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The moment when the 65-metre crane hoists the first crossbeam. Ñito Salas
Cathedral roof

Malaga resumes work on cathedral after construction stopped 242 years ago

Work was halted on 5 July in 1782 due to a lack of funds; now a start has been made on the new roof

Jesús Hinojosa

Malaga

Monday, 15 April 2024, 19:07

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The bishop of Malaga, Jesús Catalá, will turn 75 years old on 22 December and, as the Church's internal guidelines dictate, he will present Pope Francis with his resignation and go into retirement. However, he will do so with the personal satisfaction of seeing construction work on Malaga Cathedral resume. Building was halted 242 years ago, on 5 July 1782 due to a lack of funds.

One of the goals set by this bishop since his arrival in the diocese is to resume the work on a cathedral he has always considered unfinished and for which he has rejected the nickname of La Manquita (the one-armed woman - due to its unfinished second tower). This Friday 12 April, he was able to see his wish come true as the enormous crane installed in the past few days in Postigo de los Abades raised the first crossbeam of the future gable roof that was left unfinished in the 18th century.

A ceremony was held in the cathedral, attended by numerous important figures in the Church and local authorities, to celebrate the start of the work.

A change of leadership in the Andalusian government in 2019 has been key in kickstarting the work, as the previous Socialist leaders in the Junta were reluctant to build the gable roof and defended the second layer of bricks that was applied to the exterior of the vaults in 2009. However, time proved this solution to be a failure after cracks appeared. The repeated image of buckets to collect leaks at times of heavy rainfall spoke volumes and led to work to carry out the gable, designed by architect Ventura Rodríguez in 1764.

"Today is a great day not only for the city, but also for the diocese. The work on this cathedral has had beginnings, stops and restarts, and this is a new restart," said the bishop, who confessed that since he set foot in Malaga in 2008 has tried to change the name of La Manquita for the cathedral to "an unfinished symphony". Jesús Catalá, who expressed his "heartfelt" gratitude to all those who have collaborated with this project, said the construction of the roof is "a filial gesture" towards the mother church of Malaga and said he was sure that in the future the parts of the church that are still missing will continue to be finished, although he admitted it may not be possible to build the two sacristies that were planned and which would have to occupy part of the gardens next to the patio de los Naranjos and Calle Postigo de los Abades.

Ñito Salas

Malaga city council is contributing 4.5 million euros to the project, which is more than 25% of the budget for the work - the total budget is estimated at 17.5 million with a completion period of three years. The Andalusian government is also contributing 5.3 million euros, the provincial council 3.2 million euros and the Unicaja Bank Foundation 1.5 million euros.

Provincial authority president Francisco Salado said: "Malaga needs the commitment of the government, that chair cannot remain empty, there is still time to unite."

The event was also attended by the minister of tourism Arturo Bernal, who highlighted the collaboration of the Andalusian government and especially the regional ministry of economy currently in the hands of Carolina España. José Manuel Domínguez, president of the Unicaja Foundation, pointed out the cathedral "has witnessed the last five centuries of Malaga and is a symbol of the city's identity".

Meanwhile, architect Juan Manuel Sánchez La Chica expressed his emotion at being able to feel like a "partner" of the architects who took up the work on the cathedral in past centuries: Diego de Vergara, Diego de Siloé and Antonio Ramos. "This is a building that has been rising for five hundred years by intermittent impulses," he said.

Current dean José Ferrary was the first to speak at the event, conducted by Gonzalo Otalecu. Ferrary said the project is "a challenge that seemed like a distant illusion but which is now an unstoppable reality", and remembered his predecessors: Francisco García Mota, who was able to be present despite his advanced age and delicate state of health; Alfonso Fernández Casamayor, now deceased; and Antonio Aguilera, of whom he said that "more than a grain of sand he put a whole sack". He also had special words of gratitude for the bishop: "We owe him an enormous debt of gratitude."

Authorities and technicians with the beam that has been lifted onto the roof
Authorities and technicians with the beam that has been lifted onto the roof Ñito Salas

The construction of the gable roof to put an end to the problems of leaks will be carried out by the joint venture of construction companies Hermanos Campano and Grupo ORP. The work will begin with the demolition of the brick layer that was applied to the exterior of the vaults in 2009 and which proved to be unsuccessful. The layers of bricks will be removed and the lead sheets that were placed as the first base of that intervention to protect the building in case of rain will be left in place.

Once the structure and the deck of the new roof guarantee rain will not cause deterioration in the area below, the lead sheets of the 2009 solution will be removed and the vertical enclosures, cladding and finishes of the roof will be undertaken. This process will begin with the Baroque part of the cathedral, that is, from the façade on the Plaza del Obispo to the east, towards the transept. It will then continue along the ambulatory (the curved part that frames the main altar) and the north and south transepts, next to the doors of the patio de los Naranjos and Postigo de los Abades.

The project also includes the completion of the balusters, pinnacles and pedestals that were designed in the 18th century to finish off the upper perimeter of the cathedral. Both the exterior and the interior of the new roof will be open to visitors.

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