but there are ways to protect them. Those tapestries should be exhibited permanently inside the church. It would be to the benefactor’s great frustration to put them elsewhere.”
Mgr Cassar added that he expected the Archbishop to have his say on the matter.
“How come our Co-Cathedral has become something like a government department? I feel personally offended,” Mgr Cassar said.
On the other hand, the foundation’s president, Mgr Philip Calleja, who is also Archdeacon on the Metropolitan Chapter, has been at the forefront in the controversy in defending the plans for the underground extension to the museum to house the Flemish tapestries donated by Grand Master Ramon Perellos in the early 18th Century.
According to the Project Development Statement commissioned by the Foundation, excavations needed for the construction of the underground halls has to be considered with “substantial caution” because of their impact on known and unknown underground structures.
It also warns of the possibility of damage caused by vibrations which could have an adverse impact on the Cathedral itself, and calls for geological, hydrological and geotechnical investigations in the EIS.
The document also acknowledges that the other alternative, that of building on the existing courtyard, will have a significant visual impact which can only be mitigated by the quality of the architectural design.



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