St Ge­orge and the Sky­line

The Malta Independent on Sunday - - LIFESTYLE & CULTURE -

As part of the na­tion­wide ap­peal to re­store St Paul’s Pro-Cathe­dral and save Val­letta’s his­toric sky­line, a pop­u­lar au­thor will soon share his fas­ci­nat­ing in­sights about St Ge­orge in­side beau­ti­ful Casino Mal­tese. We speak with au­thor and his­to­rian MICHAEL COLLINS to find out more about his lunchtime talk about the fa­mous English saint and his con­nec­tions with the Mal­tese is­lands.

It seems that sav­ing Val­letta’s world-fa­mous sky­line has two di­vine ad­vo­cates, namely St Paul and St Ge­orge.

A ma­jor part of the cap­i­tal city’s sky­line, which is of­ten fea­tured on countless Malta hol­i­day pho­tos and pic­ture-per­fect post­cards of the is­land, is en­dan­gered. The mag­nif­i­cent and im­pos­ing St Paul’s Pro-Cathe­dral re­quires vi­tal restora­tion work to save its spire, tower and struc­ture – and the Save Val­letta’s Sky­line ap­peal has been launched to raise the €8 mil­lion needed for the project.

With such an his­toric mas­ter­piece at risk, a num­ber of ea­gerlyan­tic­i­pated events are be­ing held in sup­port of the ap­peal, in­clud­ing one which ex­plores the life and in­flu­ence of an­other fa­mous saint: St Ge­orge. Prom­i­nent au­thor Michael Collins, who penned the pop­u­lar his­tor­i­cal book St Ge­orge and the Drag­ons, will de­liver a fas­ci­nat­ing talk about the English saint as part of an ex­clu­sive lunchtime func­tion later this month in­side an­other of Val­letta’s ar­chi­tec­tural jewels: the stun­ning Casino Mal­tese.

“The spire of the cathe­dral is an iconic part of Val­letta's sky­line recog­nised all over the world, es­pe­cially from the air – it is in­spir­ing ar­chi­tec­ture that is unique to Malta,” com­ments Mr Collins. “My talk will be re­lated both to my book and to the ob­jec­tives of the ap­peal, since St Ge­orge, like Val­letta’s sky­line, is also a well­known and prom­i­nent fig­ure in the cul­ture of the Mal­tese is­lands.”

Apart from Mr Collins’ com­pelling in­sights into such an in­ter­est­ing topic, in­cluded in the ticket cost of just €25 per per­son is the rare op­por­tu­nity to en­joy a de­li­cious three-course lun­cheon with wine served in­side the his­toric Casino Mal­tese – a lux­ury usu­ally re­served ex­clu­sively for Casino Mal­tese club mem­bers.

A so­cial club cre­ated in 1852, the Casino Mal­tese oc­cu­pies premises orig­i­nally built by the Knights of St John in the 17th cen­tury and was used as the ac­count­ing branch of their Trea­sury. To­day, the club has trans­formed the space into a truly out­stand­ing venue. With a large en­trance hall, a ma­jes­tic stair­case, and sev­eral richly-fur­nished rooms within, the lav­ish and lux­u­ri­ous sur­round­ings of the Casino Mal­tese have usu­ally been en­joyed solely by club mem­bers for over a cen­tury – un­til now.

“Al­though the Casino Mal­tese has been an ex­clu­sive mem­bers' club since 1852, we are de­lighted to be wel­com­ing both mem­bers and non-mem­bers here for this event, in sup­port of such a wor­thy cause as sav­ing Val­letta’s sky­line,” com­ments Mar­guerite Pace Bonello at the Casino Mal­tese. “Over the years, the Casino Mal­tese has wel­comed many prom­i­nent per­son­al­i­ties and even roy­alty into this his­toric build­ing, in­clud­ing Queen Eliz­a­beth II when she was still a princess and liv­ing in Malta. In fact, a room in the Club is named The Princess Room to com­mem­o­rate this oc­ca­sion, and it seems very fit­ting that Mr Collins will de­liver his fasci- nat­ing talk in such an ap­pro­pri­ately his­toric venue as the Princess Room in­side the club.”

As an au­thor, teacher, lec­turer and pub­lic speaker, Michael Collins is ex­tremely knowl­edge­able about his cho­sen sub­ject, us­ing his ex­ten­sive qual­i­fi­ca­tions and re­search to in­spire his book St Ge­orge and the Drag­ons. In his brief talk at this one-off event, Collins will share his en­thralling ob­ser­va­tions about Eng­land’s pa­tron saint, as well as this ex­tra­or­di­nary fig­ure’s sig­nif­i­cance and con­tin­ued in­flu­ence in­ter­na­tion­ally, hav­ing vis­ited many of the places sup­pos­edly con­nected with St Ge­orge – in­clud­ing the Mal­tese is­lands.

“St Ge­orge is a key fig­ure in both Mal­tese and English cul­ture, but he also has a fol­low­ing stretch­ing from Rus­sia to In­dia. He is a uni­ver­sal saint: he sym­bol­ises courage, con­science and in­tegrity,” con­tin­ues Mr Collins. “As a mil­i­tary mar­tyr, he stands for re­sis­tance to op­pres­sion – es­pe­cially so for an is­land such as Malta, which had to with­stand con­stant at­tacks from pi­rates and the Turks. As a de­fender of women, he stands against forced mar­riages. As a pro­tec­tor, he de­fends those who are forced to be­come refugees or are pushed into mod­ern slav­ery. His an­cient con­nec­tion with agri­cul­ture links him to the en­vi­ron­ment. An in­spir­ing fig­ure, St Ge­orge rep­re­sents mod­ern as­pi­ra­tions to a bet­ter so­ci­ety, mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism and in­ter-faith di­a­logue.”

It is pre­cisely th­ese con­nec­tions be­tween St Ge­orge and such mod­ern-day is­sues that Mr Collins hopes will in­spire guests to help save an­other sym­bol of Malta’s rich his­tory. “I hope the event will spark in­ter­est in the mod­ern rel­e­vance of St Ge­orge, pro­mot­ing con­ver­sa­tion about who he re­ally was and how we must now dis­tin­guish be­tween na­tion­al­ism and pa­tri­o­tism. Last but not least, I hope my talk will en­joy­ably kin­dle yet more in­ter­est in the unique cul­ture of the Mal­tese is­lands, en­cour­ag­ing peo­ple to sup­port the Save Val­letta’s Sky­line cam­paign so that an­other im­por­tant part of the is­land’s cul­ture and his­tory can also live on.”

The Lunchtime Talk by Au­thor Michael Collins at Casino Mal­tese will be held on 27 Novem­ber at 12.30pm. Tick­ets to this ex­clu­sive event, priced at just €25 per per­son in­clud­ing wine, are ex­tremely lim­ited, so early book­ing is rec­om­mended via email to pe­tragd@guisthall.com

Michael Collins

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