St. Mary's Chapel (Tar-Rokna) - Tarxien

The small church referred to as Santa Marija Tar-Rokna is found in Santa Marija Street, Tarxien. It is one of the old churches with an interesting facade, with two similar steeples and a statue of the Assumption placed between them. Behind the statue there is a small dome. It is said that the facade was built in 1909. One of the steeples boasts of three small bells. The shape of the church as we know it today was built between 1729 and 1737. The facade is built on four pilasters designed in the Tuscan style. The steeples resemble closely the ones in the Collegiate of St. Paul’s Shipwreck in Valletta. The Church is very old; in fact it dates back to the time before Tarxien became a parish. In a report of Bishop Cagliares, it says that it was built around 1415 by Duminka, widow of Gentile Azzopardi.

Around the 17th Century, the Church fell into disrepair to such an extent that in 1668, a decision was taken to rebuild it. At a later stage the Church was enlarged. The Church has an octagonal shape spanned over by a dome and with a deep choir at the back. Inside there are two altars. The main altar has a painting of the Assumption, surrounded by sculptures of angels and floral design which dates back to 1771 and was painted by Rokku Buhagiar. Prior to this paining there was another painting portraying  the coronation of Our Lady and which also included the images of St. Paul and St. John the Baptist which had been commissioned in 1590 and remained as the titular painting up to 1737 but which has since been lost. On the other altar there is a painting of Our Lady of the Rosary, with the child Jesus. Before 1770, this painting was in the Parish Church. There are also other images of St. Dominic and St. Catherine.

 In the past, as was customary particularly in Marian sanctuaries, there were many small ex-voto paintings in the Church. Their value is less in their artistic qualities and more in their religious and historical value. There are only two such paintings remaining which are a witness of the devotion that our ancestors, especially sea men, had towards the Assumption of Our Lady. One of these paintings represents an event that took place in the 18th century and portrays a young lady who prays Our Lady to liberate her from an evil spirit which had possessed her. The other painting represents a man in bed having a vision of being taken up to haven by Our Lady. The latter painting dates to 15 October 1780.In 1909 Dun Frangisk Penza, who for some time was the curator of the Church, embellished the Church with a new facade consisting of two steeples and the statue of Our Lady sculpted by Francesco Faure. Dun Frangisk also left an artistic ivory Crucifix which was placed in a niche on top of which there was the coat of arms of Penza. In the middle of the Church there is a tomb of on one of the main benefactors, Lorenzo Bugeja, who died on 19 March, 1800. This Church has since been well looked after, and every year it is decorated for the feast of the Assumption on 15th August.

During an inspection it was noted that the front facade contained parts of the fabric which have powdered away. This could be found on the bases of the pilasters and their supports and on specific blocks in the fabric. Some back weathering was also present on a small area at the upper side of the door. There was also some cement rendering present on the first seven courses, on areas close to the main door and some recent cement pointing in certain parts between the pilasters. The polychrome paint on the jamb of the main door was flaking off revealing previous layers of paint. There was a layer of black crust present on the upper part of the pilasters and on the cornice. Metal inserts were also present at points where the decorative lighting is fixed onto and on other parts of the facade. Inserts on the jamb of the door have caused some hairline cracks. The front door was in a fairly good state with minimal weathering. The main entrance has a small parvis made from stairs surrounded by an iron gate. It was noted that in the parts of the stairs holding the gate, metal inserts have rusted and expanded causing cracking and loss of fabric, leaving the gate inserts revealed at the edges.

Cleaning is being carried out by starting with the simplest and softest methods like dry brushing water. The biological patina didn’t seem to be causing any damage to the stonework, thus it is being left as it is. Removal of biological growth is being done with the use of an appropriate biocide. All paint deposits found on the walls were removed and a new coat of paint of the same colour is being applied. The pedestal was in a severe state of deterioration. Plastic repair is being carried out on these stones and a hydraulic lime-based mortar is being used to form the fabric of the plastic repair with colour and textures similar to the original material. All rusted material is being carefully removed and any iron oxides cleaned. Metal inserts are being removed using a corer to prevent splitting of masonry blocks. Where possible all accretions are being removed. The statue was observed to have mild alveolar weathering therefore plastic repair is being carried out where the holes are being filled with a hydraulic lime based mortar with colour and texture similar to the original.