Unique set of apostles which were to be melted down are back at St. John’s Co-Cathedral
A set of 15 very important silver statues of the Apostles, once belonging to St. John’s Co-Cathedral, have once again found their place on the main altar of the Co-Cathedral in Valletta.
The statues will remain on display on the main altar until the end of the month, on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the Foundation’s inception.
Foundation Chief Executive and Curator Cynthia de Giorgio said this occasion will be a unique opportunity for the statues to be seen in their original context. She explained that they had been commissioned to enhance the main altar and to complement the entire baroque complex of the Conventual Church of the Knights of Malta.
Although known as the Apostolate, the set of fifteen figures also includes three other figures, which are of the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. John the Baptist and St. Matthew.
The first ten statues were completed in 1741 and paid for by the Prior of St. Giles, Fra Charles Alemans de Rochenard. The Marshal of Santo Stefano, Fra Don Andrea Fortunato di Giovanni intervened and paid for the second group of five other statues that were made between 1742 and 1743. These were made by silversmith Antonio Arrighi.
There are few works of Arrighi left that still exist today and therefore this set is of great importance for the study of eighteenth century sculpture. This set of statues continued to be erected on the main altar of St. John’s Co-Cathedral until 1798, with the arrival of Napoleon and the French army that invaded and expelled from Malta the Order of the Knights of ‘St. John. Along with many other valuables in the Co-Cathedral, the statues of Arrighi were to be melted down for their precious metal, leaving only silver remnants for the liturgical service.
With the intervention of Bishop Vincenzo Labini and of the Chapter of the Cathedral of Mdina, a number of silver objects were offered to be exchanged for the statues. In 1799, a second robbery took place in the Co-Cathedral and the Church lost its silverware. Meanwhile, the statues have been rescued by the Chapter.
Prof. Mons. Emmanuel Agius, the President of the Foundation, said: “It is incredible that this set of majestic statues would be melted down to make coins to pay the French soldiers.
It is very exciting to see these statues placed exactly where they were in the past. ”
In 1806, the statues were taken to the Mdina Cathedral, where they are exhibited in the Mdina Cathedral Museum.