Jesuits’ Church Oratory of the Onorati
The Jesuits church is built on a cruciform plan comprising a central nave and four inter-communicating bays accommodating seven side-chapels. On the side of Archbishop Street, the middle bay was allocated for the side entrance, instead of an eightth side-chapel. At the side entrance are the two oratories, one dedicated to the Immaculate Conception and the other dedicated to St Honoria, thus earning the better known name of the Confraternity of the Onorati.
The Jesuits Church is also known as the Church of the Circumcision of Christ, which is reflected in the titular painting placed within the ornately sculpted frontispiece of the choir.
The Jesuit church was constructed at the turn of the seventeenth century, over a plot given to the Jesuits by the Bishop of Malta, Tomaso Gargallo (1578-1614). The first architect was Giuseppe Valeriano (152-1596), the Jesuit architect from Naples. Around 1637, the architect of the Order of St John, Francesco Buonamici remodelled the church interior and reconstructed the façade, changing the church into the jewel of Baroque architecture that it represents today. Buonamici’s insertion of carved stone decorations such as the cherub heads amid floral decoration on the curved links, the omega-shaped hood enclosing a scallop shell on the windows of the lateral bays, and the pair of seraphim figures on the inverted volutes that framed the central window, are the main Baroque elements on the facade of the Jesuit church.
A significant feature of the Onorati chapel is the ceiling which is constructed in timber and plastered over by deep coffers of painted hexagonal panels with gilded rosettes. The most gifted and talented scalpellini were entrusted with carrying out these decorations. The oratory’s soffit ceiling was built in a truss framework made of large-sized imported timber beams arranged in a triangular form supporting the overlying roof. It was continuously maintained by the Confraternity as evidenced from several expenses on repairs since the Order’s period.
The titular painting of Assumption of the Virgin Mary was executed in oil on canvas by the Maltese artist Stefano Erardi (1630-1716). In the upper part of the painting, Our Lady is portrayed in her traditional garb of red tunic and blue cloak, with wide open arms as she is carried to heaven on clouds by angels. The heavenly clouds part as she is received into heaven. In the lower half of the painting are the apostles gathered around Mary’s empty tomb, as they look up in awe at her assumption to heaven.
Above the painting of the Assumption is another painting of the Holy Trinity, portraying Christ and God the Father holding the crown to be placed on the head of Our Lady as she arrives in heaven.
The chapel is decorated with ornate sculpture in high relief, executed in the 1650s by the Maltese Casanova family of sculptors. All around the chapel are full-length figures, representing St Simeon holding the Child Jesus, St Peter, St John the Baptist, St John the Evangelist, St Paul, St Joachim holding the young Virgin Mary, as well as busts of archangels and figures from antiquity. Flanking the altar, with two oval windows are busts of the founders of the Jesuit Order, St Ignatius Loyola and St Francis Xavier.
The chapel of the Onorati is endowed with six large paintings which depict episodes from the life of the Virgin Mary. Together with the titular paintings of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary and the Holy Trinity and Coronation of Our Lady, the paintings each portray the themes of the Birth of Our Lady, the Presentation of Our Lady in the Temple, the Annunciation, the Visitation of Our Lady to St Elizabeth, the Presentation of our Lord in the Temple, and the Immaculate Conception. The Marian cycle of paintings was executed by Stefano Erardi (1630-1716).
The European Union co-funded project, focussed on the conservation actions required to ensure the long-term preservation of the paintings. The interventions sought to clean, repair, consolidate and conserve, the deterioration and damage sustained to the pictorial layers, canvas, and the stretcher frames through water ingress, humidity and insect attack. These conservation actions shall ensure the long-term protection and enjoyment of this artistic heritage lying in the heart of the community, and a world heritage site of Valletta.
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