When writing about war it is very easy to describe losses in numbers. Perhaps, ships sunk or aircraft shot out of the sky. We might even go so far as to write about personal accounts, humanising the inherently inhuman event war is.
What often goes unmentioned are the cultural casualties of Malta; whose loss is rarely felt by the fact that they remain largely unwritten and unknown in comparison to literature on the British military experience on fortress Malta.
Many parish churches were reduced to rubble during the war. Some were never re-built, such as the Chapel of Bones next to St Elmo. Others suffered extensive damage, even from direct hits, such as the church of St. Lawrence in Vittoriosa. In April 1942, a bomb crashed through the dome of St. Publius church in Floriana shattering glass and walls as well as taking lives from the present congregation.
During these bombardments, besides architectural losses, paintings and iconography were damaged or completely destroyed. Notably, a fifteenth century painting of St. Lawrence, a portrait by Antoine Favray, and an altarpiece depicting St Cosmas and Damian by Paladini, to mention just a few.
Not all was lost. Several collections, such as those of St Johns Co-Cathedral, were stored in safe, mostly underground locations (such as Houlton’s garage in South street) or transported to remote Parishes in Malta.
One notable success story is the preemptive relocation by Papas George Schiro of the medieval icon of Our Lady of Damascus, brought by the Knights in 1530. It was stored in an alternative location when its original home, the Greek Church in Valletta, was reduced to rubble in March 1942.
Pace, N (2016). The Greek Catholic church of Our Lady of Damascus, Valletta: its destruction in the blitz of the second world war and post-war reconstruction. UOM Dissertation.