St. Matthew’s chapel can
be easily accessed from ‘Triq it-Tempesta’, leading to a wide opening like a
small square in front of the chapel. The chapel is set near to a deep and wide
pit – a fault which was said to be formed by an earthquake and a violent storm
in 1343, resulting in a still visible round sink-hole as shown in the site plan
below. This is a natural depression formed by the collapse of the
underlying limestone strata, known as a doline in geological language. This is
in fact what caused it to remain named as ‘Tal-Maqluba’. Since it
has happened in the middle ages, many legends and myths were created associated
with this natural event.
St. Matthew’s chapel is
in fact made up of two chapels. The older chapel, on the edge of the sink-hole,
is one of the oldest in Malta and is believed to have been built in the
fifteenth century. The old chapel holds about 10 people, it’s interior resembles
a crypt, and it has a window overlooking the valley. The interior of this
chapel is a simple rectangular shape with one altar and a little apse decorated
with a well-preserved fresco of a scallop shell. The building’s rear wall is
supported with a sloping buttress.
The other main chapel
built later, is of average size of 17m by 12m and of 36 courses high measured
externally. (Refer to adjacent images) This chapel was built between 1674 and
1682. A painting by Mattia Preti was commissioned by Knight Nicolo Communet in
1688 and hung in the chapel. This was stolen in recent years but was later
recovered. As shown in adjacent images, the main chapel consists of a simple
rectangle shaped building with a sole altar despite its considerable size.
Entrance into the chapel is by means of three doors, one at the façade and the
further two at each of the chapel’s sides. The main chapel is connected to the
smaller older medieval chapel and a sacristy that was built at a later date
through two small doors at the sides of the main altar. Above the main door,
there are the organ galleries build by benefactors Dun Mikiel Zammit and Dun
Gio Anton Spiteri that bears the date 1834.
The church was hit by a
bomb on the 12th of April 1942 sustaining considerable structural damage in its
façade. This was later repaired by architect S. Privitera, making a few changes
to the structure along the way basically removing the central belfry and
replacing it with two belfries at opposite ends of the façade. The feast of St.
Mathew is celebrated on 21st September.
The building fabric is
generally in a very good condition with very minimal and only minor
deterioration, mostly on the external area. The old chapel’s roof is the most
in need of repair, as it has an advanced state of deterioration. Since the
site is just off a Natura 2000 protected site, all measures to mitigate dust
and inert material from the Maqluba site will be taken. Scaffolding will be
erected on the main facades; however the elevation which is directly above a
rock outcrop will be done by abseiling. This elevation does not have any stone
replacement envisaged on it and thus works will be limited to cleaning and
pointing of joints. These works will also be done by abseiling in order to
limit the disturbance that might happen to the rock and the fauna that live on
it with the erection of the scaffolding. The whole area will also be hoarded
using timber sheets in order to contain any stone chippings or mortar pieces
that fall during the opening and pointing of joints. Timber hoarding will also
be applied just at the top of the ramp leading down to the Maqluba in order to
stop any material that might move with rain water down to the agricultural
fields. Moreover the site will be cleaned continuously in order to avoid the
accumulation of inert material and debris which might end up being carried away
by heavy rain.