Jan Mar 2016

Commemorating victims of the 16 January 1941 bombing

Vittoriosa commemorated the tragic loss of lives buried under the debris of the Chapter Hall of St Lawrence Church when it was bombed in what is known as the attack on HMS Illustrious. After Holy Mass in the church, Archpriest Can. Joe Mizzi led a defile’ to the Monument on the church parvis and recited prayers. An oration was delivered by Paul Micallef.

Cardinal Martin O’Conner

He was the first Apostolic Nuncio to be appointed after Malta’s Independence in 1964. He took office in 1966 and started his term by celebrating a Pontifical Mass at St. Paul Shipwreck Collegiate, Valletta. He later also made an official visit to St. Lawrence Collegiate, Vittoriosa on the invitation of the Rev. Chapter. This visit is recorded in a photograph taken with the Vittoriosa Chapter. Cardinal O’Conner is the subject of an article in the programme booklet of St Paul’s feast, Valletta.

The bagpipe tradition at Vittoriosa

The old Maltese bagpipe (iz-zaqq) was researched and documented extensively 40 years ago by Dr Karl Partridge from Scotland when he lived in Malta with his parents as a young man. He is now a consulting ecologist. He is reported in Times of Malta as having addressed the International Bagpipes Convention in Glasgow where he spoke about his memoires on the subject. He has now passed all the related research documentation to the Maltese National Archives. It was noted that during his research during the 1970s he found bagpipe playing still being practiced at Naxxar, Mosta and Vittoriosa. In the latter case he would have been referring to is-Sonu who is fondly remembered for his characteristic performance with iz-zaqq in the streets of Birgu at Christmastime.

Bemoaning the damage to the environment

Lino Bugeja, as founder of the Malta Rambers Association, writes in Times of Malta about what he calls “The Demise of Rambling” in view of the wanton damage being done to the environment. He quotes anthropologist Jeremy Boissevain who way back in 1966 was already admonishing on the rape of the Maltese countryside which was being unlawfully exploited for private use.

I Giovanniti: La Storia dei Cavalieri di Malta”

This is a historical account in Italian on the Knights of St John and their legacy to the Maltese nation, a posthumous publication by the late literary writer Frans Sammut. It starts with the origin of the Order of St. John in Jerusalem 900 years ago, their travails in the Holy Land, their long stay at Rhodes and their transfer to Malta. Throughout this period the Knights were at the forefront of the fight against Islam, culminating in the Great Siege of Malta in 1565. The author describes how the rights of the Maltese were trampled, both from the Order’s original seat at Birgu and from Valletta. He traces the gradual decline of the Order until it was ousted from Malta by Napoleon, but is now again revived pursuing philanthropic ideal and again flying its flag on Fort St Angelo.

Siege Maps exhibition

Heritage Malta has presented an exhibition at the National Museum of Archeology, Valletta, in a Malta-Czech Republic joint initiative, of four maps of the Great Siege of 1565 by Giovanni Francesco Camocio. The maps bring out clearly the focal place of Birgu during the Great Siege.

Mons. Can. Joseph Caruana passed away

Dun Guzepp, as he was popularly known to the people of Vittoriosa, passed away peacefully on 31 January 2016, feast day of Saint John Bosco, at the age of 83. He was an affable and humble priest who passed all his life serving the Vittoriosa parish at St Lawrence Church. He nourished his vocation to the priesthood at the time he was a member of the Christian Doctrine Society the MUSEUM which he continued to love and frequent even after his ordination. He was for a long time leader of the Vittoriosa altar boys and chaplain of the Catholic Action. In appreciation of his assiduous work he was raised to the honour of Papal Monsignor and some years ago was awarded the Gieh il-Birgu trophy by the Vittoriosa Local Council. His funeral cortege walked along Main Street, Vittoriosa and he was given a trumpet salute by the Vittioriosa St Lawrence Band in Vittoriosa Square. The funeral Mass was led by Archbishop Charles Scicluna, assisted by Archpriest Joe Mizzi and a large number of clergy, followed by internment at St Lawrence Cemetery.

17th century bishop’s summer house in ruins

Lino Bugeja’s article in The Sunday Times of Malta under the above title describes how during the early period of the Order, the knights would have found life at Birgu very claustrophobic and therefore converted the nearly Senglea promontory into a hunting lodge. In later years after the move to Valletta, they planted woodlands at San Anton and at Buskett where Grand Master Verdale built his summer palace, which is now the summer residence of the President of Malta. The Inquisitor also looked for a holiday escape from Birgu and built his palace at Girgenti, which has been turned into a summer resort for the Prime Minister. The Bishop of Malta followed suit and Bishop Cagliares build a summer house at Ta’ Xewxa. Unlike the other palaces that have been tastefully resorted, the Cagliares house is in ruins.

Marianne Theuma – still active after retirement

It is Marianne Theuma’s turn to be featured in the “Active Aging” page in Lehen-is-Sewwa. She was born and lived at Vittoriosa until she got married when she moved to Marsascala. When still a teacher, she specialised in the psychology of motherhood and has since become a well-known pregnancy advisor and supporter. She is now still actively pursuing her cherished vocation.

Parish Assembly

The Vittoriosa parish bulletin AHNA for February 2016 reports on the holding last December of the latest Parish Assembly. This was the first such meeting called by the new Archpriest Joe Mizzi. He exhorted participants to continue with their pastoral community work, keeping in mind the theme of Divine Mercy proposed for this year by Pope Francis.

Throwback on CHOGM Women’s Forum

The March Quarter 2016 issue of “Il-Mara”, the newsletter of the Malta National Council of Women, is dedicated mostly to the CHOGM held last year when for the first time a Women’s Forum was held and was attended by delegates from the NCW. The newsletter carries a summary of the proceedings accompanied by a photo of the NCW General Secretary, Mrs Doris Bingley shaking hands with H.M. Queen Elizabeth II. Mrs Bingley is the daughter of the late Mro. Lorenzo Galea of Vittoriosa.

Fra Agostino Grimaldi, resident of Vittoriosa

Fra Agostino Grimaldi was an exemplary Italian Knight whose biography was chronicled by Padre Parisi and is recounted by Giovanni Bonello in the Sunday Times of Malta. Fra Agostino, who resided at Vittoriosa, lived a saintly live and, true to his vow of chastity, even going to the extreme of avoiding having a rapport with women. He adored his mother and often wrote affectionately to her back at Modica, Sicily, about his experiences in Malta. During his novitiate, he spent most of his time in the Grand Master’s retinue at the Grand Master’s Palace in Valletta. He studied mathematics and navigation, later rising to become commander of the Order’s Galera Capitana. He distinguished himself for his heroism in the maritime campaigns with the Order’s squadron and lost his life during the siege of Candia in 1560.

Carnival at Fort St. Angelo

As part of the Carnival celebrations, Heritage Malta treated its patrons to Il-Qarcilla, a revived poetic farce in Maltese which fell into oblivion some 100 years ago consisting of a satire of a traditional village wedding. The play was set at Fort St. Angelo.

Robotic class at St. Edward’s College, Vittoriosa

St. Edward’s College, Vittoriosa, organised a robotic session for its secondary school students to enable them to gain experience in computer kit design, engineering principles and problem solving, applying the concepts of dynamics.

New novel on the Great Siege of 1565

The new novel is “Ix-Xafra tad-Destin: l-Imdina 1565” by Michael Cini. As the name of the novel indicates, the plot focuses on events at Mdina rather than in the Grand Harbour. The inhabitants of the northern villages had sought refuge behind the bastions of Mdina during the siege. The Order’s cavalry detachment was based in that city. At great peril, it sallied out regularly to harass and wreak havoc on the Turkish camp at Marsa. Grand Master De La Vallette sent messages and orders to the Mdina defendants from the Birgu stronghold which were delivered at the stealth of night by Maltese patriot Orlando Magro.

Architect William Scamp 1801-1872

This is the title of Conrad Thake’s new book on one of England’s renowned 19th century Admiralty architects who was detailed to Malta. His major works are the Naval Bakery at Vittoriosa with its typical clock tower, now the National Maritime Museum, standing on the site of the ancient Galley Arsenals; St. Paul’s Anglican Cathedral, Valletta, replacing the former Auberge d’Allemagne; and Malta’s first dockyard, Dock No.1, at Cospicua. During his four-year stint in Malta, Scamp had his offices and residence at the Vittoriosa Marina within the former Palace of the Captain General of the Order’s Fleet which was consequently renamed Scamp Palace.

Scale model exhibition at Malta Maritime Museum

The Society for Scale Modellers held their annual exhibition at the Malta Maritime Museum. The exhibits consisted of civil and military aircrafts, vehicles and ship, some of which have won international awards. One section of the exhibition comprised a model replica of different historical episodes. One exhibitor presented a statuette of Fra Roberto d’Eboli, the Capuchin Friar who during the Great Siege of 1565 preached to the Knights and Maltese militia at St Lawrence Conventual Church, entreating them to continue in their defence of the faith.

Tourism survey on Vittoriosa

The Malta Tourism Authority is conducting a survey among tourists on the cultural physical and service offerings at Vittoriosa. The information from the survey will be used to improve and enhance the tourists’ experience.

St. Lawrence Band newsletter Jan-Feb 2016

The editorial gives a resume’ of the intense activity of the Band during the previous year, the main highlight being the completion of the restoration of the façade of the Band Club premises, which has been baptised: Palazzo Huesca. Among the projects for the current year are the refurbishment of the Billiard Hall and the repair of the Band’s Archives, designed and made by Vittoriosa artist Antonio Buhagiar. The Band Club secretary, in his annual review of events also points to the band’s successful initiative to attract young music students (allievi) to join the band and refers to the first young bandsmen concert held at Christmastime at Vittoriosa Square, jointly with the Kalkara band. Anton Attard’s history corner in the newsletter is about the vow made by the people of Vittoriosa in 1887 to celebrate the feast of St. Roque following deliverance from an outbreak of cholera through the saint’s intercession. Anton Attard also writes about the devotion to St Lawrence at Paola, taken there by migrants from Vittoriosa at the turn of the 20th century. The usual newsletter interview conducted by Paul Micallef this time consists of an introduction to the newly appointed Assistant Bandmaster, Mro. Francois Borg from Qormi.

Cardinal Fabrizio Sciberras Testaferrata (1757-1843)

The first Maltese Cardinal Fabrizio Sciberras and his brother Camillo are the subject of an article by Dr Stanley Farrugia Randon in the programme booklet of the Feast of St Paul Shipwreck, Valletta. The Cardinal was baptized at St Paul’s Church, Valletta but his mother Lady Lucrezia Dorell had her palace at Vittoriosa, Palazzo Bettina. It has therefore always been held that Fabrizio was born in the palace at Vittoriosa. The Sciberras Testaferrata – Dorell family was a great benefactor of St Lawrence Church. The family links with Vittoriosa remained even if the family had transferred residence to Valletta so much so that Camillo, who was an ardent disciple of Napoleonic ideals and of liberal ideology was buried at the Annunciation Church at Vittoriosa upon his death in 1855, leaving to mourn him his twelve children, even if he breathed his last at Valletta.

Music during Good Friday procession at Vittoriosa

Dr. Joseph F. Grima is featured in an article on “Funeral Music during Good Friday Processions in Malta” in the latest issue of L-Imnara, the journal of the Malta Folklore Society. He refers to the practice at Vittoriosa of the Captain General of the Order’s Fleet to send two seamen to accompany the statue of Christ in the Hearse (il-Monument) playing the drum and the pipe. This practice continued during the British period when two servicemen used to be sent by the British Admiralty. The author quotes from Can. A Zammit Gabaretta’s study on “Il-Birgu fil-Gimgha tal-Ghid” on the playing of music during the Good Friday procession as early as the 18th century on the initiative of the Confraternity of the Holy Crucifix.

The Easter bagigga tradition revived

Since olden times, the Resurrection of Christ and the joy of Easter after the forty days of Lenten abstinence were announced in a boisterous walkabout through the narrow streets of Birgu by a person, nicknamed il-bagigga, banging on a drum in the dead of night. A crowd of boys used to accompany him shouting and making merry. This old tradition had stopped after the war. After an aborted attempt last year to revive it, this year the bagigga was again up and about roaming and making noise in the streets of Vittoriosa on Easter night.

Padre Pio at San Lorenzo Fuor Le Mura

The remains of Saint Padre Pio were taken to St Peter’s Basilica, Rome, to mark the Holy Year of Mercy. The pilgrimage from Pietralcina was first directed to the Basilica of San Lorenzo Fuor Le Mura at il Verano, run by the Capuchins, where the corpse was displayed for a week for public veneration before proceeding to the Vatican.

German-Maltese Glossary

The Vittoriosa Historical & Cultural Society is proud to count among its members Ms Ritianne Stanyer from Vittoriosa. She started her studies in Tourism, followed courses in the German language at the German-Maltese Circle and later at the Goethe Institute, qualifying as guide to German visitors. She furthered her academic studies in German and specialised in doing German translations. In 2012 she co-authored a German-Maltese Glossary to assist Maltese students of German enrich their vocabulary, idiom and orthography.

Grand Harbour reminiscences

Michael Cassar, author o several books with a social and maritime theme, is featured in a series of articles in The Sunday Times of Malta on the Grand Harbour, recounting its millennial history, the buildings along the harbour shores, the diverse activity undertaken, highlighting its changing role from a naval and commercial entrepot into a leisure port. He gives a detailed commentary on the harbour topography with the panoramic vista it presents from Upper Barrakka Gardens, Valletta, the typical landmarks that distinguish it from other harbours. He identifies three defining periods in the harbour history: the period of the Order of St John which saw the construction of the fortifications around Cottonera and the erection of Valletta; the British period when the harbour hosted the British Naval Base; and the post-Independence period when the harbour was gradually adapted for business activity. In analysing the changing face of the Grand Harbour, the author classifies the area into 10 zones according to the existing structures, facilities and usage. Prominent among these is the Vittoriosa region with Fort St Angelo standing out eminently in the harbour, and the nearby marinas.

Malta during 1916

In a two-part article in The Sunday Times of Malta, historian Michael Galea chronicles Malta’s contribution to the Allies war effort during 1916. Although Malta was not directly in the struggle, it maintained a war footing throughout, following the war progress closely, besides the participation of numerous Maltese service officers in the war itself. But Malta’s role was to provide hospitalisation to the many war casualties brought to Malta, some of whom being placed at the Vittoriosa Military Hospital, later to become St Edward’s College. Even till recent years, the walk from Vittoriosa through the street alongside St Edward’s College towards Cottonera Gate was referred to popularly as id-dawra ta’ l-isptar.

Malta’s 18th century corsairs

Liam Gauci, curator of the Malta Maritime Museum, Vittoriosa, is the editor of a new book In the name of the Prince: Maltese Corsairs 1760-1798, published by Heritage Malta. The book sheds light on the corsairing activity which was legitimately undertaken with licence from the Order of St. John, with the involvement of numerous Maltese seamen, aimed at curbing Ottoman trade. However, the initiative called for good captains, notable among whom were Stefano Raffaeli, Guilliermo Lorenzi,and Pietro Zelalich. These captains recruited their crews for the expeditions mainly from Cottonera and their vessels would have berthed along Vittoriosa wharf.

When hell was an air-raid shelter”

In commemoration of the first Luftwaffe air raid on Malta on 16 January 1941, the HMS Illustrious Attack, Lino Bugeja, in an article in The Sunday Times of Malta under the above title, diarises his dismal experience as a young boy in the streets of Vittoriosa. He describes the exodus of the residents seeking safe refuge in the villages, the appalling situation of those who remained behind, the squalor of life in the rock-hewn shelters, the starvation, the epidemics and the destruction all around.

Restoration of the Vittoriosa bastions

The Government Restoration Directorate has published an article in The Sunday Times of Malta elaborating on the extensive restoration and rehabilitation works that have been going on since 2008 on the land-front ditch and fortifications of Vittoriosa and which are now nearing completion. Besides the laborious work of repair and maintenance of the masonry, the unit has cleared masses of debris and rubble and has unearthed new defence features which were hitherto concealed. Treasures of Malta Vol. XXI No. 3 carries a page-size advert by Agius Stone Works Ltd showing the restored Post of Castille ditch. The company was involved in the works and justly prides itself with its accomplishment. The Vittoriosa Historical & Cultural Society is grateful to the persons involved in Vittoriosa landfront fortifications project which has revived the magnificence of this historic city.

French republicans imprisoned at Fort St. Angelo

Robert Thake appears in a researched article in Treasures of Malta Vol XXI No. 2 on the authorship of an anonymous publication in Paris in 1798 entitled Recherches Historique et Politique sur Malte which is attributed to the Maltese scholar Mons. Onorato Bres. The publication is an affirmation of the republican aspirations of the Maltese and emphasises the benefits of the French Occupation of Malta. After the French Revolution of 1789 there were locals and Knights who associated with the ideas of liberalism. However they were suppressed by the Order and when caught, were thrown in the dungeons of Fort St. Angelo. Onorato Bres was a Maltese patriot who was at first convinced that the French takeover of Malta would work, but was later disappointed with the outcome. He nonetheless continued to militate for the civil rights of the Maltese under British rule.

Melchior de Monserrat, hero of the Great Siege

Christopher Gerrard and Alejandra Gutierrez elaborate in Treasures of Malta, Vol. XXI No. 3 on the knight physician Fra Melchior de Monserrat, member of the Monserrat family from Aragon, Spain, one of the prominent heroes of the Great Siege who perished defending Fort St. Elmo where he was Commander. His mummified head is still preserved in the Monserrat Chapel of St. Michael in Ambel, Zaragoza. In 1552 he occupied a high position in the Holy Infirmary at Birgu. He is depicted in the fresco by Mattia Preti in the vaults of St. John’s Co-Cathedral, Valletta. Another member of the Monserrat family, Fra Pedro de Monserrat was elected Receiver of the Common Treasure in 1533 at Birgu and in 1552 he was appointed Grand Conservator, or Chief Supplies Official, one of the eight principal offices of the Order, a responsibility traditionally held by the Langue of Aragon. The Auberge of Aragon at Birgu was situated within the Collacchio in what is now Hilda Tabone Street.

Caricature of St. Lawrence procession

A copy of a colour 17th century caricature depicting the procession of St Lawrence in Vittoriosa, original held in a Private Collection, is exhibited at the Vittoriosa Church Museum. It reveals how the procession proceeded along the streets of the city showing the various Confraternities in order of precedence, the monastic orders of friars based in Vittoriosa, the diocesan clergy, the choir, the statue of St Lawrence, the parish priest holding the relic of St Lawrence in his hands and the Grand Master with his entourage at the end of the defile’. The procession is headed by a band of 14 musicians of wind, brass and percussion instruments; another band walks with the clergy. The caricature is mentioned and is reproduced in a study in Treasures of Malta Vol. XXI No. 3 entitled “Sounds of war and the exotic alla turca” by Anna Borg Cardona who has conducted research on Malta’s musical heritage.

Investiture within the Collegiate Chapter of St Lawrence

Following a Solemn Mass at St Lawrence Church led by Archpriest Can. Joe Mizzi, an investiture celebration was held wherein the Rev. Can. Lawrence Bonnici was promoted from the grade of Penitentiary to Dean of the Collegiate Chapter. Also on the same occasion, Rev. Marc Andre’ Camilleri, Parish Priest of Christ the King Parish, Paola, was appointed Hon. Canon of the same Chapter. The Curia Decree were read by the Archpriest. A reception was afterwards held on the church parvis for guests and participants.

Tribute to Gorg Agius, the Poet of God

A letter to the Editor in the Times of Malta pays tribute to Gorg Agius, ir-romblu, known also as the Poet of God, who despite his old age still continues with his daily visits to Maltese hospitals, reciting to patients and their families impromptu poems about God and Divine Mercy. The author of the letter recall his visit to his ailing father at Boffa Hospital in 1996 when Gorg was present, reciting poems about the huge aircraft carrier USS America which happened to be in Grand Harbour. A picture showing the aircraft carrier manoeuvring in the harbour accompanies the letter.

St. Lawrence Band newsletter Mar-Apr 2016

This issue highlights the active participation of the band in the Good Friday procession and the Easter celebrations at Vittoriosa. The origin of the demonstration with the statue of the Risen Christ at Vittoriosa, a tradition introduced by the Greek community in old Birgu, is briefly recounted in an article by George Cilia. On his part, Anton Attard’s historical note describes the various instances in the past when new artistic works and artefacts were inaugurated at St.Lawrence Church on the occasion of the saint’s feast. The band’s secretary comments on the club’s initiatives to improve the teaching of music and the formation of a youth band in collaboration with the St. Joseph Band of Kalkara. Paul Micallef’s interview with Vittoriosa personalities is this time with Gorg Peresso, well-known author, broadcaster, director and art-commentator. Although he no longer lives at Vittoriosa, he has maintained strong links with his native city.

Inauguration of Vittoriosa Ditch

The ditch surrounding the bastions of Vittoriosa was inaugurated following extensive rehabilitation works by the Restoration Directorate of the Works Ministry with EU funding. The ditch is lined with numerous rock-cut war-time shelters and later served as a public garden, known as Coronation Garden, but then fell into disuse. The project included the clean-up of heaps of rubbish and rabble, the repair of defence features and the opening up of the passage way to Kalkara.

Joe Farrugia Cassano passed away

Joe Farrugia Cassano passed away at the age of 94, leaving to mourn him his wife Irma, his son Dr Alastair, his daughter Nadine and her family, relatives and friends. It is a sad loss also for the Vittoriosa Historical & Cultural Society where he was one of the early members of the Society and acted as Treasurer for several years. He remained an active member till his demise. Before he married, he was a member of the Vittoriosa Christian Doctrine Society the MUSEUM and led the youth choir which took part unfailingly every Sunday in the Sung Mass at St. Lawrence Church. In the MUSEUM he worked closely with the founder, Saint Gorg Preca. His funeral mass was held at Paola Christ the King Church. Mons. Paul Raggio, President of the Vittoriosa Historical & Cultural Society, was one of the concelebrants.

Archbishop Guzeppi Mercieca and Vittoriosa

The Solemn Funeral of Archbishop Mercieca who passed away at the age of 87 was held at St John’s Co-Cathedral. He led the Maltese Diocese as Archbishop for 32 years. In the early part of his bishopric he faced a difficult and antagonistic task as the Maltese political scene was characterised by an ongoing attack on church schools and church property by the ruling Labour government. On one particular instance during these dark years, he withstood a sour experience at St. Lawrence Church, Vittoriosa: after performing the ordination of a deacon, he was molested by a mob of Labourites as he was coming out of the church. The people of Vittoriosa paid respect to him for this grave insult. Nonetheless on several occasions he visited St Lawrence Church and celebrated Solemn Mass on the feast day. The Archpriest of Vittoriosa, Can. Joe Mizzi led the Vittoriosa clergy at his funeral.

Grand Master Festing at St. Lawrence Church

Fra Matthew Festing, Grand Master of the Order of St John, while on an unofficial visit to Malta, paid a visit to St. Lawrence Collegiate, Vittoriosa, the for Conventual Church of the Order between1530-1572. He attended Mass which was said by a Vatican prelate who formed part of the Grand Master’s entourage. Mons. Lawrence Gatt, Conventual Chaplain of the Order and Chancellor at the Curia, concelebrated.

Zabbar: 400 years parish

Zabbar was raised to a separate parish by a decree of Bishop Baldassare Cagliares in 1616, having formerly formed part of the medieval parish of Zejtun. The church of Our Lady of Graces was consecrarted as parish church, however the newly-appointed parish priest could not initially administer the sacrament of baptism in the church because it did not have a baptismal font. Until one was procured, the first baptism was celebrated at Zejtun. Subsequent baptisms were temporarily celebrated at Vittoriosa and Cospicua. The history of the Zabbar parish is succinctly described by Michael Buhagiar in an article in Lehen is-Sewwa . A programme of special events spread over 2016 is being held to commemorate the centenary.

Visit to Wignacourt Museum

As part of its cultural activities programme the Vittoriosa Historical & Cultural Society organised a visit to the Wignacourt Museum, Rabat. Mons. Gwann Azzopardi, the Museum Curator, after welcoming the Society, invited the officials to view the old painting of Don Carlo Cologna, parish priest of Vittoriosa in 1701-1733, holding a plan of the Holy Crucifix Oratory at Vittoriosa. The painting was donated last year to the Wignacourt Museum by historian and old maps connoisseur Dr Albert Ganado. The story was reported in The Independent on Sunday.