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Sacred Heart Church

Ref: HLBP1/004

Prompted by the increasing numbers of people populating the upper town of the City, Bishop John Baptist Scandella conceived the idea of constructing a church, which would later become that of the Sacred Heart Church. In 1872, the Colonial Government granted the Roman Catholic Church a plot of land in Castle Road, known as Levi’s site, and soon funds were being raised for the construction of a new church to be named the Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. This money was raised by a number of fund-raising events, including fêtes, jumble sales and theatrical performances.

A local architect, Temistio Tudury, offered his services free of charge and produced three schemes for consideration; an English Village Church, a Romanesque design and a Gothic Temple, with the Body of Elders of the Roman Catholic Church opting for the latter design. Both the Church and the adjoining school was designed by Temistio Tudury.

The foundation stone of this Church was laid by Félix María Arrieta y Llano, Bishop of Cadiz and John Baptist Scandella, Vicar Apostolic for Gibraltar, Bishop of Antinöe (the first Gibraltarian to be appointed to such dignity) on the 25th April 1874 in the presence of huge numbers of spectators.1

The foundation stone for the Sacred Heart Church was laid in 1874 and the work was completed in 1899.

The works were carried out by Maltese craftsmen with the stonework used being ballast imported and discarded at Gibraltar from various places such as Portland but in particular, Malta. It is known that since the 19th Century, Maltese limestone was being used extensively as ballast on vessels leaving from Malta. These ships would then return fully loaded with goods leaving the stone behind. Gibraltar was once such trading post and much of Gibraltar’s stonework constructed during this period invariably used stone from Malta discarded in this way. In particular, embrasures in the bastions and walls in Gibraltar were often lined with stone from Malta ‘as it is softer than the local stone which would shard under impact’.Maltese ‘styles’ such as balconies, moulded windows and traditional iron railings, may still be seen in the architecture of Gibraltar whose architecture ‘is one where British military styles have been fused with other cultural and national styles, such as Genoese or Maltese, making it and its streetscapes quite unique.3 Much of the parish church of the Sacred Heart was thus built of Maltese limestone brought to Gibraltar as ballast, which was much more workable than local limestone and had the additional bonus in that it provided readily-available and cheap material for building construction. However, it was only later that it was discovered that this type of stone was too soft for the damp climate prevalent on the Rock and it would have been wiser to have used the local limestone instead. Around 800 tons of soft white limestone was eventually used in the construction of Sacred Heart Church giving the exterior a glowing white colour and making it arguably the quaintest and most attractive church on the Rock.

Tudury’s original intention had been to have two identical bell towers, characteristic of Gothic-style architecture, but funds ran short and the eastern tower was never finished giving the building its quirky asymmetrical aesthetic. The edifice was far from finished when Bishop Scandella died on the 27th August 1880. Nevertheless, as per his wishes, he was laid to rest in the crypt of the Church, in front of where the Altar now stands. Despite the obvious connections of this church with Malta, Scandella had, almost paradoxically, vigorously rejected the presence of Maltese immigrants during his lifetime, referring to them as ‘scum’ on the grounds that they were mostly criminals, an opinion which greatly influenced the majority of the Gibraltarian society at the time.4

Due to a serious lack of money, the church remained unroofed for a number of years; however, in 1888, a contract was entered into with Mr. Thomas Scott. The latter had completed a number of houses just opposite the unfinished church, and he agreed to finance the construction of the church roof in exchange for the rainwater collected from underground tanks located under the church. By the end of the following year, the church was finally completed with the Larios family having presented the church with a magnificent marble reredos and altar and the local population also collaborating with their customary voluntary contributions. The Church was formally blessed on the 15th July 1888, by the Right Rev. the Bishop of Lystra.

The Sacred Heart Church suffered tremendously in April 1951 as a result of the explosion in the harbour of the armament ship the R.F.A. Bedenham, with all its beautiful stained-glass windows blown out and irreparably damaging the interior walls and paintings. A full restoration of the church, both of its exterior and interior, has been carried out over the years, converting it once again into one of the Rock’s most imposing and beautiful religious buildings

Entrance to Sacred Heart Church

Sacred Heart Church Image