Friday morning, and what a glorious morning it was, certainly warmer than it had been for the last few weeks, even here in mild wintering Gozo it seemed that people had more of a smile on their faces, I think the warmth of the sun brings out this relaxed happiness in everyone. Tourists in their t-shirts had boarded the bus at the ferry terminal, and when I got on there was standing room only, but nobody would mind that as it only takes about five minutes to reach Victoria and that is where I also was heading. I needed to go to the head post office but otherwise I did not have much business to attend to, so it was that at 11:55 I found myself heading to St.Georges Square, there to have coffee and listen to the bell ringing of the Basilica which takes place at exactly 12 noon. It was, as always a treat much enjoyed (I’m Flemish – land of the carillon concerts and church bell ringing.) And because I had time on my hands I thought I would take another look inside the basilica, the only other times I visited there a service was in progress and I could not look around, but this time the church was almost empty. Unfortunately I did not have my camera with me, only my mobile phone. So many treasures; The paintings, the architecture, the lovely murals on the ceiling, the marble used on the altars and in covering every surface, the gold and the bronze used in the decorations, the alabaster used in portraying the stations of the cross. I became quite intrigued and interested so when I came home I started to do some research. I soon learnt that the basilica has been built on the site of a Roman temple, and there is evidence from 1270 of a Byzantine church dedicated to St. George being on the site. The foundation stone of the present building was laid in 1672 and the church was finished in 1678. Although St.Georges was built on the site of a Roman temple, much archaeological evidence of the early Christianity in Gozo was found beneath and in the area surrounding the Basilica. There is a lot more to say about the history of this beautiful Baroque church, but it is not my intention to go into too much depth right here. The wealth of information on the internet is sufficient for anyone wanting more information. As I was soaking up the beauty and the peace of the place I was also thinking of a question I’ve had since I first heard the bells of the Basilica; are they manually rung or is there by any chance a bell ringer? And it so happened that I noticed that the door to the sacristy was open and I walked in to meet a young man to whom I put my question. The man happened to be Jonathon Sultana, the very bell ringer of the Basilica! He was very nice and soon put an answer to my question, that yes the bells are rung manually and by himself between four in the morning and eight at night. It simply made my day to know that the bells were being used manually and that it was not a recording. The sounds of the bells of St.Georges are beautiful, one of the bells has a very deep sound, and that one is my favourite. I’m thinking of calling in there again very soon, more over because I missed some of the lovely items, like the floors of the Byzantine chapel which are paved with precious porphyry slabs, and the stations of the cross which are made from white alabaster. I’d also would like a closer look at the Baroque organ, and listen to it even. And have a closer look at the two paintings by Italian baroque painter Mattia Preti.
Part of the bronze main door to the Basilica, made entirely of bronze, manufactured in Verona on a design by John Grima. And a welcoming angel in the most beautiful white marble. (or is it even white alabaster?)
Copies of some the beautiful paintings found in the Basilica displayed at San Ġorġ tal-Ħaġar museum next to the basilica. The semi-dome on the right is found above the organ gallery (see also below) and painted by Giambattista Conti (1575), it depicts the veneration of St.George in heavenly music. The semi-dome painting on the left is also by Giambattista Conti.
Painting above some of the side altars: The rising of Lazarus (1677) by Giuseppe D’arena, and The Holy family by Giuseppe Cali.
Several different colours of marble used in the making of the altars.
Jonathon Sultana, the bell ringer of St.George Basilica, dedicated to his work. Something else not to be missed are the colourful stained glass windows in the dome, they were designed by Giovanni Battista Conti, who also produced the beautiful paintings in the dome.
Winged head of a cherub that formed part of one of the altars in the Basilica. Sculpted by Giuseppe D’Avola after 1678. Now displayed in the museum next door to the church.
The longer I stay on the island of Gozo, the more art and history I discover, I feel that I have not even scratched the surface! How very exciting!