Jul Sep 2017

St Lawrence dalmatic restored

The dalmatic which is worn by the statue of St Lawrence at St Lawrence Collegiate, Vittoriosa, has been restored. It is a special artistic dalmatic, made of llama fabric covered with gold brocade and decked with numerous precious stones. It was manufactured in Milan and was first used for St Lawrence feast in 1913. Over the years it became rather soiled and needed repair. The restoration was carried out by Vittoriosa-born Aurora Azzopardi.

St. Lawrence Band newsletter Jul-Aug 2017

This edition carries the band’s programmes and commitments for this year’s feast of St Lawrence which includes the defile’ in Main Gate Street, Vittoriosa, and the Grand Concert at Vittoriosa Square beside the traditional festive Te Deum march along the streets of the city on the eve on the feast. In his usual historical corner in the newsletter, Anton Attard writes about De La Vallette’s Hat and Battle Sword displayed in the Chapel of Our Lady of Damascene in the Vittoriosa Parish Museum. He contends that, from research he carried out, De La Vallette donated his mementos to the Greek community at Vittoriosa in recognition of their feats during the Great Siege of 1565. The Band’s secretary Simon Farrugia dwells on the Band’s achievements during the year, including the setting up of a modern rehearsal hall and multimedia music training centre in the band’s premises. The newsletter’s interview is this time with the author of the interviews himself, Paul Micallef from Vittoriosa, who describes his close connection since his childhood, with the feast of St Lawrence and the Good Friday procession, besides his innumerable interests regarding his native city.

The kurunella of St Lawrence

The kurunella, or the old devotion and prayer during the nine successive novena days preceding the feast of St Lawrence on 10 August has this year been given a new touch. Besides the High Mass and the chanting of St Lawrence Anthem at the end of the ceremony, Archpriest Can Joe. Mizzi revived the tradition of reciting a long poem of praise in Maltese, written more than a century ago by Can. Dr Ludovik Mifsud Tommasi in honour of St Lawrence. The reading was done by the Archpriest himself in clear and eloquent diction. Booklets with a reproduction of the poem were distributed to those present so they could follow. The older generation at Vittoriosa still remember Can. Lorenzo Segona devoutly reciting the kurunella during the novena while kneeling at the foot of the main altar.

Architect Andrea Belli (1703- 1772)

Architect Andrea Belli was a renowned Maltese architect while his brother Gabriele Belli was one an Auditor or Chief Counsellor of Grand Master Pinto, a very high and powerful position. They are both buried in the Carmelite Basilica, Valletta. Their story is recited by Dr. Giovanni Bonello in an article in the festa programme magazine of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Valletta. Andrea Belli’s magnificent designs and sculpture can be admired in the Church of St Philip Neri, at Vittoriosa. It is most regretted that this beautiful church is totally neglected and in a pitiful state having been scandalously converted by the church authorities into a workshop and store. In the same magazine, there is another interesting article by Stanley Fiorini about the Carmelite Order’s decision in 1615 to compile a comprehensive inventory of their property in Malta. It so happened that the Carmelite friars had some four years earlier rebuilt their church and convent at Vittoriosa wharf. Due to ecclesiastical pressure, they quit Vittoriosa in 1652. The former Carmelite church at Vittoriosa is still in existence, but again it is a pittance that also this church has been desecrated and serves as another church workshop.

Volto Santo di Lucca

Lucca Cathedral possess a precious and unique crucifix popularly referred to a Volto Santo di Lucca. It is an ancient wooden crucifix representing Christ clothed as a king and wearing a royal diadem, purportedly carved by Nicodemus and transferred to Lucca in the 8th century. This sacred artefact, and a reproduction of it found at the Carmelite Church, Valletta, are the subject of a feature by Lorenzo Zahra in the programme booklet for the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel at Valletta. Lorenzo Zahra, founder of the Vittoriosa Historical & Cultural Society, is also quoted in the same booklet in another write-up by Joseph C. Camilleri about the early participation of the La Vallette Band in the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel even since 1885.

Why my name is Carmel”

Dr Carmel Mallia, in a short article in the Carmeltite feast programme, recalls his mother’s devotion to Our Lady of Mount Carmel at Valletta and recalls his childhood visits to his aunt at the Valletta Mandragg close to the Carmelite Basilica. Besides, one of his mother’s relatives was a Carmelite friar and the young Carmel was impressed when he went to meet him in the Carmelite Priory at Valletta. Dr Carmel Mallia is an Esperanto intellectual and member of the Vittoriosa Historical & Cultural Society.

Fort St Angelo namesake

In medieval times Fort St Angelo at Vittoriosa was called Castrum Maris, however in later years it started to be called Fort St Angelo. According to Fr Victor P. Farrugia O.Carm, writing in the feast booklet of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Valletta, the fort was named as such after the 13th century Carmelite preacher and martyr, St Angelo of Sicily, whose cult spread throughout Sicily. However, another and more possible attribution for the origin of the name of Fort St Angelo is after St Michael the Archangel as in the case of Rome’s Castel Sant’Angelo.

Feast of St Lawrence

The feast was celebrated on 10th August with the usual pomp and solemnity. The Pontifical Mass was led by H.G. Archbishop Charles Scicluna who also delivered the panegyric, recalled the virtues of St Lawrence that led to his martyrdom, his loyalty to the church and his work as deacon with the poor, the disabled and those suffering from social problems. It was the first time in many years that the panegyric was delivered, not from the famous 1894 Vincenzo Vassallo pulpit but from the footsteps of the Main Altar. Assisting in all church functions there was the Deacon Fra Alan Adami OP, grandson of Mr & Mrs Oscar Adami from Vittoriosa. The Vittoriosa St Lawrence Band, led by Mro. Jonathan Abela, was the main protagonist in the external celebrations with the presentation of a grand concert in Vittoriosa Square. A spectacular firework display was held in the Grand Harbour on the eve of the feast.

Our Lady Damascene Chapel at Vittoriosa

The programme booklet for the feast of St Lawrence carried various interesting articles among which thise by Anton Attard and Lorenzo Zahra, president and founder, respectively of the Vittoriosa Historical Cultural Society. Anton Attard’s article traces the history of the Greek community at Birgu where they had settled after their arrival from Rhodes in 1530 accompanying the Order of St John. For their part in the defence of Birgu during the Great Siege of 1565 Grand Master De La Vallette after the victory honoured them with his award of his Battle Sword and Hat which were placed in their Chapel of Our Lady Damascene, now forming part of the Vittoriosa Parish Museum. Lorenzo Zahra’s article is a brief account of the origin of the Museum. He affirms that De La Vallette’s Battle Sword and Hat are the most precious objects in the Museum. Another researched article by Fabian Mangion is about the religious order founded by St Philip Neri, the Oratorians. They ran an Oratory both in Senglea and in Vittoriosa. Regrettably, the beautiful church of St Philip at Vittoriosa is in a miserable state, having been turned into a store for external festa street decoration.

Fr. Marius Zerafa OP honoured

Former Curator of Fine Arts at the National Art Gallery and Art Historian from Vittoriosa, Fr. Marius Zerafa OP was awarded the prestigious honour of Cavalliere al Merito della Repubblica Italiana. The presentation was made by H.E. Italian Ambassador Giovanni Umberto de Vito. It is in recognition of Fr. Zerafa’s cultural achievements in the area of art heritage and the promotion of artistic links with Italy. Fr. Zerafa will be remembered for his crucial role in the recovery in 1987 of the Caravaggio painting of St Jerome after its spectacular robbery from St John’s Co Cathedral in 1984.

Feast of St Dominic

The feast of St Dominic at Vittoriosa was held on the last Sunday of August. The Dominican Community celebrated the church liturgy with the usual propriety while the Prince of Wales Own Band of Vittoriosa provided the musical entertainment for the external festivities, notably with their special concert on the French Curtain, is-sur tal-kurdara, under the direction of Mro. Emanuel Spagnol. The Annunciation Church was brightly illuminated except for the dome which is still undergoing restoration. A picture of the Vittoriosa processional statue of St Dominic at Vittoriosa reproduced in the article in Il-Lehen as part of the biographical series by Dr. Joe Micallef Stafrace was mistakenly denoted as that of Valletta.

Fr. Lawrence Carney

A short report in Il-Lehen describes how Fr. Lawrence Carney from Missouri has earned for himself the title of “The Walking Priest”. He practices the new evangelisation recommended by Pope Francis to the fullest extent: he walks along the streets of the town where he lives, wearing his cassock and bearing a crucifix in his hands, mingles with the people on the walkways and in bars, preaching and inviting people to prayers.

Exhibition at Vittoriosa Local Council

On the occasion of the feasts of St Lawrence and St Dominic, the Vittoriosa Local Council organised an exhibition at the Local Council premises in the Auberge de France of statuettes and other holy icons of the two saints belonging to Vittoriosa residents. The exhibition was held during the month of August.

Historical fonts at Vittoriosa

Maria Cassar who is reading for an M.A. in History of Art at the University of Malta, wrote the theses of her first degree on the artistic development in Malta of holy water basins or font. Her profile together with a recapitulation of her research is carried in Il-Lehen in an interview by Fr. Julian Cassar. In her study, there is mention of old fonts at Vittoriosa, in particular a pair of fonts dating to around 1480 attributed to Domenico Gaggini from the former Greek-rite Church of St. Anthony the abbot, now exhibited at the St. Joseph Oratory Museum, Vittoriosa. She also mentions the two marble 60 year old existing fonts at St Lawrence Collegiate, designed by Chev. Rafel Bonnici Cali’.

St. Lawrence venerated in old Paola church

Il-Lehen is publishing a weekly column describing small town and countryside chapels and churches in Malta. This is a modern replica of Kilin’s initiative some 50 years ago, also in Il-Lehen, in his series Kappelli u Knejjes Zghar, later published in book form. The latest feature is about St. Ubaldesca Church, Paola, originally built in 1630 by Grand Master Antoine De Paule, in the town which he had founded under his name. One of the side altars in the church is dedicated to St. Lawrence, with an altar-piece by artist Giuseppe Duca (1871-1948). The feast of St. Lawrence used to be celebrated every year around a statue of the saint, which, unfortunately, disappeared in the post-war period.

Relics of St Lawrence

St Gorg Preca, founder of the Christian Doctrine Society, the MUSEUM, had a particular devotion to St Lawrence. In his Ktieb tal-Istejjer, no. 63, he wrote a short but revealing narrative listing some of the famous coagulated blood relics of St Lawrence in Italy, all of which show signs of liquefaction on the feast day of St Lawrence. Among these is the most prominent, that of Amaseno, then there is another one in Tivoli and two in Naples. St Gorg Preca’s writing is reproduced, courtesy of Lorenzo Zahra, in the Gozo San Lawrenz festa programme publication.

St Lawrence – epitome of mercy

Fr. Hermann Duncan O. Carm, in an article in the same San Lawrenz festa progamme booklet, refers to the year-long Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy celebrated by the Church during 2016 making emphases on duty of Christians to exercise mercy. He refers to St Lawrence as a leading martyr who is best remembered for his mercy works among the poor and outcast of Rome.

Fr. Gorg Grech OP passed away

Fr. Gorg Grech OP passed away on Maundy Thursday at the age of 90. He was given his funeral salute by the Dominican Friars at the Annunciation Church, Vittoriosa. He was a well-known personality at Vittoriosa where he spent some 50 years doing pastoral and community work. Since he was a musician, he used to lead the church choir and organise musical events at the Vittoriosa Dominican Hall. He set up the young people’s theatrical group Delfini Ferrieha. He was always partnered in his work by his colleague Fr. Frangisk Galea OP, now residing at the St Catherine Home for Elderly Priests.

50th Anniversary of Paola parish church

Paola’s massive parish church, designed by architect Guze’ D’Amato (1886-1963), is this year celebrating the 50th anniversary from its consecration in 1967. The construction of the church was started in 1910 and took many years until it was finished. Paola saw its beginnings during the reign of Grand Master Antoine de Paule when residents from the Cottonera started to migrate to the area. The carried with their attraction to their patron saint, those hailing from Vittoriosa honouring St Lawrence at one of the chapels in the parish church. A stone statute of St Lawrence by sculptor Marco Montebello (1915-1988), stands as the centre-piece on the altar, flanked by two panels with paintings of St. Stephen and Pope Sixtus II, respectively.

Chev. Rafel Bonnici Cali’ book

Rafel Bonnici Cali’ was not only a renowned historian and painter; he was also a prolific folklore author. A book about Maltese festa traditions has been reprinted and is being retailed at the Catholic Institute bookshop. Chev. Rafel Bonnici Cali’ served as Vice President of the Vittoriosa Historical Society. In 1965, during the 4th centenary celebrations of the Great Siege Victory it was through his initiative that the first Ambassadors to independent Malta donated to the Society a set of banners of the eight Langues of the Order of St. John. He actually painted the designs of the coat of arms of each Langue on the banners, which are now exhibited at the Vittoriosa Parish Museum.

Can. Alfred Psaila at Vittoriosa

The Jesus of Nazareth Chapel at Paola, now serving as centre for Eucharistic adoration, was built in 1899 was built by benefactor Angelo Psaila. Mons. Lawrence Cachia, in a short observation in Il-Lehen, states that Angelo Psaila was blessed with three children whom became priests, one of whom Dun Alfred Psaila (1895-1977), who was appointed Canon at St Lawrence, Vittoriosa, subsequently, Canon at Our Lady of Victories, Senglea.

The Lutheran Reformation

Writing in the festa programme booklet of St. Dominic at Vittoriosa, Anton Attard throws light on the Lutheran Reformation, its spread throughout Europe during the 16th century and its repercussions on Malta. This was the time when Malta was occupied by the Order of St John but the Church authorities also held a strong grip on the Island, with the Bishop of Malta also acting as Pro-Inquisitor, entrusted with the safeguard of the religion. Some church prelates embraced the Lutheran ideas and were suppressed or brought to trial. Among these was the Augustinian Don Francesco Gesualdo who as a heretic was burned at the stake in Birgu Square in 1563. Another upstart priest was Don Brandano Caxaro who after admitting his mistake was remanded though not without a penalty: his verdict was pronounced at the Annunciation Church, Vittoriosa.

The Dissident Dominican

Girolamo Savonarola OP the erudite theologian from the Dominican Priory of San Marco, Firenze, could not stand the corruption and intrigue that plagued the medieval papacy, dominated as it was by European royalty. So, he flared up vociferously against the sale of indulgences. This was his undoing: he was persecuted and finally condemned to the gallows in Piazza della Signoria, Firenze. Savonarola’s controversial figure is still the subject of study. His story is narrated in an article by Alfred Grixti in the booklet for the Feast of St Dominic, Vittoriosa. The article is accompanied by a photo of a fragment of the painting from one of the panels by Maltese painter Gian Battista Conti of the dome of the Annunciation Church before its destruction during the war, depicting among others, Savonarola.

Rinella telegraph pylons

According to Lorenzo Zahra, writing in the St Joseph festa booklet at Kalkara, the Rinella poles were for many years a major Kalakara landmark. Following the invention of the morse code and the further development of telegraphy in the late 19th century, the British Services, intent on introducing it for defence purposes, constructed a telegraphy junction at Rinella in 1910 which was called the Malta High Power Wireless Station. In later years, this necessitated the erection of two 600 feet tall pylons. Other shorter ones were constructed in later years. Most of these structures are no longer in existence as telegraphy was replaced by more modern telecommunications.

De La Vallett’s relics at Fort St Angelo

As a follow-up to the exhibition of De La Vallette’s Dagger which was loaned to Malta by the French government on the occasion of Malta’s EU presidency, Heritage Malta organised a further exhibition at Fort St Angelo entitled, “De Valette’s Armour and Fighting Sword Reunited”. Displayed in the exhibition is the Grand Master’s engraved breast-plate and back-plate from the Palace Armoury, Valletta, and the Battle Sword and Hat, from the Vittoriosa Parish Museum.

Giuseppe Decelis (1866-1958)

The remarkable artistic wonders produced by Giuseppe Decelis, born at Vittoriosa, are enumerated in a biographical article by Angelo Schembri in the Ghaxaq Santa Marija feast programme booklet. His masterpiece is undoubtedly the plinth and silver pedestal for the statue of St Dominic at the Annunciation Church, Vittoriosa. At St Lawrence Church, he is remembered by his silver antependium for the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception. The Vittoriosa Parish Museum boasts a artistic wooden niche which is his handymade, kindly donated to the Museum by his grandson Mario Treeby.

St. Lawrence Band newsletter Sep-Oct 2017

The editorial of this edition is a post-mortem of the feast of St. Lawrence, emphasising on the active participation of the band in the external celebrations. A positive note is sounded about the Band Club’s various initiatives. Anton Attard dedicates his historical sketch on the late literary and linguistic personality Prof. Guze’ Aquilina’s connection with Vittoriosa, having resided there during the early years of his pre-war academic studies. Extracts from his iconic novel in Maltese Taht Tlett Saltniet which narrate episodes and describes locations at Vittoriosa, are reproduced. Gorg Cilia relates the history of the holy shrine at the Scala Santa in Rome and the adjoining chapel dedicated to St. Lawrence. The newsletter’s interview by Paul Micallef in this issue is with Noel Gauci, vice president of the Band Club.

Saint Laurent sur Sevres

Cardinal Robert Sarah, Prefect of the Congregation of Divine Worship at the Vatican, is reported in Il-Lehen to have celebrated a Holy Mass in the Basilica of St Laurent sur Sevres, in the Vendee region, France, for the repose of massacred victims during persecutions by atheists, notably those who lost their lives during the French Revolution because of their religious belief.

Jum il-Birgu 2017

Vittoriosa Day 2017 was organised at Vittoriosa Square by the Vittoriosa Local Council. This year’s programme was presented by young people, with the Great Siege Victory oration delivered by a young lady. The prestigious Gieh il-Birgu award this year went to Eng. Joe Pule’ in recognition of his brilliant career, first with Dockyard, then with the British Services, and finally in Industry. The event was enlivened by a display by the In Guardia Re-enactment Group holding the banners of the eight Langues of the Order of St. John. A poetry reading session included a patriotic poem by Mro. Pacifico Scicluna (1876-1967) about his native city, Vittoriosa. The programme culminated with the laying of laurel wreaths at the foot of the Victory Monument. It should be recalled that this commemorative event was revived in 1955 by the Vittoriosa Historical & Cultural Society and was continued by the Local Council from 1994.

Melchiorre Gafa’ (1636-1667) anniversary

The Vittoriosa Historical and Cultural Society commemorated the 350th anniversary from the demise of one of its celebrated sons, the artist Melchiorre Gafa’, with a press release. Melchiorre Gafa’ was born at Vittoriosa and was baptised at St Lawrence Church. Like his brother Lorenzo Gafa’ he distinguished himself as an artist. While the latter became a leading architect, Melchiorre Gafa’ rose to international fame as a baroque sculptor. He produced various masterpieces from his Rome workshop where he died in 1676 at the young age of 31. He is best known in Malta for his magnificent wood sculputed baroque statue of St Paul, venerated in Valletta, and commissioned for St Paul Shipwreck Church, Valletta, by Baron Testaferrata of Vittoriosa. Melchiorre Gafa’ is remembered in his native city, Vittoriosa, through two splendid artifacts which, after strong tradition, have been attributed to him, namely: the head of the statue of St Joseph which can still be admired at the Parish Museum in St Joseph Oratory, and the head of the statue of Christ in Agony which forms part of the Good Friday processional statues. It is regretted that the renowned Gafa’ brothers, despite their significant contribution to Maltese art, are not yet immortalized in a national monument. Malta Post commemoated the anniversary with a special stamp issue.

Sanctuary of Our Lady of Mensija

This Marian chapel at San Gwann was already in existence in 1575 but was at the time dedicated to St Leonard. It is built on a troglodyte shrine in the church’s foundation, reached by a steep flight of steps. Il-Lehen carries a feature on this typical wayside chapel. Many pilgrims flocked to the shrine which is decked with various ex-voto and other mementos. Among these is a framed ex-voto picture of St. Lawrence with the Souls in Purgatory donated to the church by Vittoriosa priest Rev Can Anton Agius (1870-1936) after a devotee of Our Lady of Mensija, after recovering for a serious illness through the use of sacred oils from the Mensija sanctuary. A copy of the frame is preserved at the Vittoriosa Parish Museum.

Dacoutros donation to the Martime Museum

The wine-making Dacoutros family has donated various objects relating to the sea transport of wines to the National Maritime Museum, Vittoriosa, among which is a model of the three-masted barquetine Maria which plied the Mediterranean with casks of wine in the 1920s. In later years the ship became the training vessel for harbour pilots, several of whom were from Vittoriosa. Among these was Pilot Giuseppe Zahra (1894-1946). The Dacoutros family maintained links with their Greek mercantile ancestors, even supplying the local Greek community with candles and other supplies for their place of worship in Malta. The story is recounted in the 2013 volume by John G. Dacoutros Ships, Wines and Wars.

San Gennaro blood liquification

The blood of San Gennaro, like that of St Lawrence, kept in special ampules in the Cathedral dedicated to him in Naples, liquifies every year on his feast day, 19 September. The miracle has been regularly recorded since 1389. San Gennaro was bishop of Naples in the third century and was beheaded in the Diocletian persecution. Lorenzo Zahra recalls the prodigy in Il-Lehen.

Heritage Malta marketing

Besides promoting Malta’s history and culture heritage, Heritage Malta also seeks to promote the venues under its care for different civil and social uses and thereby strengthening its revenue. Such locations are being marketed for use as backdrop for photo shoots or filming, events by organisations such as seminars and presentations, concerts, dinners, weddings. Top locations being offered at Vittoriosa are Fort St. Angelo, the Malta Maritime Museum and the Inquisitors Palace.

Tour of Vittoriosa

Fondazzjoni Wirt Artna organised a tour of Vittoriosa for its members and the general public. The tour followed the religious trail of the Order of St John at Vittoriosa and the various religious communities in the city: the Greeks, Dominican Order, the Inquisition. Tour leader was Vincent Zammit.

Vintage motor cycles at Vittoriosa

At the beginning of September, the Historic Motor Cycle Club organised an exhibition of vintage motor cycles at Vittoriosa. Various unique vehicles were showcased by their proud owners. The line-up was held at Couvre Porte with the kind permission of the Vittoriosa Local Council. The show was made possible through the efforts of Joe Morana on behalf of the Vittoriosa Historical & Cultural Society.