The Carmelite Church, Balluta Bay, Malta, by Emmanuele Luigi Galizia and Others

The Carmelite Church, Balluta Bay. Emanuele Galizia (1830-1906), designed 1871; extended 1900; later dismantled. St Julian's, Malta. Sepia photograph of 1950 by courtesy of Robert Galea-Naudi, Galizia's great-great-grandson: this was taken by his father. Historic postcard below by courtesy of; modern photograph (2010), captions and commentary by Jacqueline Banerjee [Click on the pictures to enlarge them. You may use the modern photograph without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the photographer and (2) link your document to this URL or cite it in a print one.]

The postcard shows the church from further along the bay, where it has a striking presence.

Like many older churches in Britain, this one has a complex architectural history. But perhaps it has an even more complex history than most. A church was originally built on this site by the nineteenth-century Maltese architect, Giuseppe Bonavia, and completed in 1858. Unusually for Malta, Bonavia produced a building in a vaguely gothic style. Galizia's 1870s rebuilding was much more authentically neo-gothic, although it kept the two towers on the front elevation, a favourite feature of the traditional baroque Maltese church. The result harmonised perfectly with the low terraced buildings on either side, while its polychromatic touches complemented the colourful waterfront scene which it overlooked.

However, as the population of the area expanded, this church too proved inadequate for its congregation. After having been extended at the turn of the century, when it was given to the Carmelite friars, it underwent a further major and prolonged rebuilding programme. This time it had a whole other larger church constructed around it. The older structure within was then dismantled. The design for the new church was begun by the architect Gustavo R. Vincenti (1888-1974); on his death the project was taken up by Joseph M. Spiteri. It was completed in 1974. The new larger house of worship became the parish church for the area in 1974 (see Scerri).

The Carmelite Church, Balluta Bay, as it is today.

Victor Paul Borg says simply, Galizia "designed ... the Carmelite Church in Balluta Bay." However, as it stands today, the Carmelite Church differs not only from the usual baroque Maltese church, but from Galizia's narrower, more delicate Gothic church of the 1870s. It has, for example, flat concrete side-aisle roofs (not vaulted as originally intended). On the other hand, there are certainly design elements from that church in the present one. Both Glenn Copperstone and John Scerri (see below) offer several historic pictures of the church in its different forms.

This brief account is a collaborative effort in more ways than one: many thanks to Dr. David Mallia for helping me unravel this story — also for providing the link to Copperstone, whose sequence clearly shows today's church being constructed around Galizia's older one. Thanks also to Robert Galea-Naudi for providing his father's photograph, and to John Spiteri Gingell too, for telling me about his father Joseph M. Spiteri's role in designing the impressive twentieth-century version. As Dr Mallia points out, today's Carmelite Church does not fairly represent Galizia's particular genius; but it is all we have now and it is pleasant to think that at least something of his inspiration remains in the present building.


Borg, Victor Paul. "Development of Maltese Architecture." Link updated 5 June 2016.

Copperstone, Glenn. "Old Photos of Churches of Malta and Gozo." Web. 1 May 2011.

Scerri, John N. "Balluta" in "Churches and Chapels of Malta." Web. 1 May 2011.

Last modified 7 May 2017