St. Sebastian - Qormi





During the plague of 1813, about 740 people from Qormi lost their lives. After the end of the plague, as an act of thanksgiving, those who survived donated a silver hanging lamp to the parish church of St. George and erected a statue of St. Sebastian, the saint invoked during the plague, at the end of the village. This statue, still standing today, was carved by the brothers Francesco and Gerolamo Fabri from Vittoriosa. By the passage of time, this statue became the centre of public devotion, while buildings began to be constructed in its neighbourhood. Soon the need of a church for use by residents was felt. A site close to this statue was chosen, but near the site there was a wine shop run by Masu Farrugia. As Farrugia refused to move his shop, Qormi’s residents broke up his shop and dismantled its building in the middle of the night, but on the morrow they fully reimbursed him for the damage they had inflicted on his property.In 1873 the Bishop’s Curia gave the necessary permits for a new church to be built dedicated to St. Sebastian. The inhabitants of Qormi led by their parish priest, Don Aloisio Ellul, started building a new church in 1880, on a plan by architect Giuseppe Borg. Master builder Giovanni Schembri was entrusted with the actual construction work while several Qormi residents helped financially and materially.

Though small in size this church, known as the old church, is a gem of local architecture, worthy of notice are the bell towers, constructed on a novel design and embellished by fine carving works.As the years passed by, this church was frequented by several residents of this neighbourhood. Hence in the year 1893, the Ecclesiastical Authorities granted permission for the Holy Eucharist to be kept regularly in it. As the residents in the church’s neighbourhood increased, this church in 1918 started to serve as a vice-parish of St. George’s. Later the residents begged the bishop of Malta to elevate the church to parish church, but years had to elapse before their request could be granted. It was on the 25th October 1935, that Archbishop Don Mauro Caruana erected the current church of St. Sebastian as parish church.

The deterioration processes experienced by the facade were the result of a number of factors such as exposure and orientation, salt contamination (rising damp, nitrates and incompatible materials), biological attack, material properties of stone, lack of maintenance, human intervention and pollution caused by the burning of fossil fuels. The various causes of deterioration gave rise to loss of pointing, deterioration of mortars and masonry, black crust formation, mechanical damage and loss of structural integrity, soiling, graffiti and biological infestation. The intervention currently being done of the facade is focusing on the restoration of the deteriorated masonry fabric, removal of black crust formation, pointing, stabilization of detached masonry facings cleaning and reconstruction of missing and deteriorated limestone fabric. The interventions are being done as follows; first the stone surface is cleaned from superficial deposits, deteriorated masonry fabric is being replaced and friable masonry fabric consolidated. Open joints are then re-pointed  and homogenisation of masonry fabric is then achieved through the application of a transparent velatura.

Cleaning of the stone is being carried out sensitively so that the original patina is respected. Great efforts are being done to ensure that the patina acquired by the stonework is respected and only hand held tools are being used. The minimum possible stone replacement is being undertaken. All new stonework is worked from good quality globigerina limestone to respect the original course heights and bedding plane of the stonework replaced. The pointing of the masonry fabric is being carried out using a lime-based mortar which is weaker than the masonry, yet durable. Various tests were carried out on site to determine the best mix taking factors such as workability and durability amongst others into consideration. All joints are cleaned and pre-wetted using water. The joints are then pointed with lime mortar. Every effort is being done to ensure that the pointing is being carried out as neat as possible with the width of the joint kept to the possible minimum. After the initial set the of the pointing the mortar is then slightly roughened this leaves a pleasant weathered appearance and the rough texture tends to assist the wall to dry out and to concentrate wetting and drying activity in the joint.

The various interventions being carried out for the treatment of the masonry fabric will after the restoration is completed tend to detract from the visual unity of the building. This is mainly due to the fact that the natural patina of the monument will tend to vary depending on the past state of the fabric and the interventions being carried out. To this end the patina will be harmonized by applying a reversible, light, transparent veiling coat (velatura). This treatment will have a short-term effect, yet it will be sufficient to allow the stone to re-acquire its natural patina.