The Grand Masters Crypt

The Grand Masters Crypt is currently undergoing restoration on the initiative of The St John’s Co-Cathedral Foundation.

The restoration of the crypt has been one of the major restoration concerns of the Foundation since 2003 when the Courtauld Institute, London, were brought over to assess the damage which the crypt had suffered over the years. The restoration of the crypt currently taking place is a great challenge on account of the various forms of deterioration it has suffered over the years.

The Courtauld Institute which specialises in the conservation and restoration of wall paintings has been carrying out painstaking environmental monitoring and tests over the last six years and substantial progress has been made to identify the main causes of the deterioration and the potential solutions to conservation. The major challenge is the conservation of the stone sarcophagi as well as the frescoes painted by Nicolo Nasoni in 1720.

Throughout the years the frescoes in the crypt suffered from gradual detachments and salt efflorescence as well as discolouration. The stone sarcophagi of the Grand Masters’ were suffering extensive damage from powdering caused by rising damp and fluctuation temperature and humidity levels. The first phase of the restoration project consisted of assessing the climatic and humidity condition of the crypt. This was followed by a full year of monitoring the internal and external environment in order to understand how the immediate surrounding areas actually affect the environment

within the crypt. The monitoring included the crypt, the overlying Co-Cathedral as well as areas such as the adjacent street which lies above the subterranean Crypt. The monitoring involved the regular sending of electronic messages to the Courtauld Institute in London. The study will determine the best way in stabilising fluctuating temperature and humidity levels that seem to be the main cause of deterioration and will provide the information that will help determine the best possible manner to conserve the paintings.

Presently, conservators from the Courtauld Institute are working within the crypt, testing materials to be used to consolidate weak plaster areas, removing salt veils and consolidating the stone sarcophagi as well as cleaning the marble and bronze tombstones.

The Grand Masters Crypt is a subterranean chamber beneath the high altar of St John’s Co-Cathedral which was created at the time the church was under construction in the late sixteenth century. It contains the remains of the first twelve Grand Masters who headed the Order between 1522 and 1623. Amongst them are Grand Master Philippe Villiers de L’Isle Adam (1522-1534), who brought the Order to Malta in 1530, and Grand Master Jean de Valette, the hero of the Great Siege, also responsible for the building of Valletta. Here also lies Grand Master Jean L’Evesque de la Cassiere who ordered the church to be constructed.