St Francis Church
Despite being located on Valletta’s main thoroughfare, St Francis Church is very easy to overlook. This is not a reflection on the beauty of the building itself, but rather on the hubbub that tends to surround that particular area of Republic Street, which is typically full of buskers and street-vendors dotting the sidewalk.
Blink, and you’ll risk missing the open doorway right on the corner with Melita Street. However, this would be a shame as St Francis Church is a veritable treasure trove for anyone with an interest in religious art. The church is replete with works by some of Malta’s most renowned artists, including Mattia Preti, Pietro Gagliardi and Filippo Paladini.
Much like the Carmelite Church, St Francis Church also gave rise to controversy when its dome was being built in the 1920s. This time round, the problem was not related to size but to the fact that the inclusion of the dome necessitated the removal of some of the frescoes that had been painted by Giuseppe Cali. However, the architect’s arguments that such an important church could not be lacking a dome won out, and construction went ahead. Eventually, the demolished Cali frescoes were replaced by new ones by Gianni Vella, but many detractors at the time criticised the move for placing more importance over the building of a cupola than artistic heritage.
St Francis Church Oratory
When visiting St Francis Church make sure you don’t miss out on visiting the adjoining oratory, another gem in terms of artistic merit. The entire area is full of majestic baroque paintings, with the décor culminating in an elaborate altarpiece and traditional monks’ benches.
The oratory keeps the same opening hours as the church, and there’s also confession held for practising catholics on Saturday afternoons and early evenings. The traditional process is followed here, with the priest and the penitent being face-to-face, rather than the more modern method that uses anonymous confessionals.