"We learned that the island was called Malta" Acts, 28, 1.

Marian Devotions in The Islands of St Paul

(1600-1800)

Edited by Vincent Borg

THE HISTORICAL SOCIETY

Under the auspices of the Local Organising Committee
of the 9th International Mariological Congress
Malta

1983

[p.v] PREFACE

Thirty four years ago, Our Islands , held for the first time in the history of the Maltese Ecclesiastical Province , a Marian Congress meant to promote still further, the filial devotion. of the Maltese Nation towards the Blessed Virgin. Among the various religious and cultural activities organised during that event, one still remembers the Marian Exhibition held at the Old Seminary of Mdina and important publications issued on that occasion, particularly the Catalogue of the Marian exhibition and the booklet prepared by my predecessor, Mgr Arthur Bonnici.[1] The renowned Maltese artist, Emvin Cremona, produced the necessary graphics of exquisite beauty for the same occasion.

Cremona's art, once more, enhances the presentation of this volume and provides, at the same time, a link between past and present Marian manifestations. The present activities, involving the 9th International Mariological Congress, being held in Malta to coincide with the centenary celebrations of Ta' Pinu Sanctuary, have offered an excellent opportunity to delve, in some depth, into the historical development of Marian worship within the Maltese Islands.

The Committee of my Society appreciated this possibility when, more than two years ago, it decided to embark on the preparation of the present work. A Commission, formed by the undersigned together with Prof. Andrew P. Vella OP and Dr Albert Ganado, was appointed to organise the realisation of this project. All persons contacted, gladly accepted our invitation. The Local Organising Committee of the above-mentioned Congress, under whose auspices this book is being published, gave also some financial assistance, to ease down the burden involved in the expenditure thereby entailed. On behalf of my Committee, I extend our grateful thanks to all.

Although the theme of the 9th International Mariological Congress is restricted to two particular centuries, namely, the study of Marian worship during the 17th and 18th Centuries, it was deemed, at times, highly essential in our instance, to analyse also, the development of certain Marian devotions during the preceding centuries, whenever and wherever this was possible. Normally, no particular systematic studies in this regard have been carried out before and one had to fill this gap, in order to give a complete picture of these developments.

This work, to a great extent, gives a detailed analysis of all forms of Marian devotions, that had developed within our islands' churches, both those under the local Bishop's jurisdiction, as well as those that were exempted from it, since they were officiated by members of the various Religious Orders that had established themselves in Malta till the end of the 18th Century.

The results, deriving from this extensive and painstaking research, are of utmost importance for the right understanding and evaluation of the religious, devotional, cultural, artistic and social history of our people.

[p.vi] The great traditional Marian Liturgical feasts, already in existence during medieval times and still flourishing in our own days, witnessed the gradual insertion of various other forms of Marian devotions from the last decades of the 16th Century and throughout the following two centuries, covering, to a great extent, the Baroque era. The written documentation, analysed in the preparation of this work, has given forth a thorough detailed picture portraying how this form of devotional life penetrated among our forefathers and the great complex of various spiritual and artistic manifestations which it produced.

It is all too obvious that religion has always formed the very backbone of our Nation. The Blessed Virgin, moreover, had a special meaning to them. She was not just another typology of mother-earth or a symbol of the fertility cult of Prehistoric times. Mary gave a new meaning to their very existence. She brought them a spiritual message and an approach to a more intimate way of life with God himself. Christ, her Son, who redeemed man from the slavery and bondage of sin, bridges the gulf between human misery and the Almighty and She is deeply involved in establishing this process of reconciliation between God and Man. Marian Art in Malta, clearly portrays these concepts at least, as early as the late 15th Century, when the mystery of the Annunciation and Christ's crucifixion are coupled together.[2]

The combined efforts of the authors who contributed in this publication, apart from establishing a definitive chronological sequence in the historical development of each particular Marian devotion, offer the possibility of an adequate evaluation of the impact, which the right Mariological perspective, already evident in late medieval Malta, may have had on our own Baroque culture.

This work is bound to instil a deeper interest in the religious, social and cultural history of our islands and may serve as a pattern for further studies, particularly those involving saints' worship which, though on a lesser level than Marian worship, has exercised deep influence on the Maltese community. Both have provided a source of spiritual nourishment, which found their expression in various forms, including also artistic and architectural achievements which embellish our own islands.

(Mgr) Vincent Borg
President

[p.vii] COMMON ABBREVIATIONS

AAM = Archiepiscopal Archives, Malta
ACM = Archives of the Cathedral, Malta
AIM = Archives of the Inquisitor, Malta
AOM = Archives of the Order of St John, Malta
AEG = Archives of the Episcopal Curia, Gozo
NLM = National Library, Malta
NAM = Notarial Archives, Malta
PLG = Public Library, Gozo
VP = Visitatio Pastoralis
VA = Visitatio Apostolica
p.n.n. = unnumbered pages


[1] Vinc. Bonello - Edward Sammut, The Madonna in Art , Malta 1949; Mons. Prof. A. Bonnici, Marija u Malta , Malta 1949.

[2] Unknown late 15th century artist, Painting in the troglodytic chapel near Tad-Dejr Catacombs, Rabat, Malta (Confer: A.A. Caruana, Ancient Pagan Tombs and Christian Cemeteries in the Islands of Malta, Malta 1898, plate 11 facing page 123); Salvo d'Antonio (attn.) The Madonna 'del Soccorso' triptych at the Cathedral Museum, Mdina.