COLOSSAL CHURCH OF MUSTA
MALTA PENNY MAGAZINE
No. 98. Saturday, 24th. July 1841. [Price 1d]
No. 99. Saturday, 31st. July 1841. [Price 1d]
1d or Sold or 12-il Habba was equivalent to € 1c (€0.009705722)
This was a magazine published once a week on a Saturday, available on Google Books as Volume 1 covering the period from 14th September 1839 till end of year 1841 and as Volume 2 containing the same but of year 1841 only. The interesting part concerning Mosta was published in the last 2 weeks of July 1841, about 7 years 2 months after the commencement of building works “in a remote and poor village of this island” on the edifice described as going to be a “colossal church.” On Google Books there is also a book in English but with a German title Ansichten aus Malta, Nebst Einigen Anderen (Views from Malta, along with some others) which contains a redacted copy of what possibly was published in the Malta Penny Magazine years before regarding Mosta church with slight differences which I combined below.
COLOSSAL CHURCH OF MUSTA
Malta Penny Magazine No. 98, Saturday, 24th July 1841.
(p.114) On looking at the Colossal Church of which we have given a front elevation in the accompanying design, few will be inclined to credit that it is building in a remote and poor village of this island, and that it owes its origin to the circumstance in itself so very trivial of a native of that village, a priest Don Felice Calleja, having celebrated his first mass in that splendid building, the Pantheon of Rome. Whether from the solemnity of the occasion, or from his over excited feelings by previous vague aspirations, the thought suddenly struck him of raising a similar temple in his own native village. Few could have known the secret workings of the young priest's mind as he left Rome, but to all, even to his greatest friends, they could only have appeared in the most ridiculous and foolish light. Soon after his return to Malta and to Musta, he was appointed Parish priest and from that period he seriously set his mind upon the completion of his grand idea. He laboured hard in the accumulation of wealth; all his perquisites were laid by with the most scrupulous care, yet after all he was not even repaid by the gratification of living to see the first stone of the long wished for building laid. There were many difficulties and formalities to overcome; strange doubts were started by several architects as to the possibility of erecting so large a dome with the Maltese stone—all which were not effectually removed till after his death, and we consequently find him in his will using the strongest language to express that he left all his property for the purpose of fabricating a round temple like the Pantheon.
There was a general opinion throughout the island against the construction of a round temple (for the use of the Service of a Christian Church), and the bishop strongly advocated these views. His (strong) opposition may have arisen from prejudice or ignorance as he has been accused by the friends and party of the late Don Felice Calleja, or it may have been a conscientious opinion adopted we believe by many, that round temples though used for Heathen worship, are by no means well adapted for the rites of a Christian Church. We had occasion lately ourselves to visit the Pantheon at Rome, and with these facts fresh in our memory, could not help feeling that there is a great want of correspondence in the form and arrangement of that temple, and the rites therein performed. In whichever way however the Bishop's opposition be explained, it was unjust in him to interfere in the disposition of the will of the late Calleja; he even went so far as to insist upon the adoption of a plan drawn out by his own architect in the style and after the fashion of the other numerous churches in Malta in the form of a Greek cross. Much angry feeling was of course excited; at this critical moment, another architect Mr. Grognet presented the plan of around temple which so pleased the inhabitants of Musta that they formed a strong party in opposition to the Bishop—petitioned the Governor, and demanding an audience, laid before him a copy of Calleja's will, with Grognet's plan.
(The late Governor of Malta, Sir Frederic Ponsonby), on inquiring into the feasibility of the latter, (proposed by this ingenious Architect Mr. Grognet, a native of this island, gave preference to this plan, which, though much resembling the Pantheon, may be called unique). The Governor immediately consented to their wishes, and no long time elapsed after this, before the foundation was laid. The first stone was laid on May 30th, 1833, and the ceremony on this occasion was as solemn and grand as the village could afford. The Bishop affected illness and did not attend, but the Arch-deacon officiated in his place. The Governor was present, with the principal civil authorities and crowds from the neighbouring villages and from town, filled up the small square of the village. The weather was unusually fine and the whole scene most animated.
(p.115) Although the funds left by the parish priest were very great in proportion to what might have been expected from him (30,000 scudi ~ € 5,823.43) they barely sufficed to raise the walls of so immense a building to a fourth or fifth of its intended height. Subscriptions were raised, and not only did the wealthy Maltese contribute, but British officers of the Garrison freely assisted from the receipts of public amateur performances as well as in other ways; - with these funds, it goes on progressing slowly. The necessary stone being easily obtained from a short distance, the greatest expense was that of labourers and masons. To obviate this, as much as possible, the church hit upon the happy expedient of promising and bestowing indulgences to all who would work there gratuitously on Sundays. As many as two or three hundred pious volunteers, may have been seen labouring there on the same day; their earnestness and activity having been kept up by assurance of greater blessings to be showered upon them and their families by the Madonna, and the advancement of the church to its present state may in a great measure be attributed to these labours of the Sabbath.
The frontispiece bears the following inscription:—“Virgini Syderibus Restitutae T. H. Mustenses F.F. A. M.CCM.L.” by which we learn that the church is to be dedicated to the Madonna. In the interior she is also to occupy a principal station at the grand altar, while immediately under her is to be placed some relic, (if we err not) the bones of San Pacifico or St. Pacific.
It would be unfair to judge critically of the several parts before the whole of this colossal edifice is completed. It has as yet only reached a third of its destined height, and when finished will be visible from all the high spots in the island. It will certainly form one of the most striking objects to be seen in Malta.
Our next will contain a copy of the design of the ground plan, with a description of the several parts, but we cannot well conclude without wishing Mr. Grognet, the best success in his undertaking, and paying him a just compliment for the manner in which he has so far conducted it.
CHURCH AT MUSTA
Malta Penny Magazine No. 99. Saturday, 31st July 1841.
(p.117) According to the promise in our last number we now present our readers with a continuation of our article on the new Church at Musta, with at the same time a design of its ground plan. The scale attached to this, may serve to give an idea of the immensity of the building and those who have seen the part already raised will agree with us as to the propriety of calling it Colossal.
The main body of the Church consists of a perfect circle of about 200 feet in the extreme diameter. Two additional portions stand out from this at opposite points: "presenting each a front of about 125 feet. The front projection facing the square of the village, forms the portico, which is recessed between the two Bell Towers. In the original design presented by Mr. Grog met, we are told that the Portico was much broader, occupying the complete front aspect of the building; - by which the whole would have had a more magnificent and splendid appearance. - Reasons of economy however prevailed and the architect changed his plan, introducing the pre sent light and in our opinion equally effective portico, or peristyle as it might be called in this case. Its columns are of the Ionic order with engaged columns behind, with niches between some, and the three entrance doors between the others, The two Bell Towers are complete, and the great height of the building may be judged of, from these towers being only two thirds of the contemplated height of the central dome.
The projection at the other end of the main building contains the sacristies or vestries, and a series of rooms in an upper floor as habituations for a certain number of priests to be attached to the church. Instead of columns as at the Portico, this front is embellished with pilasters. A main door way leads through small arcades right and left, to the vestries.
The pilasters which we have just noticed are continued all round the building to the portico. This first story is complete, and that above it will have nearly the same height, but instead of pilasters (see the front elevation) will be placed large circular headed windows with hood moldings above them.1 Under the cornice will be a running band of lotus and honeysuckle ornament in relief, and the cornice will have some kind of Grecian tile at the top by way of ornament.—At this point the building is recessed forming a gallery all round; from which an attic story rises completing the perpendicular portion of the building. Above the cornice of the attic is a second gallery, and then a series of twelve steps leads up to a leaf ornament which gradually gathers in till it reaches the top or third gallery;—at the back aspect there is how ever a series of smaller steps by which the ascent is rendered much easier and which are continued up to the third gallery. This is composed of a large egg and tongue molding supported by large projecting brackets. - Its height from the ground or base of the edifice measures about 180 feet so that the view from it will necessarily extend all over Malta, and even admit of Gozo being distinctly seen. Lastly comes the glass lantern surmounted by a colossal winged figure with a wreath in her right (p.119) hand, meant to represent some messenger angel. The total height of the Edifice will be about 200 feet.
On comparing this church of Musta with the Pantheon in Rome, we find the diameter of the former equal to that of the latter, when the thickness of the walls is included in both cases in the calculation. If these be excluded, then the diameter of the interior of the Pantheon surpasses that of the Church at Musta, for the walls of this, having most necessarily been built of an immense thickness, are equal to a 5th part of its interior, whereas those of the Pantheon only take up one sixth part.
The elevation of the temple at Musta is greater than that of the Pantheon which is as broad as it is high. Mr. Grognet insists that in a round temple the height should surpass the breadth, and he has acted up to this in his plan.
The diameter of the lantern of the Pantheon measures full 28 feet while that of the church at Musta only measures 18.
The interior of the temple widely differs from that of the Pantheon. - As yet while the old church remains occupying the centre, it is scarcely possible to form any idea of what it may become. It will contain one large land six small chapels. In the largest will be placed of course the principal altar. As the work progresses, we shall have much pleasure in returning to the subject, and publishing a drawing of the interior as it is to be.
The village of Musta is about five miles from town and is seated in rather a pleasant valley. It numbers about 6000 inhabitants almost all of the poorest class, and the contrast between the houses which form the sides of the village square, and the front of the temple now erecting, is, we would say, painful and saddening. It is not uncommon among the country people here to boast of, and pretend to, some superiority from the pomp of the religious festivals of their villages. Their neighbours of Naxaro long crowed over the Mustese, by decanting the merits of their Madonna, and the grand fireworks on the (p.120) night of her festival; but we lately casually happened to overhear a conversation between a Mustese and a Naxarine which shews that the day of rejoicing is already anticipated by the former. - The latter boasted of his festa “Tana festa” “Tana Madonna” “Our's is a feast, our's a Madonna.” – The former coolly shrugging up his shoulders answered—“Meskin, raitiesh il kniesia tana” - "Poor fellow, have you seen our church" - we hope the Mustese may not be disappointed and that Mr. Grognet may live to see his labours crowned with success, in the completion of so noble an edifice and with necessarily limited funds.
Mr. Grognet is descended from a French family which was obliged to leave France after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes. He was already noted for his proficiency in architecture, before he entered into the service of Napoleon under whom he served for 13 years in the Civil and Military department of Engineers, particularly employed in the preparation and drawing out of plans.
It was once a favourite walk of our's which we gladly recommend to those who are fond of long excursions on foot. - Let them visit the church at Musta, then following the ravine of Uied il Hasel where the hermitage of St. Paul and its cool spring may detain them in pleasing yet deep thought for a while, they should reach the heights of Naxaro just as the sun sets. The view from these is grand, nor does the wide expanse of sea which presents itself, add little beauty and grandeur to the scene. Ere the last ray sets, let them again look back at the bell towers of the church in Musta, then all round; while resting, let them muse for a short time upon the many associations connected with the places before them, and we are confident they could not return home repeating that all is barren from “Dan to Bethsaida.”
- We regret that Mr. Grognet’s plan is to be altered with regard to the number of these windows. On account of the thickness of the walls, he insists there should be sixteen; yet it has been otherwise decreed, and there are only to be eight. The only excuse for this, is the fear that the walls would not be able to support the dome, were so many as 16 windows introduced.
Explanation of the letters and figures in the Front Elevation and Ground Plan, as given to us by the Architect himself, Mr. Grognet.
Ground plan of the church in Musta (p.118)
1. Steps leading to the principal altar.
2. Niches for statues of various saints.
3. Scaffolding of the grand orchestra.
4. Niche for the Baptismal font.
5. Niche for a statue of the Virgin.
6. Two lateral round Westibules.
7. The lantern of the Dome.
8. Four niches for colossal statues of the Evangelists (means that by 1841 they had still not reached this point?).
9. 24 places set apart for Mausoleums.
10. A lantern to give light to the Choir.
11. Two minor orchestras with organs in the Choir.
12. Choir containing 64 seats.
13. Body of St. Pacific placed under a picture of the Holy Virgin.
14. Vestry for the several confraternities or orders.
15. Vestry and chapel for the Clergy.
16. Spiral staircase to the vaults.
17. The two doors to the Westries.
18. Dwelling rooms for the Clergy.
19. Principal entrance to the vaults.
20. The principal altar.
(Note at the bottom the name written of Frederic Brocktorff - The German infantry officer who painted Malta)
Front Elevation (p.115)
B. Level of the raised Ground before the church.
C. Equestrian statue of St. George.
D. Equestrian statue of St. Paul.
E. Tympanum of the Frontispice in which is to be placed a sculpture of the Virgin Mary and 12 Apostles in relief.
F. 12 large steps by which the Dome may be mounted on all sides.
G. Four niches for colossal statues of the Four Evangelists – (will perhaps be omitted.)
H. A bronze winged figure.
I. The highest gallery.
L. The lantern.
M. N. Clocks.
(Note at the bottom right is written the name of Luigi Brocktorff lit(oghraph) - Luigi Brocktorff was a Maltese 19th Century artist born in 1814, son of the notable painter of Maltese life Charles Frederick Brocktorff. Luigi produced drawings for lithographs of Valletta in the early 19th century, many from an aerial perspective and bearing the distinctive key to the outlying towns and other notable features. Also at the bottom left is written G. Grognet de Vasse Arch ...)
Also in the same Malta Penny Magazine ...
As for January, 1st 1841.
(p.4) Are established in Valletta, Vittoriosa, Senglea, Notabile, in the casals Lia, Zeitun, Zebbug, Zurrico, Musta, and at Gozo.
(Note that in Mosta there was at the time the only primary school for the North of the island and they didn' open it instead at Naxxar maybe because Mosta had long surpassed its matrice in population)