Jul Sep 2015

450th anniversary of the Great Siege

The celebrations at Vittoriosa, the City of the Great Siege, were organised by the Vittoriosa Local Council in conjunction with Heritage Malta and Vittoriosa associations, including the Vittoriosa Historical & Cultural Society. The celebrations started in May with a bank marches along the streets of the city by the two Vittoriosa bank clubs, the St Lawrence Band and the Prince of Wales Band. This also marked the raising of the Siege on 18 May 1565. Various talks were delivered at the Vittoriosa Local Council on subjects relating to the Great Siege. The Order of St John paid tribute to Vittoriosa by launching a high quality wine from its vineyards in Trasimeno Umbria and naming the brand “Vittoriosa 1565”. But the highlight of the activities coincided with the Otto Settembre, the Day of Victory, Jum il-Birgu.

This started with a Grand Combined Band Concert at Vittoriosa Square which saw the two Vittoriosa bands sitting next to each other on the bandstand. On the following day a procession with the participation of the Chapter of St Lawrence Collegiate, representatives from the Dominican Friars, and members from various Confraternities proceeded from St Lawrence Church to the Church of the Annunciation to bring over the Holy Icon of Our Lady, Mother of God, which was then exposed for devotion on the main altar.

A Solemn Mass of Thanksgiving was said, subsequently followed by the blessing of the Great Siege victims buried in the Church parvis, formerly an old medieval graveyard. On the following day, Vittoriosa saw a contingent of some 200 Knights of Malta who came specifically to participate in the Great Siege victory celebrations. They walked in a defile’ from the Post of Provence, along Main Gate Street and into the Church of St Lawrence, the Conventual Church of the Order during the Great Siege. On the way, laurel wreaths were laid at the foot of the Great Siege Monument in Vittoriosa Square. A similar defile was held in 1965 on the 400th Anniversary of the Great Siege, and again in 1999 on the 900th Anniversary of the foundation of the Order of St. John. An ecumenical service was then held at St Lawrence Church with the participation of the Archbishop and the Imam of the Muslim community. The Gieh il-Birgu trophy was this year awarded to Fr. John Avellino.

Throughout September, an exhibition was held at the Auberge de France, the headquarters of the Vittoriosa Local Council which included various memories of the Knights and of the Great Siege, including Grand Master De La Vallette’s Battle Sword and Hat, which were removed for the purpose from their rightful place in the Chapel of Our Lady of Damascus within the Vittoriosa Church Museum.

Vittoriosa Canons become Conventual Chaplains

To honour the Church of St Lawrence at Vittoriosa, the Conventual Church of the Order of St John during the Great Siege, H.E. the Grand Master of the Order of St John has decreed that the Canons of the Rev. Chapter of the Collegiate Church of St Lawrence be promoted to become Conventual Chaplains. This is indeed a sublime privilege given to St Lawrence Church and its Chapter on the occasion of the 450th Anniversary of the Great Siege. The Pectoral Cross was conferred to each of the Canons by the Knight Resident of Fort St Angelo, Bailiff Fra John Critien.

National celebrations for 450th Great Siege Anniversary

Despite the ardent pleas by the Vittoriosa Local Council to hold the Official Pontifical Mass on the occasion of the Great Siege Victory at St Lawrence Conventual Church, the National Festivities Committee went ahead and staged it at the Mellieha Sanctuary. A musical about the Great Siege with the participation of the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir was staged at the Mediterranean Conference Centre, seemly without coordination with the Vittoriosa Local Council as it took place at the same time as the Vittoriosa celebrations. A wide-ranging Great Siege Exhibitions was put up at the Grand Masters Palace,Valletta.

Vittoriosa poem by Mro. Pacifico Scicluna

Mro. Pacifico Scicluna was a well-known musical director of the Duke of Edinburgh Band, Vittoriosa, now St Lawrence Band and other band clubs. But apparently he also tried his hand at poertry. He was the author of a patriotic poem dedicated to Vittoriosa which was published in Il-Mument.

Various articles on the occasion of the 450th Great Siege Anniversary

L-Assedju l-Kbir 1565-2015 by Archbishop Charles J Scicluna in Flimkien

City of the Siege marks start of an epic battle by Lino Bugeja in The Times of Malta

As the mighty Turkish armada was approaching, the nobility and bourgeoisie abandoned the Island by Lino Bugeja in The Sunday Times of Malta

Reflections on the 450th Anniversary of the Great Siege: The last 100 years-the most murderous on record by Lino Bugeja in The Sunday Times of Malta

Notarial deeds shed light on the daily life of civilians 450 years ago by Sarah Carabott in The Times of Malta

Il-Birgu: Belt ir-Rebha tal-Assedju by George Maggi in It-Torca

Il-Maltin waqt l-Assedju l-Kbir: id-difiza mill-Qawwa Ottomana by Vincent Zammit in Il-Mument

Il-Mislem falla quddiem il-Gran Mastru Jean de la Vallette by Max Farrugia in Il-Mument

L-Assedju l-Kbir tal-1565: dawra mal-Belt Rebbieha by Lino Bugeja in Il-Mument

The Great Siege disgrace by Astrid Vella in The Times of Malta

A special edition of Treasures of Malta was dedicated to the Great Siege.

Jean De La Vallette’s Ceremonial Sword & Dagger

After the Great Siege Victory Emporor Philip II of Spain bestowed a Ceremonial Sword and Dagger, both with bejewelled handles, as a sign of gratitude for the great victory. The Grand Master donated them to the Order and every year, on the anniversary of the Great Siege victory, they were carried ceremoniously to St. John’s Conventual Church, Valletta. They are now on show at the Louvre Museum, having been appropriated by Napoleon during his brief stay in Malta in 1789. Heritage Malta has been endeavouring to bring over these precious relics to Malta for exhibition in 2017 when Malta will hold the EU Presidency. It has been announced that the Sword will definitely not be brought over because of damage that may be done to it in transit. Heritage Malta is still trying to at least bring over the Dagger.

Jean De La Vallette’s Helmet

Kim Dalli previews in The Times of Malta a new publication by Robert Attard and Romina Azzopardi entitled Antiquing in Malta: De Vallette’s Helmet and other finds. The book features various antiques which are privately owned. The book highlights the discovery of De Vallette’s helmet or morion located by Robert Attard in a Roman museum. The article features a picture of the priced helmet.

St Angelo restoration on schedule

Fort St Angelo, a major landmark in Malta’s history, has been undergoing restoration since 2011 with the support of EU funding to the tune of some €13 million. This was a massive restoration project undertaken by Heritage Malta involving urgent works to halt deterioration and collapse, the removal of rude structures that marred the historical environment such as the swimming pool and adjacent facilities, and finally the restoration of the constructions works along the bastions, including the oldest part of the castle at present administered by the Order of St John. Heritage Malta announced that the restoration has arrived at an advanced stage permitting the huge purpose-built vertical crane to be dismantled. Mr Godwin Vella, Heritage Malta CEO stated that several audio visual aids will be set up throughout the castle to help touring visitors. In November Fort St Angelo will host one of the assemblies of the CHOGM conference being hosted by Malta.

Fort San Salvatore still in ruins

This old fort built within the Cottonera Lines by the Knights is still in a horrible state of dilapidation. It was in the news with The Times of Malta reporting that it was on sale by its present occupiers. The fort is owned by government and was granted on a perpetual lease to a prestressed concrete company in 1958 belonging to the brother of the Prime Minister at the time. The company has since ceased production and abandoned the premises.

Name plaques on Vittoriosa bastions

As the restoration project of the Vittoriosa fortifications nears it completion, the Vittoriosa Historical & Cultural Society has renewed its pleas to the authorities to re-install the free standing name signs on the various bastions to serve as guides to visitors. These were first installed in 1965 on the occasion of the 4th Centenary of the Great Siege on the proposal of the Society.

Understanding Malta’s military architecture

This is the title of a short article by Denis Darmanin in The Sunday Times of Malta in a special cultural supplement. He gives prominence to the Fortifications Interpretation Centre at Valletta which comprises exhibitions and displays on Malta’s fortifications and is equipped with educational resources. Denis Darmanin is one of the Custodians of the Centre.

Lorenzo Gafa’ domes

A two-part analytical study on Joseph Spiteri on the style of Lorenzo Gafa’, the Vittoriosa born architect, with particular emphases on the development of church domes, was carried in Il-Mument entitled Lorenzo Gafa’ u l-izvilupp tal-koppla Maltija.

Vittoriosa: will it have its Clock Tower back ?

George Cilia, writing in Il-Mument heartily entreats for the rebuilding of the old Clock Tower which was destroyed during the war and never rebuilt, despite the various pleas by Vittoriosa citizens over the years for its reconstruction. The Vittoriosa Local Council until a few years back was so enthusiastic about its rebuilding to the extent of commissioning the excavation of its foundations right in Vittoriosa Square. It is a pity that it is now having second thoughts and preferring to see Vittoriosa Square languishing as an unsightly car park area. In his article George Cilia traces the medieval origin of the original Watch Tower, and its vital role during the Great Siege of 1565.

Malta Independence commemoration 1965

The Times of Malta in the Half a century ago column reported that a committee for the First Independence Anniversary Celebrations was set up. Its chairman was Chev. JP Vassallo, Director of Education, and J. Porsella Flores of the Education Department was Secretary. The latter is an old member of the Vittoriosa Historical & Cultural Society and some years ago he published a unique historical book with the articles written by his father Gius. Porsella Flores in the 1930’s entitled Knejjes li m’ghadhomx jidhru gewwa l-Birgu.

Heavy shower on St Lawrence feast day

This year’s Feast of St Lawrence was marked with a heavy shower on the eve of the feast when the streets of Vittoriosa were all decked with festoons and decorations. The sudden shower took everyone by surprise and the helpers did their best to remove the decorations and statues to minimise the damage as much as possible. Nonetheless, the Church celebrations were held with the usual pomp: the Translation was led by H.E. Cardinal Prospero Grech while the High Mass was said by Bishop Emeritus Paul Cremona. However, the procession with the devout statue of St Lawrence was postposed and held on the Octave of the feast. The feast was this year organised by Fr John Avellino who was appointed Pastoral Administrator of the Vittoriosa parish while the post of Archpriest was vacant. Lino Bugeja marked St Lawrence Day with an article in The Times of Malta entitles St Lawrence and his legacy.

St Lawrence Day 50 years ago

The Times of Malta page Half a century ago recalls the visit to St Lawrence Church by H.G. Mgr Michael Gonzi to celebrate Pontifical Mass. Afterwards he was greeted for a reception at the Duke of Edinburgh Band Club with an address by Dr. Paul Mallia, the Band Club’s President.

St Dominic feast programme brochure

Besides the usual messages by protagonists of the Dominican community, the feast programme contained interesting articles: Anton Attard describes in detail the curious history of the Sacred Icon of Our Lady Mother of God known as Tal-Kandlora, originally venerated in the troglodyte chapel at Fort St Angelo and its replica now preserved at the Annunciation Church, Vittoriosa; Fabian Mangion studies the life and works of Senglea born sculptor Vincenzo Bonnici, including the beautiful wooden statue of Our Lady of the Rosary, proudly owned by the Vittoriosa Dominicans.

Statue of St Sebastion: 200 years old

The baroque statue of St Sebastion that dominates the square in front of the old church at Qormi dedicated to St Sebastion was erected in 1815 when the village of Qormi was spared from the pestilence that beset Malta in the two preceding years. Special celebrations were held at Qormi to commemorate the event. It is to be noted that this votive statue is an exact representation in finely sculpted stone of the painting of St Sebastion by Michele Busuttil (1750-1828) hanging, along with its twin painting of St Roque by the same painter, in the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament in St Lawrence Church, Vittoriosa. The baroque statue was sculpted by Salvu Fabri of Vittoriosa.

Stefano Erardi painting of St Lawrence at Mosta

The short historical notes by Lorenzo Zahra published in the Mosta feast of Santa Marija programme booklet includes a reference to four Stefano Erardi paintings found in the Sancristy of the Mosta Rotunda. These represent St. Lawrence, St. Philip Neri, St. Cosma and St. Damian.

Blessed Maria Caterina Troiani

A recent issue of the monthly magazine Flimkien published by the College of Parish Priests gives a brief biography of Blessed Maria Caterina Troiani, born in Frosinone, Italy, who founded the Franciscan Egyptian Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. She set up a community of nuns at Vittoriosa in 1859. The school and convent at Vittoriosa survived until 1998. At present the nuns are based at Hamrun where they run Our Lady Immaculate School. They also have a retreat house at Bahar ic-Caghaq.

Vittoriosa in poetry and photography

Photographer Jacob Sammut and poet Miriam Calleja teamed in an original exhibition at the Auberge de France, Vittoriosa. The visual sets present images of the daily life experienced by the locals.

St Lawrence Band Club newsletter: July-August 2015

This is the edition which gives details of the band’s programme for the feast of St Lawrence. The editorial pays tribute to outgoing Archpriest Can. Joe Cilia. It also mentions the various works carried out in the Band Club’s palatial premises which have just been restored and named Palazzo Heusca. Anton Attard’s historical article describes the development of devotion to St Lawrence in the Maltese Islands and publishes a poem written by Giorgio Vella in 1904 in honour of St Lawrence and published in the journal Malta Taghna. Paul Micallef’s usual interview with Vittoriosa personalities this time features Anthony Farrugia, artist and craftsman.

Dr Misael Cassar passed away

He was born at Vittoriosa but lived at Rabat and was very close, together with his wife, also a medical doctor, to the St Paul Missionary Society. He provided medical service to innumerable priests and Religious Orders. He also gave invaluable support for many years to the Cana Movement. Mons. Charles Vella wrote an appreciation in Lehen is-Sewwa upon his demise.

Harry Ernest Wild buried at Kalkara Naval Cemetery

He was one of the survivors of the famous Shackleton Expedition which explored the Antarctic in 1916 which ended in disaster. He settled in Malta and died shortly afterwards of typhoid at Bighi Hospital. This was discovered by Ian Wilson, a student of Anglo-Maltese relations and reported in The Times of Malta.

Public Transport to Vittoriosa

According to new bus routes announced by Transport Malta, a new bus service, Bus no. 4, will reach Vittoriosa centre through Xatt ir-Risq. However, this service, as well as others as were announced, could not be started at due date because of some administrative difficulties. This will be a welcome service to Birgu residents which is in fact a re-instatement of a service that already existed in the past.

300th Anniversary of the Royal Regiment of Artillery

A special commemoration was held at the Saluting Battery, Valletta, with a display in uniforms and firing of old guns. The event was attended by Denis Darmanin, Committee Member of the Vittoriosa Historical & Cultural Society.

Artist and decorator Antonio Agius from Vittoriosa

In an article in The Sunday Times of Malta entitled Remembering the legacy of artist and decorator Antonio Agius, historian Lorenzo Zahra traces the life and works of this talented self-made yet little known artist. His masterpiece is undoubtedly the monumental urn, or tomb, for the dead body of Christ which forms part of the Mosta processional Goofd Friday statues. It was made in 1924 in his workshop at Couvre Porte, Vittoriosa. He also produced magnificent intricately decorated frames for the parish church of Ghasri, Gozo.

Blessed Nazju Falzon at Vittoriosa

He was a saintly cleric (1813-1865) who was actually a lawyer but renounced his profession and dedicated himself to the teaching of the Cathecism to locals but mostly to members of the British forces who were stationed in Malta as well as to other foreigners. He performed many conversions to the Catholic faith and administered to them the sacrament of baptism. Fr Charles Buttigieg in an article in Lehen is-Sewwa on the ministry of Nazju Falzon narrates how on various occasions he was at St Lawrence Collegiate Church, Vittoriosa, performing baptism.

Fr. Frangisk Azzopardi OFM Cap. librarian at Capuchin Friary

This was 50 years ago as reported in The Times of Malta page Half a century ago. The late Patri Frangisk was instrumental in setting up the library and in organising the Capuchin Museum at the Friary, Floriana. He was an ardent Member of the Vittoriosa Historical & Cultural Society.

Can. Joseph Mizzi new Vittoriosa Archpriest

The month of September ended with the Solemn Investiture of Can. Joseph Mizzi from Zebbug as the 37th Archpriest of St. Lawrence Parish at Vittoriosa. He was born in 1970 and ordained priest in 1997. He served as director of the Cana Movement and performed pastoral work in the Mqabba and Zebbug parishes. He is not totally new to Vittoriosa because he was posted to St Lawrence Church when he was a deacon when Can. Daniel Farrugia was Archpriest. It was during that time when the pontifical holy relic of the head of St Lawrence was brought to Malta. St Lawrence is also well known to the people of Zebbug where his statue graces the church parvis, installed by the Zebbug parish priest some years back, Vittoriosa-born Mons. Lorenzo Zammit. The Investiture ceremony was led by HG Archbishop Charles J Scicluna, assisted by Bishop Emeritus Giuseppe Mercieca.