It was the fourth Sunday in Advent, way back in 1949, just four years after the end of the Second World War, that after four years of constant work, the glorious dome of St George’s Parish Church was unveiled so that the public could set its eyes on the masterpiece of Roman painter Gian Battista Conti.
It was Mgr Michael Cefai, the Parish Priest of St George’s and Archpriest of the Cathedral Church, who had given the instructions to Conti to paint episodes from the last book of Holy Scripture – the Book or Revelations – known also as the Book of the Apocalypse. Together with the dome, Conti also painted the four paintings of a triangular shape beneath it known as the lunetti; these represent the three theological virtues of Faith, Hope and Love together with Sacrifice.
The main benefactors of the dome were Francesco Schembri known as tad-Deredej whose family has ancient ties with St George’s Parish together with his wife Ġużeppa and Mrs M’Dolores Casolani who at the time lived in Independence Square or It-Tokk.
From the writings and research work carried out by the late Canon Nicholas Vella Apap (1930-2000) together with information provided by people who were direct witnesses, it is known that it was through the friendship between Professor Ġużè Galea of Rabat, Malta – the decorator of this majestic dome – and the Roman painter Gian Battista Conti that the latter could be commissioned to paint the dome of St George’s. It was then the Archbishop of Malta Sir Mgr Michael Gonzi who used his influence on Conti to bring him over to Gozo. It has to be said that Conti was not new to the Maltese islands; before the war, he had painted the vaults of the Church of the Annunication of the Dominican friars in Vittorioisa; unfortunately this was destroyed during the war.
It was precisely seventy years ago that the dome of St George’s Basilica was inaugurated by Bishop Giuseppe Pace. Through the recent restoration works that the dome has undergone, the original beauty of Conti’s masterpiece has been restored to its former glory. May we continue to cherish this monumental piece of artistic beauty which has only one single aim: that of helping us to meet the Lord Jesus Christ, the Sacrificial but Victorious Lamb who is also the King of Martyrs and Eternal King and sits at the right hand of the Father whence He will come to judge the living and the dead at the end of times.