[p.33]

Unknown 17th Century artist, The Nativity of the Virgin, Naxxar Parish Church

Photo: Joseph A. Vella,
F.R.F.S., A.F.I.A.B.

[p.34] THE NATIVITY OF OUR LADY

The liturgical calendar celebrates only two occasions commemorating the birth of two saintly persons, namely Our Lady and St John the Baptist. Scholars have discussed at length the origins of the 8th September feast of Our Lady's birth. Historical evidence has established its existence in Rome towards the end of the 7th century. In the East, some have stressed that it was introduced there immediately after the Council of Ephesus, during the 5th century itself. However it does not result that this feast could have been celebrated at Constantinople before the 8th century. [1]

In Malta this Marian worship is second only to that of the Assumption. Its early beginnings are similarly shrouded in historical darkness. However it has retained its popularity even to our own days.

The earliest written document, so far available, which sheds some light on this Marian worship in Malta, deals with a church dedicated to this episode in the Virgin's life. This document, compiled in 1274, gives an account of a church built within the 'Castellum Maris' later commonly known as Castle St Angelo on the Grand Harbour of the island. [2] This church enjoyed considerable importance in medieval Malta. During the 15th century, the Candelora, or Purification feast at Borgo was exclusively celebrated in this church. [3] Its rector was duly entitled to perform and celebrate all liturgical feasts independently from any jurisdictional encroachments which the parish priest of Borgo could pretend. [4] Moreover, in 1517, the Bishop ordered this parish priest to desist from holding the Corpus Christi procession in his parish as this was to be held only at the Castle's church. [5]

The signal victory over the Turks achieved at the end of the Great Siege on the 8th September 1565 gave undoubtedly a new impetus in the celebration of Our Lady's birth. Grand Master Jean Parisot de la Valette dedicated to her the first church built in the new city commonly known `La Vittoria'. Needless to say the Order of St John, throughout its long stay in the island used to solemnise this feast with all due splendour and dignity. [6]

This important event had also direct repercussions on the diocese itself. Isola Senglea, which throughout the Great Siege had sustained :bravely many an onslaught and withstood successfully all Turkish attacks, on its erection as an independent parish, dedicated its first parish church to the Nativity, known already in 1585 as the church `de la Vittoria'. [7]

An annual thanksgiving procession, which originally was held at Mdina on the feast of the Annunciation, [8] was later transferred to the morning of [p.35] the 8th September. All parishes used to participate in this procession. Naxxar was the only exception as it was entitled to hold a similar procession on that same day. [9] Till 1685, it was customary to carry in the Mdina procession the highly treasured Byzantine Madonna venerated at the 'Cathedral church. Bishop Cocco Palmieri, insisting on its careful preservation, during that year, ordered that thenceforth no one was allowed to remove it from its place without his own written permission, while another picture had to be provided for this procession. [10] A canon of the Cathedral Chapter came to the rescue. He acquired a painting of Our Lady, a work of Sassoferrato, which till 1714 replaced the Byzantine Madonna. [11] During that year a Marian relic replaced this picture in the 8th September procession. [12]

Although the Great Siege victory exercised considerable influence in the promotion of this feast, nevertheless before 1565, there was in Malta already a good amount of churches honouring Our Lady's birthday. In fact till 1575 there were at least twenty eight such churches, [13] four of which, at least, had been undoubtedly in existence before the beginning of the 16th century itself. [14] There is only one single instance among this group of churches, where a church had been built after the Great Siege itself, namely the one at Qrendi which was the direct outcome of a vow made by a private individual who sought Our Lady's intervention during those dangerous days. [15] The other twenty three Nativity churches easily attest the popularity which this Marian devotion enjoyed before the Great Siege itself.

It is all too obvious that the 1565 victory increased still further this devotion. A number of new Nativity churches appear for the first time in the records of Pastoral Visits from 1585 onwards, chief among these is undoubtedly the already mentioned Senglea parish church. In all, eighteen such churches are recorded. [16] Some of these even have been functioning before 1585. One particular aspect seems to indicate the importance that thenceforth began to be attached to this feast. In seven instances some form of rededication took place. [17] Thus the Mellieħa Sanctuary, which in the 1575 records appears dedicated to the Annunciation of Our Lady, [18] or simply styled later as the `Madonna della Mellecha’ [19] from 1608 onwards it is specifically referred to as a Nativity shrine. [20] The same form of rededication took place at Naxxar, where two Assumption churches are given a Nativity titular, [21] as well as another one at Mosta, [22] Birkirkara, [23] Lia, [24] and Qormi. [25]

Grouping together the two batches of Nativity churches, namely those founded before 1575 and those that were built afterwards, there were in all forty six such churches. More than half of them continued to function till the end of the 18th century, nineteen retaining the Nativity as their titular [26][p.36] while six were rededicated to another Marian title. [27] Two new Nativity churches were definitely built between 1601 and 1800. [28] while there is a slight possibility that few others could trace their early beginnings to the first years of the 17th century. [29]

The remaining twenty one churches were declared unsuitable for public worship before 1660. [30] Notwithstanding this rather drastic diminution in their number, the Nativity devotion remained sufficiently popular. The remaining churches, together with some Nativity altars, were quite evenly spread throughout the islands. [31] Moreover, some of these churches enjoyed considerable vitality in the devotional and pastoral life of the diocese. The Mellieħa sanctuary has always maintained a primacy of undisputable importance among all Marian shrines of the Maltese islands. The tortuous roads leading to it witnessed many a pilgrimage hailing from far distant parts of Malta. Similar other shrines, particularly the Tal-Ħerba sanctuary at Birkirkara, through their popular appeal stressed the Nativity devotion. While another two prominent parishes, namely Naxxar and Senglea, have always cherished this feast with particular devotion and solemnity worthy of the love and respect which the parishioners have nourished from centuries past.

Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries this feast was always included among the seven Marian feast-days celebrated in Malta. Thus, whenever bequests were provided for the celebration of these feasts, the 8th September was also provided for.

One final remark — It is interesting to note that it was quite normal to commemorate on this day Marian devotions which did not have any fixed date for the celebration of their feasts in the universal liturgical calendar. Chief among these in Malta were the feasts of Our Lady of Graces, as well as the Monserrato, Hodigitria and Loreto Madonnas. 

[p.37]

Unknown 17th Century artist, Tal-Ħerba Madonna (1644c), Tal-Ħerba Sanctuary, Birkirkara

Photo: Joseph A. Vella,
F.R.F.S., A.F.I.A.B.

 

[p.38] NATIVITY OF OUR LADY

A. CHURCHES AND ,CHAPELS

BALZAN

N 1

This church, mentioned in the records of Gargallo's 1602 Pastoral Visit, stood within a field owned by Joseph Agius, [1] and was closed to worship in 1659. [2]

BIRKIRKARA

N 2

Tal-Ħerba The old and small Assumption church known as Tal-Ħerba, already highly venerated during the last decades of the 16th century, instead of being demolished to make way for a larger edifice, was duly preserved, while a new church was built in front of it about 1644. Access from the new church to the older one was available through a side door of the former building. [3] A new altar piece representing Our Lady of Graces, St John the Baptist, the Guardian Angel and the Souls in Purgatory, was placed on its main altar surrounded by sculptured decorations. This work was carried out through the initiative of the church's procurator Girolamo Borg who was also sustained by the piety of the faithful. [4] Though in 1644 this sanctuary presented as its titular Our Lady of Graces from the 1650s onwards it was always described as dedicated to the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin. [5] Devotion to this Marian shrine continued to flourish and has never ceased. [6] In the 1770s its altar, with the facade around the altar piece, were covered with marble, [7] Bishop Labini consecrated this church on the 23rd March 1783. [8] The Tal-Ħerba Madonna was solemnly crowned on the 7th August 1910, while its church was enlarged on a cruciform plan during the 1920s. [9]

N 3

In 1575, Francesco Borg used to look after the needs of this church [10] built in the cemetery of a larger one dedicated to St Leonard. [11] Although decreed unfit for worship in 1618, [12] it remained functioning. [13] In 1658 it was inaccessible as a quarry had been hewn in front of it. Stones quarried from here were used for the building of the Assumption parish church. [14] It was rebuilt about 1736 and was then known as 'La Rotunda'. [15]

[p.39] N 4

Ta' Cortin This rural church was situated at Dragut Point which formed part of B'Kara parish till the dismemberment of Sliema during the last century. As far as 1601 it was dedicated to the Nativity of Our Lady. [16] Closed to public worship in 1658, [17] it was rebuilt about 1741 through the bounty of Michael Pianta and rededicated to Our Lady of the Good Voyage (Tas-Sliema). [18]

COSPICUA

N 5

Knight Santarena built this church within a garden which in 1602 belonged to the French Langue of the Order of St John. [19] The records of Notary Vincenzo de Bonetiis dated 11th May 1557 provide the details of this church's foundation. [20] Commandery Fra Gio. Ant. Perdicomati founded an altar in honour of St Helena in this church before 1634. [21] This church was canonically desecrated in 1659, [22] and reopened to public worship in 1667. It was thenceforth referred to as St Helen's. [23]

GUDJA /BIRMIFTUĦ

N 6

Near the main entrance of the old Birmiftuħ parish church, there was a Nativity chapel recorded from 1575 [24] till 1615. [25] Its feast however continued to be celebrated in this same church till 1692-93, when Bishop Cocco Palmieri preferred to have it transferred to the following Sunday in honour of the Holy Name of the Blessed Virgin. [26]

N 7

At Gudja in 1575 two churches, one dedicated to the Nativity and another one to the Annunciation, stood side by side. [27] Both however were demolished about 1654, since their site was required for the building of the new parish church. [28]

N 8

Ħal Farruġ There were two such Nativity churches at Ħal Farruġ in 1575. Antonio Lauda, from Borgo, was then duty bound to celebrate the titular feast, [29] while Girolamono Piscopo had to see to the celebration of mass on each Sunday and feast day in one of them. [30] This church, though very old, continued to function throughout the 18th century. [31]

N 9

Canon Matthew Bartolo had to say mass and sing vespers in the other church on four Marian feasts, namely, Purification. Annunciation, Assumption and Nativity. [32] This church was closed to public worship in 1658. [33]

N 10

From the records of the 1594 Pastoral Visit it results that this church `Extra Casale Gudiae' was originally dedicated to the Nativity. [34] This may explain why its [p.40] feast was always held on the 8th September. [35]

GHAXIAQ

N 11

Ta' Guernia This church in 1600 stood in the neighbourhoods of St George's Valley known as tal-Għadir [36] and ceased to function in 1659. [37] Its altar piece was later inserted under the titular altar of the parish church. [38]

LIA

N 12

Tal-Belliegħa An old church canonically desecrated in 1656, originally dedicated to the Assumption, [39] was reopened in 1666. The feast of the Nativity began thenceforth to be celebrated in it. [40] This church was rebuilt in 1740 when it was definitively dedicated to the Nativity. [41] It was rebuilt somewhat away from its original site.

N 13

Għadir il-Bordi This church is mentioned in 1601 [42] and was closed to worship in 1658. [43]

N 14

Ħal Mann Dusina included this church in his report. [44] Giovanni Cuschieri on the 13th June 1593 provided a bequest for this church which was recorded by Notary Simone Galea. [45] Its site served as a burial place for a great benefactor of Lia's parish church, cleric Giacomo Abela who died during the 1676 plague. Bishop Cannaves decreed the annual blessing of his tomb during November. [46]

LUQA

N 15

Wied il-Knejjes A church, abutting on another two churches dedicated to the Assumption and St Nicholas. All three churches were mentioned in the 1575 records. [47] In 1594 this church was deemed already very old, [48] and was canonically desecrated in 1656. [49]

N 16

Another Nativity church at Luqa, near the Assumption church known as Tal-Ftajjar, was duly functioning in 1575. [50] It was closed to worship in 1656, [51] but was later reopened. In 1774, the celebration of masses in this church was definitely prohibited. [52]

MDINA

N 17

Della Rocca This church already in existence in 1575, [53] housed within it for some time the communal school. [54] During the 1650's, its site was granted to the Carmelite Friars to build thereon part of their new priory and church and was substituted by a side chapel in this church. [55]

N 18

Della Porta This church stood near the old entrance of Mdina and [p.41] in 1594 was rededicated to St Roque. [56] When Grand Master Antoine Manoel de Vilhena built the Magisterial Palace of Mdina, this church was demolished and rebuilt on a site previously occupied by a church dedicated to the Holy Cross. [57]

MELLIEĦA

N 19

The Mellieħa sanctuary in 1436 had already attained a parish church status. [58] Its last parish priest was Don Giuseppe Ingomes mentioned during the second half of the 16th century. These neighbourhoods were then almost deserted being left unprotected to withstand sudden incursions from pirates and Turks alike. This troglodytic church enshrines the oldest painting of Our Lady executed in Malta directly on the island's solid rock. Though in 1575 there were almost no inhabitants at Mellieħa, Dusina refers to this church describing it as an Annunciation church. [59]

In 1584 the Augustinian Friars sought and obtained permission from the Cathedral Chapter to found a priory on this site. [60] In 1587, Bishop Gargallo found two Augustinian friars living there. On this occasion, he ordered the restoration of the old painting of the Madonna. [61] By 1608 the said Friars were no longer in charge of this shrine which was then described as a Nativity church. [62] On the 6th July 1614, some Turkish galleys entered Mellieħa's harbour and the whole area was ransacked, including undoubtedly the sanctuary itself. The Madonna suffered considerable damages. [63] This holy painting was immediately afterwards covered up with a silver coating leaving visible only the faces of the Madonna and the Child Jesus. This cover was already in its place in 1644, while the ceiling of the grotto was painted to represent God the Father in a central position surrounded by Seraphim and further down by a multitude of Bishops who, according to tradition, had consecrated this church during the 5th century. There were then no less than thirty four silver offerings attesting, together with other votive offerings, the great devotion shown by the Maltese towards this place. [64] The Grand Master used to provide the oil for its sanctuary lamps. [65]

During the 1740s this sanctuary was enlarged and a courtyard, surrounded by a series of arches, was also added to it. Moreover its main altar in 1753 was covered with artistic marble decoration, including two marble statues one presented by Bailiff Fra Ferdinand Correa and the other by the nuns of St Benedict's Monastery of Mdina. Bishop Alpheran de Bussan consecrated the church and its altar on the 22nd May 1747. [66]

Mellieħa was eventually re-given a parish status in 1841 and this church was then enlarged still [p.42] further. [67] This highly venerated Madonna was solemnly crowned by Bishop Pietro Pace on the 24th September 1899.

Recently Archbishop Gonzi authorised a scientific restoration of this Madonna, whereby what still remains of the original painting has come to light.

N 20

Pwales In 1575, this church stood in a garden owned by Tomaso Xara. [68] Laurica Galea and Agata Xerri established therein an ecclesiastical living on the 20th May 1672. This deed was recorded on that day in the acts of Notary Gio. Luca Mamo. [69] Bishop Alpheran di Bussan decreed the canonical desecration of this church in 1731, [70] but it was reopened by Bishop Pellerano in 1771. [71]

N 21

Wied Qannotta This church during the 17th century was dedicated to the Nativity of Our Lady. [72] From 1717 onwards and after its rebuilding, which took place before 1736, this church was rededicated to the Immaculate Conception. [73]

MOSTA

N 22

Tad Dhib This church, originally an Assumption church, [74] was rebuilt after the plague of 1592-93, by Damiano Bonnichi. He dedicated it to the Nativity. [75] Later however, the Visitation of Our Lady was adopted as its titular. [76]

NAXXAR

N 23

The parish of Naxxar was already included among Malta's parishes in 1436. [77] Its old parish church, in honour of the Nativity of Our Lady, was rebuilt on a cruciform plan during the first decades of the 17th century and was duly completed by 1636. [78] Its feast day was held with due solemnity. A procession used to be held on that day, on which account Naxxar was the only parish exempted from taking part in a general procession held at the Cathedral in thanksgiving for the Great Siege Victory, [79] Bishop Alpheran de Bussan consecrated this church on the 13th December 1728. [80] When Mellieħa ceased to function as a parish, its territory was incorporated to the Naxxar parish. [81]

N 24

An Assumption chapel at the entrance of the old parish church, [82] before 1594, was rededicated to the [p.43] Nativity. [83] This site was needed when the building of the new parish church was taken in hand. However an altar in this church substituted this chapel [84] for a short period as it was later rededicated to `Sancta Maria Arcus'. [85]

N 25

An Assumption church, recorded in 1575, [86] changed its titular to the Nativity before 1588. [87] On its feast day a procession left the parish church, after Vespers, and halted at this church. [88] It was rebuilt at the request of the people between 1618 and 1628. Paolo Schembri defrayed the expenses involved in its building. [89] This church stands side by side with St Lucy's church.

QORMI

N 26

A similar Assumption church, included in Dusina's account, [90] was rededicated before 1588 to honour the Nativity of Our Lady. [91] In 1634 a bequest on its behalf was provided. [92] However in 1656 its canonical desecration was sanctioned. [93] Popular devotion helped to rebuild it. This work was duly carried out before 1686. [94] It was then commonly known as Il-Fuqqanija. [95]

QRENDI

N 27

According to Dusina's report, the main church of this village, was dedicated to the Nativity [96] However, from 1594 onwards, the Assumption of Our Lady constantly appears as its titular. [97]

N 28

Giovanni Schembri, during the Great Siege of 1565, promised to build a church if he and his family would suffer no harm throughout those perilous days. He maintained his promise. The records of Notary Guiliano Briffa dated 7th September 1585 testify the fulfilment of this vow. The church he built was included in the churches visited by Bishop Gargallo in 1598. [98]

N 29

Ħal Lew — Tal Ħniena Gioanello Psaila, Who in 1575 lived in a house adjacent to this church, had to provide for its feast. [99] From 1636 onwards, though its wooden altar piece was described as representing Our Lady of Graces, it was normally styled as Tal-Ħniena and acquired considerable prominence. [100] Rebuilt about 1650, [101] people from all over Malta used to visit this Marian shrine and various votive [p.44] offerings attested its popularity. [102] Its feast was held on the 8th September. 'Music was also included on this ,occasion as far back as 1663. [103] Throughout the 18th century and even afterwards veneration towards this church continued to flourish. [104]

RABAT

N 30

Tad-Dejr A troglodytic church, just outside Tad-Dejr catacombs, was included in Dusina's report when it was declared unsuitable for public worship. [105] In this church there is a 15th century painting representing the Crucifixion and the Annunciation. [106]

N 31

Ta' l-Isperanza A flight of steps led to this partially troglodytic church which stood near St Cataldus' church, Mgr Dusina visited this church. [107] Its canonical desecration was sanctioned in 1656. [108] A stone cross on a column placed in 1714 indicated the site once occupied by this church. [109]

N 32

Santa Maria Ta' Casha at Għeriexem [110] Vincenzo Casha, [111] founded this church before 1575. [112] It was rebuilt sometime before 1636 and was held in great veneration by the Rabat people. Various votive offerings testified its popular devotion. [113] After its rebuilding, a new altar piece was commissioned for this church by Dr Ignazio Bonnici JUD. [114]

N 33

Santa Maria ta' Sebbech at ta' Doħla This old church, included in Dusina's report, stood in the estates of Camillo Cumbo [115] and was endowed with an ecclesiastical living known by the church's name itself or Ta' Ħelu and Ta' Ġebel Sarno. [116] Its altar piece included also the coat of arms of Gio Maria Cassia. [117] The church was closed to worship in 1656. [118]

N 34

Santa Maria ta' Salib at Fiddien This church was rebuilt before 1615 [119] by :Gregorio Xerri, who together with his wife founded there an ecclesiastical living. The deed of this foundation was stipulated in the records of Notary Bernardo Azzopardi on the 31st March 1926. [120]

N 35

Ta' Djar Żara This old church, situated on the main road from Attard to Rabat is attached to one of the Cathedral Canonical prebends included in the 1436 Rollo of Ecclesiastical Benefices. [121] In 1644 its altar piece, representing the Nativity [p.45] Madonna, with St Paul and St Anthony the Abbot on each side, was already very old. [122] During the last war this church suffered considerable damage. [123]

N 36

This church at Wied ir-Rum is very probably the same one mentioned in 1575 then forming part of Matthew Falson's estates. [124] This property, in 1615 belonged to the Ven.da Assemblea of the Conventual Chaplains. [125] In 1636 its altar piece was transferred to Dingli's church since it was closed to public worship. [126]

N 37

In 1615, another Nativity church known as Ta' Campria was mentioned. No other reference to it results from the records of Pastoral Visits. [127]

N 38

Monte Calibbo — Mtaħleb An old church built within the estates of Gio. Vincenzo Casteletti, who endowed it on the 5th May 1607 with an ecclesiastical living, recorded by Notary Andrea Allegritto. [128] Dr Andrea Castelletti JVD, sometime before 1656, built a new church on the site of the old one. [129]

SAFI

N 39 In 1575, this church stood side by side with another one dedicated to the Assumption. [130] It was closed to public worship in 1658 [131] and a new Assumption church, built sometime about 1760, partially stands on the site of this church. [132]

SENGLEA

N 40

Immediately after Senglea's dismemberment from Vittoriosa, the building of its new parish church was taken in hand. In 1585 it was entitled `B.M. de la Vittoria'. Incidentally this was the first time that such a title was given to Our Lady within churches under the Bishop's jurisdiction. [133] A church with such a title had already been built by the Order of St John at Valletta. Its main altar piece, painted on wood, represented Our Lady with St Peter and St Paul on each sides. [134] Towards the middle of the 17th century a new parish church on a Latin cross plan was built. [135] By 1686, its feast used to include a solemn procession with the statue of the Blessed Virgin. [136] This church was consecrated by Bishop Alpheran de Bussan on the 29th November 1743. [137] The old wooden statue of Our Lady was solemnly crowned on the 4th September 1921. [138]

[p.46]

Unknown artist, The Bambina, Wooden Statue sculptured before 1618, (confer this publication, 98), Collegiate Basilica, Senglea

SIĠĠIEWI

N 41

Near St Matthew church at Siġġiewi's main square, there was a Nativity church mentioned in 1615 [139] and closed to public worship in 1667. [140] Mariano Bonello and his heirs were duty bound to look after its needs. [141]

N 42

A church at Fawwara, known as the 'Nativity ta' Gioanet' was closed to public worship in 1621. [142]

N 43

Ta' Ħal Tabuni or Ta' barru A church, mentioned in 1598, where it is stated that Giovanni Muxi made a donation to this church recorded by Notary Giuliano Muscat and duly registered at the Episcopal Curia on the 2nd December 1586. [143] In 1658, it was closed to public worship. [144]

N 44

Ta' Saliba An old church, in Ta' Mwieġel neighbourhoods. Mario Attard in 1615 was bound to provide for the celebration of its feast. [145] In 1658 this church suffered the fate of the previous one. [146]

N 45

Ħal Kbir This church stood in the vicinities of Ġebel Ċiantar. Mario Ciantar, on the 1st April 1593 bequeathed a donation providing for the celebration of masses on four Marian feast days, namely,

the Annunciation, Nativity, Purification and Assumption. This donation was recorded by Notary Nicola Xeberras. [147] Gio. Paolo Cassar rebuilt this church in 1619 but changed its title. Thenceforth its titular was the Annunciation. [148]

VITTORIOSA

N 46

The church at Castle St Angelo, described in 1802 "Ecclesiam antiquam parochialem" was dedicated to the Nativity of Our Lady. [149] A 1274 document gives a detailed inventory of this church. [150] The feast of Candlemas and Corpus Christi were exclusively celebrated in this church Regarding the former, this is specifically stated in a 1445 document, [151] while the parish priest of Borgo in 1519 was ordered to refrain from holding any procession on 'Corpus' since this feast was to be celebrated by three priests in the Castle's church. [152] In 1621, Bishop Cagliares made formal protests when he found difficulties obstructing the Pastoral Visit of this church which he rightly held was under his jurisdiction. [153] Its altar piece, painted in 1461 presented Our Lady flanked by St John the Baptist and St Philip. [154] The Prior of the Conventual church, Fra Salvatore Imbroll left a bequest for the celebration of the Nativity feast in this church. [155]

[p.48] ŻURRIEQ

N 47

Bubaqra This old church, already recorded in 1575, was then situated near St Leonard's church. [156] The Vicar General Ant. Tholossenti in 1658 closed it to public worship. [157]

B. ALTARS AND FEASTS

GARGUR

N I

A Nativity altar, already in existence in 1608 at St Bartholomew's church, [158] eventually also inserted in the new parish church when this was built. [159] A. sodality in honour of St Anne was founded on this altar on the 14th July 1688. [160]

LIA

N II

When the new parish church of Lia was reaching completion, the Prior of the Conventual Church Fra Pietro Viany presented to this church a picture of Our Lady which was commonly known as `della Vittoria'. This picture originally stood at the church of Our Lady of Victories in Valletta. By 1723 this picture was placed on the Rosary altar. Fifteen years afterwards a bequest provided for celebrating the feast of the Nativity in front of this picture. [161]

LUQA

N III

A Nativity altar, already existing in St Andrew's church in 1594, [162] was dismantled in 1636. [163] Ten years afterwards its burthens were incorporated to the altar of Our Lady of Graces. [164]

NAXXAR

N IV

An altar in the parish church, previously dedicated to the Assumption, sometime before 1598 changed its titular to honour the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin. [165] When in 1608, the confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament which till then was in charge of this altar transferred itself elsewhere, Biagio Bezzina offered to take this altar under his care changing its titular to Our Lady of Graces. This request was granted. [166]

SAFI

N V

In 1600, there was a Nativity altar on the right hand side of the main one in the parish church. [167] Mariano Mama provided a bequest on its behalf. [168] At times, this altar was also described as dedicated to Our Lady of Graces. [169] It was also incorporated in the new parish church after its building. [170]

N VI

The Monserarto altar, founded by Cleric M.A. Camilleri, [171] on various [p.49] occasions is referred to as a Nativity altar. [172]

VITTORIOSA

N VII

This altar was founded at St Lawrence parish church by Orlando Hebeyer and endowed in 1593 by Biagio Zirinzo. [173] But as its patrons were reluctant to contribute towards the expenses involved in enlarging the parish church, this altar was demolished in 1602 and its site allotted for the building of a new chapel given to other persons. Its altar piece however was retained hanging in the parish church. [174]

ŻEBBUĠ

N VIII

This altar, at times described also as an Assumption altar [175] was situated in St Sebastian's chapel within the old parish church. [176] When the new one was built, it was allotted a site in the Rosary transept [177] where it remained till the 1730s. This altar was then given to the confraternity of Our Lady of Charity and the Nativity altar was transferred to the main aisle of the same church. [178]

ŻEJTUN

N IX

Giovanni Xuereb, sometime before 1618, founded the Nativity feast at the Assumption church. [179] In 1708, a Nativity altar was erected in the right hand transept of the new parish church. [180]

ŻURRIEQ

N X

A Nativity altar, within the old parish church mentioned in 1585, [181] was demolished after 1618. [182]

N XI

A similar altar included in the 1608 records [183] underwent the same fate. [184] The Archdeacon Alberto Bonnici founded a Nativity feast at Żurrieq as stated in the records of Notary Gio. Luca Gauci dated 4th May 1594. [185] This feast used to be celebrated on this altar till 1618 when it was incorporated to the altar of Our Lady of Graces. [186] Incidentally this altar was rededicated to St Roche when the new parish church was built. The feast of the Nativity continued to be celebrated on this altar. [187]

[p.50] MALTA – THE NATIVITY OF OUR LADY

The information presented covers the subject till the end of the 18th century.
Every number, shown next to a locality, indicates the presence of a church, an altar or a feast in that area.
These numbers are references to more details given in the respective section of the text.
ARABIC NUMBERS, e.g. 5, indicate churches that retained their titular and remained open to worship till the end of the 18th century.
UNDERLINED NUMBERS, indicate items that had ceased to be in liturgical use, or that had changed their titular.

 



[1] F.G. Holweck, Fasti Mariani, 209-210; Mario Righetti, Storia Liturgica, II 263; E. Campana, Maria nel o Cattolico, I, 259-278; A.I. Schuster, Liber Sacramentorum, VII, 75-80.

[2] Confer No N 46.

[3] ACM, Ms. 2, p. 57-58. The confraternity established at Borgo, in 1445, was authorised to celebrate all Marian feasts except the 'Candelora'.

[4] A Viceregal enactment, dated 7th July 1507, sanctioned this authorisation (ACM, Ms. 27, p. 221).

[5] This order, given on the 13th June 1517, required the presence of three priests for the celebration of the Corpus Christi feast at the Castle's church (ACM, Ms. 2, p. 151).

[6] Confer: Ant. Zammit Gabarretta, "The Order of St John and the Devotion to Blessed Virgin Mary" in this same publication, passim.

[7] AAM, VP 1579-1608, 40r-v.

[8] AAM, VA 1575C, 245v.

[9] Idem; VP 1758-60 I, 140r.

[10] AAM, VP 1685-1687B, 10v.

[11] Canon Ludovico Famucelli, Assessor of the Holy Office in Malta provided this picture (AAM, VP 1692-98, 8r).

[12] AAM, VP 1758-60 I, 140r-v.

[13] Confer Nos N 3, 5-10, 14-18, 20, 23, 27-33, 35, 36, 38, 39, 43, 46, 47.

[14] Confer Nos N 23, 30, 35, 36.

[15] Confer No N 27.

[16] Confer Nos N 1, 2, 4, 11, 13, 19, 21, 22, 24, 25, 26, 34, 37, 40-42, 44, 45.

[17] Confer Nos N 2, 12, 19, 22, 24-26.

[18] Confer No N 19; AAM, VA 1575C, 162v.

[19] ACM, Deliberationes Capitulares I, 201r.

[20] AAM, VP 1579-1608, 348r-v; VP 1615-16, 369r,

[21] Confer Nos N 24, 25.

[22] Confer No N 22.

[23] Confer No N 2.

[24] Confer No N 24.

[25] Confer No 26.

[26] Confer Nos N 2, 3, 8, 10, 12, 17, 19, 20, 23-28, 31, 32, 34, 35, 39, 45.

[27] Confer Nos N 5, 18, 21, 22, 28, 45.

[28] Confer Nos N 2, 12.

[29] Confer Nos N 1, 4, 13, 34, 40.

[30] Confer Nos N 1, 4, 6, 7, 9, 11, 13-16, 30, 31, 33, 36, 37, 39, 41-44, 47.

[31] Confer: B'Kara, Nos N 2, 3; Gudja, Nos N 8, 10; Lia, No N 12; Mellieħa, Nos N 19, 20; Naxxar, Nos N 23, 24, 25; Qormi, No N 26; Qrendi, No N 27; Rabat, Nos N 31, 32, 34, 35; Senglea, No N 39; Vittoriosa, No N 45. There were also the following altars, namely: Gargur, No N I; Lia, No N II; Safi, No N VI; Żebbug, No N VIII; Żejtun, No N IX; Żurrieq, No N XI.

[1] AAM, VP 1588-1602, 370r-v. Dun Ġwann Dimech, "Il-Knejjes iż-Żgħar – Natività" in Ħal Balzan, 3 (1972), 1-2.

[2] AAM, VP 1656-59, 199r.

[3] Confer No As. 9; AAM, VP 1644‑46, 212v.

[4] Idem; AAM, VP 1656-59, 164v‑165r.

[5] AAM, VP 1656-59, 164v; VP 1671‑74, 342v; VP 1736-40, p. 523; VP 1744-51, 651v.

[6] AAM, VP 1678-80, 388v-389r; VP 1736-40, pp. 523-524; VP 1781, 263r-v.

[7] AAM, Suppliche 9 (1762-1776 II), 1175r-v; VP 1781, 263r-v; VP 1783‑84, 110r-v.

[8] E.B. Vella, Storja ta' Birkirkara bil-Kolleġġjata Tagħha, Malta 1934, 397-404.

[9] Idem; Anastasio Caruana OC, Is‑ Santwariu u x-Xbieha Nkurunata ta' Marija SS. Tal-Ħerba, Malta 1940; Gius. Dimech Debono, "Tal‑Ħerba Sanctuary at Birkirkara" in General Guide and Commercial Directory of Malta and Gozo 1939‑40, 397-402; Gius. Dimech Debono, "Il-Madonna u s-Santwarju Tal-Ħerba" in Pronostku Malti 1960, 19-27.

[10] AAM, VA 1575C, 43v.

[11] AAM, VP 1588-1602, 361v-362r.

[12] AAM, VP 1618, 41v.

[13] AAM, VP 1635-37B, 217v-218r; VP 1644-46, 214v.

[14] AAM, VP 1656-59, 165r.

[15] AAM, VP 1736-40, pp. 524-525.

[16] AAM, VP 1588-1602, 363v-364r; VP 1618, 46r.

[17] AAM, VP 1656-59, 167v.

[18] AAM, VP 1758-60 II, 35r-v.

[19] AAM, VP 1588-1602, 414r-v.

[20] AAM, VP 1714-20, 364r.

[21] AAM, VP 1634, 130v.

[22] AAM, VP 1656-59, 221v-222r.

[23] AAM, VP 1667-68, 250r.

[24] AAM, VA 1575C, 82v.

[25] AAM, VP 1615-16, 159v.

[26] AAM, VP 1692-98, 164v.

[27] AAM, VA 15750, 93v.

[28] AAM, VP 1656-59, 68r.

[29] AAM, VA 1575C, 87r-v.

[30] AAM, VP 1781, 545v-546r. These records refer to a deed stipulated in the acts of Notary Matteo Bonnici on the 18th July 1626.

[31] AAM, VP 1758-60 II, 432v-433r; VP 1771-74/77, 482v.

[32] AAM, VA 1575C, 87r; VP 1618, 117v.

[33] AAM, VP 1656-59, 69r.

[34] AAM, VP 1579-1608, 252v.

[35] Confer "Our Lady of Loreto" in Section II, F.

[36] AAM, VP 1588-1602, 290r-v.

[37] AAM, VP 1656-59, 210v.

[38] AAM, Suppliche 5 (1741-61), 662v.

[39] AAM, VP 1656-59, 210v.

[40] AAM, VP 1665-66, 125r-v. Confer also No As. 27.

[41] AAM, VP 1744-51, 669r-v; VP 1758-60 I, 564v.

[42] AAM, VP 1588-1602, 346r.

[43] AAM, VP 1758-60 I1, 567r.

[44] AAM, VA 1575C, 51v-52r.

[45] AAM, VP 1692-98, 269v.

[46] AAM, VP 1758-60 I, 567r-568r.

[47] AAM, VA 1575C. 86r-v.

[48] AAM, VP 1579-1608. 245r-v.

[49] AAM. VP 1656-5.9. 77r. Confer also: Dun Gius. Micallef, Ħal Luaa, Niesha a Ġrajjietha, Malta 975, 85.

[50] AAM, VA 1.57.5C. 159r-v.

[51] AAM, VP 1656-59. 76r.

[52] AAM, VP 1771-74/77, 496v.

[53] AAM, VP 1575 (Rojas). 33v-34r.

[54] AAM, VP 1579-1608, 297r-v.

[55] AAM, VP 1758-60 I, 336v.

[56] AAM, VP 1685-87B, 17r.

[57] AAM, VP 1758-60 I, 337r; VP 1771‑74/77, 13r-v.

[58] Gio. F. Abela Della Descrittione di Malta, 316.

[59] "Annunciatione della Mellecha": AAM, VA 1575C, 162v.

[60] ACM, Deliberationes Capitulares I, 201r.

[61] ACM, Ms. 167, p. 981.

[62] AAM, VP 1579-1608. 348r.

[63] AAM, VP 1634, 169v; VP 1644-46, 289r-290v.

[64] NLM, Ms. 790, 28r-30v.

[65] AAM, VP 1634, 170r.

[66] AAM, VP 1751-56, 555r-v, 558r.

[67] Apostolic Letters dated 1st February 1840, duly executed in Malta on the 10th March 1841, re-established Mellieħa as a parish (AAM, Parrocci IX, "Super Dismembratione et respective Erectione Parrocchiae regionis Mellieha", 2r-8v). For further reading confer also: Rafel Bonnici Cali, Il-Madonna tal-Mellieħa. Malta 1946; Carlo Cortis, Il Santuario e la Madonna della Mellieha, Malta 1921; (Arnaldo Fabriani), "La Grotta della Melleha" in Aldo Farini, Fiabe, Tradizioni e Leggende Maltesi, II, Malta 1936, 7-9.

[68] AAM, VA 1575C, 159r-v.

[69] AAM, VP 1678-80, 59v-60r.

[70] AAM, VP 1736-40, pp. 252-253.

[71] AAM, VP 1771-74/77, 145v,

[72] AAM, VP 1634, 167v.

[73] AAM, VP 1736-40, D. 263; VP 1722‑23, 439v-440r. Confer No S/IC 4.

[74] AAM. VA 1575C, 36v. Confer No As. 37.

[75] AAM, VP 1579-1608, 356v.

[76] Confer No Vis. 5.

[77] Gio. F. Abela, op. cit., 315.

[78] AAM, VA 1575C, 281r; VP 1579-1608, 22r; VP 1588-1602, 19v-20v; VP 1635-37B, 141r.

[79] AAM, VA 1575C, 245v; VP 1758-60 I, 140r.

[80] AAM, VP 1736-1740, 182r-v; Atti Civili XCI (1729-30), 158v-160v. A. Ferres, op. cit., 335-340.

[81] AAM. VP 1634, 159v; VP 1758-60 II, 223r.

[82] AAM, VA 1575C, 29r-v; VP 1588‑1602, 23v. Confer No As. 44.

[83] AAM, VP 1579-1608, 145r-v.

[84] AAM, VP 1634, 156v.

[85] AAM, VP 1635-37B, 140r-v; VP 1644-46, 40r.

[86] AAM, VA 1575C, 33r. Confer No As. 41.

[87] AAM, VP 1588-1602, 25v.

[88] AAM, VP 1634, 159v; VP 1758-60 90r-v.

[89] AAM, VP 1615-16, 144v-145r; VP 1618, 158v; VP 1621-31, 323v-324r.

[90] AAM, VA 1575C, 79v. Confer No As. 52.

[91] AAM, VP 1588-1602, 44v.

[92] AAM, VP 1635-37B, 58v-59r. Giovanni Bigeni provided this be-quest detailed in the records of Notary Gio. D.co Pace on the 8th April 1638. He also stipulated another deed in front of Qormi’s parish Priest on the 28th October 1634 (AAM, VP 1685-87B, 326r‑327r).

[93] AAM, VP 1656-59, 50v.

[94] AAM, VP 1685-87, 50v.

[95] AAM, VP 1736-40, pp. 374-375.

[96] AAM, VA 1575C, 102r-v.

[97] Confer No As. 55.

[98] AAM, VP 1588-1602, 189r; VP 1579-1608, 384r; VP 1758-60 II, 365v-366r.

[99] AAM, VA 1575C, 103r.

[100] AAM, VP 1635-37B, 120r-v. In 1630 and 1634, the altar piece of this church is described as representing Our Lady of Graces (AAM, VP 1621-31, 436r; VP 1634, 82v).

[101] AAM, VP 1656-59, 114v.

[102] Idem; VP 1665-66, 241Ar-242r; VP 1667-68, 489r-v.

[103] AAM, VP 1667-68, 489r-v; VP 1685-87B, 221r-v.

[104] AAM, VP 1758-60 II, 366r-v; VP 1771-74/77, 451r; VP 1781, 459r-460r.

[105] AAM, AV 1575C, 147r-v. It is also mentioned in the records of Bishop Rull's Pastoral Visit (AAM, VP 1758-60 I, 492v-493r).

[106] A.A. Caruana, Ancient and Christian Cemeteries in the Islands of Malta, Malta 1898, plate 11 facing p. 125.

[107] AAM, VA 15750, 24r; VP 1579-1608, 135r-v; VP 1615-16, 103r.

[108] AAM, VP 1656-59, 30v.

[109] AAM, VP 1758-60 I, 431v, 487r-v.

[110] AAM, VP 1671-74, 204v.

[111] AAM, VP 1635-37B, 38r.

[112] AAM, VA 1575C, 144r.

[113] AAM, VP 1635-37B, 37r-38r; VP 1662-63, 34r; VP 1665-66, 16r.

[114] AAM, VP 1635-37B, 37r.

[115] AAM, VA 1575C, 146r.

[116] AAM, Benefizi, Vol. 1628-36, No 1; Vol. 1691-93, No 8; AAM, Reveli 1615, 76r-v.

[117] AAM, VP 1635-37B, 48r.

[118] AAM, VP 1656-59, 24r; VP 1758-60 I, 495r-v.

[119] AAM, VP 1615-16, 108r.

[120] AAM, Benefizi, Vol. 1619-1627, 424r; VP 1758-60 II, 441r-444r.

[121] Gio. F. Abela, op. cit., 314.

[122] AAM, VP 1644-46, 30v.

[123] A. Ferres states that Canon Ginesio Aquilina rebuilt this church in 1758 (op. cit., 124). There is, however, no reference to any such work in the records of the Pastoral Visit at that time.

[124] AAM, VA 1575C, 145v.

[125] AAM, VP 1615-16, 122r; VP 1656-59, 26r.

[126] AAM, VP 1635-37B, 43r-v.

[127] AAM, VP 1615-16, 122v.

[128] AAM, Benefizi, Vol. 1822, No 1; VP 1771-74/77, 74v-75r.

[129] AAM, VP 1656-59, 25r.

[130] AAM, VA 1575C, 90r.

[131] AAM, VP 1656-59, 107r.

[132] AAM, VP 1771-74/77, 673r.

[133] AAM, VP 1579-1608, 40r-v.

[134] Ibid., 473v; VP 1621-31, 29v; VP 1656-59, 35v.

[135] AAM, VP 1653-54, 77v.

[136] AAM, VP 1685-87B, 98v. Aless. Bonnici OFM Conv., L-Isla fi Ġrajjiet il-Bażilika Santwarju ta' Marija Bambina, I, Malta 1981, passim.

[137] AAM, VP 1771-74/77, 312r.

[138] (A. Fabriani), "La Nave di Maria Bambina" in Aldo Farini, Fiabe, Tradizioni e Leggende Maltesi, I, Malta 1934, 300-318. A Ferres, op. cit., 246-253.

[139] AAM, VP 1615-16, 198r.

[140] AAM, VP 1667-68, 429v.

[141] AAM, VP 1656-59, I 26r-v.

[142] AAM, VP 1621-31, 58v-59r; VP 1653-54, 170r.

[143] AAM, VP 1588-1602, 234v-235r.

[144] AAM, VP 1653-54, 174Av.

[145] AAM, VP 1615-16, 202v.

[146] AAM, VP 1656-59, 131v.

[147] AAM, VP 1621-31, 55v.

[148] AAM, VP 1781, 419r-v. Confer No An. 28.

[149] AAM, VP 1802, 86v.

[150] Vincenzo Laurenza, "Malta nei documenti Angioini del R. Archivio di Napoli" in Archivio Storico di Malta, V, Rome 1934, 132-136.

[151] ACM, Ms. 2, pp. 57-58.

[152] Ibid., p. 151.

[153] AAM, VP 1621-31, 15v-16r.

[154] AAM, VP 1671-74, 154r.

[155] AAM, VP 1758-60 II, 56v-57r. Confer also Canon J.M. Farrugia, "L-Eqdem Knisja ta' Malta" in Il-Ħabib, 8/6/1520.

[156] AAM, VA 1575C, 104r.

[157] AAM, VP 1656-59, 100r.

[158] AAM, VP 1579-1608, 360r.

[159] AAM, VP 1644-46, 66r.

[160] AAM, VP 1744-51, 129v-130r.

[161] Vinc. Borg, ll-Knisja Parrokkjali ta' Ħal Lija, Malta 1982, 42-43.

[162] AAM, VP 1579-1608, 243v.

[163] AAM, VP 1635-378, 92r-v.

[164] AAM, VP 1644-46, 60r-v.

[165] AAM, VP 1588-1602, 331r.

[166] AAM, VP 157.;-1608, 351r-v; VP 1615-16, 240v-241r; VP 1618, 155r; VP 1736-40, pp. 905-906.

[167] AAM, VP 1588-1602, 187r.

[168] AAM, VP 1615-16, 240v-241r.

[169] AAM, VP 1621-31, 78r, 510r; VP 1736-40, pp. 905-906; VP 1751-56, 314v.

[170] AAM, VP 1728-29, 481v; VP 1758‑60 II, 414r; VP 1781, 456v.

[171] Confer "The Monserrato Madonna" in Section II, B.

[172] AAM, VP 1621-31, 429r; VP 1634, 78r; VP 1656-59, 106v; VP 1736-40, p. 904; VP 1751-56, 313v.

[173] AAM, VP 1588-1602, 382v-383r.

[174] Idem.

[175] AAM, VA 1575C, 65r.

[176] AAM, VP 1579-1608, 413r-v; VP 1588-1602, 233r-v.

[177] AAM, VP 1653-54, 196v.

[178] AAM, VP 1736-40, pp. 413-414.

[179] AAM. VP 1618, 138v; VP 1699-1700 ab Alia, 157v.

[180] AAM, VP 1708-10, 412v.

[181] AAM, VP 1579-1608, 25v, 186v, 376v.

[182] AAM, VP 161S, 85v.

[183] AAM, VP 1579-1608, 377v; VP 1615-16, 170r.

[184] AAM, VP 1618, 85v.

[185] Confer Note 183. The records of the 1679 Pastoral Visit give a wrong name for this Archdeacon, stating that the benefactor of this altar was Don Salvatore Gusman (AAM, VP 1678-80, 185v), which is however incorrect, since Gusman obtained the Archdeaconship of our Cathedral Chapter in 1613 (ACM, Deliberationes Capitulares I, 431r-v). Also, AAM, VP 1634, 68v-69r; VP 1635-37B, 125r; VP 1644-46, 119v-120r.

[186] AAM, VP 1653-54, 225v-226r.

[187] AAM, VP 1678-80, 185v; VP 1758-60 II, 387v; VP 1777-74/77, 643v-644r.