Lorenzo Gafa (1638-1704)

Lorenzo Gafa` was one of the greatest Baroque architects like Mederico Blondel, Romano Carapecchia and Francesco Buonamici, they were the principal Baroque architects in Malta.  That period was the first one in history of Maltese architecture.  The Baroque era of churches and palaces started by Gafa` was a testimony of rich architecture carried out by the Order of St John during their occupation in Malta from 1530 to 1798. Lorenzo had always maintained his residence in Birgu but there is no evidence that he ever went abroad, and according to Bonello he was in Rome between 1699 and 1700 and was then involved in the work on the Niccione of San Giovanni in Laterano, the official seat of the Bishop of Rome, the Pope.  We do not even know where is the house of his birth.  His famous architecture is more Baroque than that of any architect in Malta before his time.  He started his career as a stone carver and in 1671 he was still describing himself as a sculptor, in fact as a scalpellino Lorenzo was known to have been involved in the choir of St Philip’s church in Zebbug in 1661.  As a great “capomastro” he is known to have been involved in the structure of St Paul’s church in Rabat in 1664, in St Paul’s Valletta in 1666, Sarria church Floriana in 1676, in the Carmelite church at Mdina in 1668, in St Rocco Valletta in 1680 and in 1679 he had designed  the Cathedral of Mdina.  In 1682 he was paid for designing the Bishop’s Palace in Mdina.


Lorenzo Gafa` designed and constructed the church and convent of Sta Scholastica in Birgu in 1679, St Lawrence church (1681-1697) also in Birgu, St Nicholas church in Siggiewi (1676-1693), St Peter Martyr in Marsaxlokk in 1682, the dome of St George in Qormi in 1684, St Mary’s church in Qrendi in 1685, Tal Hlas church Qormi in 1690, St Catherine church in Zejtun in 1692, the famous Cathedral in Mdina in 1697, the Gozo Cathedral dedicated to St Mary in 1697, and Our Lady of Victories in Valletta in 1699.


Lorenzo Gafa` had always been experimenting with domes, sometimes he considered these to be the most difficult parts in church building.  As a consequence many of them had to be re-built or re-modeled, a clear example is the one in Zejtun Parish church.  The dome of St Paul’s church in Rabat was first re-modeled by architect Carmelo Micallef and then re-built to a different design by Robert V Galea in 1926.  The dome of St Nicholas in Siggiewi was also re-modeled by Andrea Vassallo in 1919, and the dome of St Catherine’s church at Zejtun was re-built by architects S. Sacco and A. Lupi in 1907.


Lorenzo was the son of Marco and Veronica and the brother of Melchiorre the renowned sculptor, he was baptized in St Lawrence church known in those days as San Lorenzo-a-mare which he himself had to put down for the building of the new one.  The Parish priest who baptized him was Don Didaco Vella, his godfather was Michele Sciberras.  Lorenzo was the 6th born in the family and his brother Melchiorre was the 5th born.  Lorenzo was buried in St Lawrence church Birgu but there is no evidence of this, no marble tablet to locate his tomb.