The first part of the restoration project involved the restoration of the cupola. The works started on 26 January 2019. All the cupola was covered with scaffolding to facilitate restoration works. Various interventions were carried out to ensure that all fissures were closed to prevent any water infiltration. Also, a number of stones were also replaced as they were deeply eroded. Works were completed by end of 2019.
The first pieces of scaffolding around St George façade were laid on 16 October 2020. From that day it took until 8 April 2022 to finish the job. It was not an easy job for all those involved. The hardest part of all was the decision to partly dismantle the western belfry. This decision was taken once all technical persons involved inspected the structure from the scaffolding. The extent of the damage was not visible until the scaffolding was securely placed. A metal rod placed inside the belfry structure – for the intention to provide more stability to the structure – resulted in more damage than benefit. Throughout the years the rod started to be eroded, which resulted in weathering of the adjacent stones. The metal rod started to expand with evident structural damages to the structure. A third of the belfry was dismantled so that the rod was removed. Instead of the metal rod, a new stainless steel rod was introduced and the necessary applications were applied. New material was set in place in order to absorb the movements of the bell’s tongue; this would reduce the vibrations that affect the belfry’s structure.
Apart from the dismantling of the belfry, restoration works across all the façade was carried out extensively. The church’s stonework had deteriorated and, in some parts, it was also almost entirely eroded, losing its original shape and features. Some particular stones had to be replaced because they were in such a progressive state of deterioration that they simply could not be restored. All works were under the supervision of a technical team engaged from our parish to ensure the correct restoration techniques. All the necessary permits were obtained from the relevant authorities. Restoration techniques included the application of various chemicals and treatments to stones to ensure that that erosion is halted.
It was decided that the empty circular spaces set into stone in the upper part of the façade beneath the two belfries would be used. Local artist John Grima was chosen to work on two ‘clocks’ set in white marble with bronze pointers; these were not to show the usual time of the day but feature a higher concept of time that was to be theologically inspired. The central theme featuring the figure of Christ would represent the centre of the cosmic reality of time and space. The eastern clock would be static while that on the west would show the hour; this latter one was to have an electronic hammer installed in it. It would ring on the hour through the use of the fourth bell known as Fonza. The new clocks were put in place on July 7.
Besides the restoration project, other works took place. The entire set of bells at the basilica were restored. These had been manufactured by the Fonderia Barigozzi of Milan, Italy, in 1925. Their tongues were restored and a new protective system against lightning was put into place too. On June 22, the scaffolding that had covered the façade of the eastern belfry started to be dismantled.
The restoration project was heavily sponsored by the Ministry for Gozo through the ecoGozo Directorate. The The Recoop – The Restoration and the Conservation Coop Ltd has been commissioned the restoration works following a public call.