The small village of Ħal Għargħur formed part of Naxxar until it became parish later. When Mons. Peter Dusina visited Ħal Għargħur in 1575 he reported that there were quite a few families living there and there were five small chapels. These were: The chapel of the Assumption of our Lady (Taż-Żellieqa). St. Bartholomew Apostle, St. Mary (Ta’ Bernarda) St. Nicholas of Bari and St. John the Baptist.
Later on the population in Ħal Għargħur increased so much that they asked the bishop to separate the village from Naxxar as there was also quite a distance between the two villages and the bishop granted their request and made Ħal Għargħur a separate parish in 1598. So he appointed a curate to take spiritual care of the small community village. The parish of Naxxar Rev. Fr. Julian Borg objected strongly about the separation of Ħal Għargħur from Naxxar and as he was quite old the bishop suspended the new parish not to trouble Fr. Borg till his death which happened in 1610; and so on July 16, 1610 Mons. Gargallo made Ħal Għargħur a parish and appointed Rev. Fr. John Baptist Chetcuti D. D. J. U. D. to be the first Parish Priest of the Village.
At first the people used the small church of St. John the Baptist as their parish church, but as the congregation increased it was felt that a larger church was needed. The parish priest and the people decided to build the new church on top of the hill on the site of a small chapel dedicated to St. Bartholomew. They chose Tommaso Dingli of Attard to draw the plan of the new church and take charge of the building. Dingli was only 19years old when he planned the church in the shape of a latin cross. The church consists of a nave, two transepts, a sanctuary or choir with valuated ceiling, a dome in the centre and two sacristies. The church is 115ft long and 25 ft wide and from one transept to the other is 85 ft wide.
The style of the church is Doric. The main apse and the two lateral apses in both transepts together with the four arches of the altars in the nave are all decorated with columns and sculptured in Baroque style.
The vaulted ceiling is divided into octagonal spaces with stucco rosettes in the centre of each space. The same type of stucco decoration is to be seen in the apses above the main door together with that found in the stone and on stucco are covered with gold leaf and this gives the church a very rich appearance.
The four triangular spaces between the four arches beneath the dome are decorated with figures of the four evangelists painted by Prof. Joseph Briffa of B’Kara about 50 years ago.
Around the church there are various altars; there are four in the nave. The one near the Baptismal Font is dedicated to Our Lady of Good Counsel flanked on either side by St. Sebastian and St. Roche painted by Francesco Zahra. Opposite it we find the altar of St. Francis de Paola showing the Saint blessing a lamb with other friars; the author is unknown. Next to the pulpit we find the altar dedicated to our Lady of the Girdle showing our Lady carrying the child Jesus and on either side St. Augustine and St. Gregory. This painting is by Roccu Buhagiar. Opposite to it we find the altar dedicated to the Immaculate Conception, a genuine copy of Murillo, made by two Italian artists Rinaldi an Avandero in 1904.
On the left hand transept there is the altar dedicated to our Lady of the Holy Rosary, flanked by St. Dominic and St. Catherine of Siena by an unknown artist; next we find the altar of the agony of our Lord, a beautiful painting by Lazzaro Pisani in 1915.
On the right transept we find the altar of the Holy Family or St. Joseph Cali. This is one of the Cali’s best works in our church. Next we find the altar of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel and St. Michael the Archangel by Cali.
Behind the main altar there is the main painting showing the martyrdom of St. Bartholomew, our Patron Saint, painted by Joseph Cali in 1902. Before this painting there used to be another by Emmanuel Perren, painted in the seventeenth century. It was unfortunately destroyed at the end of last century. The apse is all sculptured in baroque style and surmounted by six large pillars decorated and gilded. On either side between the pillars there are two large statues sculptured in stone representing the two apostles Peter and Paul.
On either side of the apse above the clergy stalls there are two large paintings, one showing the Nativity of Jesus and the other the Last Supper; both paintings are by Francesco Zahra painted in the seventeenth century. All paintings in our church were cleaned and restored by Alfred Briffa quite recently.
Other works of art are to be seen in the sacristy and in the church hall upstairs. In the sacristy there is an old painting representing St. Bartholomew Apostle by Gaspare Formica, two oval paintings one showing St. Joseph and another St. Pancratius by Cali, portraits of Rev. John Gafa and Catherine Sammut, two church benefactors and Blessed Dominic Mifsud a Franciscan who hailed from Ħal Għargħur .
In the hall there are various paintings amongst which there is a beautiful wooden triptych, in the centre of which there is the crucifixion, with St. John and Our Lady, and on either side there are St. Bartholomew and St. Paul Apostles. There is a large painting showing St. Nicholas of Bari by Gaspare Formica and others small paintings by Calleja, Cali and other artists. The main altar is made of coloured marbles made in 1736 during the time when Rev. Saviour Zarb was Parish Priest. The Tabernacle upon this altar is adorned with silver, gold and precious stones, donated by people of Ħal Għargħur . Our parish church was solemnly consecrated in 1736 by Bishop Mons. Fra Paulus Alpheran de Bussan when Rev. Fr. Zarb was parish of Ħal Għargħur.
Without any doubt the most beautiful work of art in the church is the statue of St. Bartholomew sculptured from a tree trunk by Melchoir Gafa in Rome in 1666. This statue was finished in Malta by Francesco Zahra and brought over to Ħal Għargħur in 1772. This famous statue is one of the best on the island admired by all those who see it.
There are other statues in our church such as the statue of St. Joseph by Carlo Darmanin, statue of St. Michael by Agostino Camilleri of Gozo and the statue of Our Lady by Kalcidon Mangion of Ħal Għargħur . There is also a set of statues representing various episodes from the Passion of Our Lord used in the Good Friday procession at the present held each year on Palm Sunday; four of the statues are work of Carlo Darmanin whilst the other two are by Kalcidion Mangion.
The church is embellished with beautiful ornaments during the feast days. The walls are covered with red palm damask which was made about 100 years ago. Silver oil lamps hang in front of the altars round the church together with the large one in front of the Blessed Sacrament, the silver processional cross and other silver ornaments; the gold embroideries on silk and red velvet, the wooden carved candle-sticks used on the altars, crystals chandeliers and other decorations.
The facade of the church was built in 1743. It is built in a style different from that of the interior of the church. The old facade made by Dingli was quite different from the present one. It is slighting higher than the church roof and at the back of the frontispiece there are sculptured ornaments probably from the old church. The two bell towers contain six bells, two small ones and four large ones. The two large bells were made in Malta by Triganza one in 1782 and the other in 1793. The balustraded parvis in front of the church has four statues representing the four Evangelists, that of St. John was made quite recently by Marco Montebello; that of St. Matthew made by Fr. Ellul; the others are by unknown artist.
From 1610 to the present there have been 26 parish priests. Three of these are worth mentioning of their hard work for the church and the people of Ħal Għargħur; these are:
1) Rev. Fr. John Baptist Chetcuti D.D. J. U. D. who worked hard for the building of our parish church. He was parish priest for 56 years.
2)Rev. Fr. Saviour Zarb from Ħal Għargħur . He was the only parish priest from the village and held office for 57 years during which the main marble altar was built. He worked hard for the consecration of the Parish church which was held on 22nd April 1736 by Bishop Mons. Fra Paulus Alpheran De Bussan. On his initiative the state of St. Bartholomew was brought to our church and in 1782 the large bell cast by Triganza was acquired. He died in 1783 and was buried in the church.
3) Rev. Fr. Saviour Gaffiero from Senglea. Though he held office for only a few years he worked hard amongst the parishioners. During his office, cholera broke out a small hospital was opened in our village. Fr Gaffiero held the post if Head of hospital; he refused any salary but worked only for the love of God and to serve people. He was transferred to Floriana as archpriest, and then he was nominated Monsignor of the Cathedral. He was chosen to serve as Vicar general and later became an Auxiliary Bishop.
These few notes give a short description and history of our Parish Church. They may also serve as guide for the visitor.
(Article written by Lino Wettinger)