[p.77] THE PURIFICATION OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN

The early origins of this feast go beyond the last decades of the 4th century. It was already celebrated at Jerusalem in 383 venerating thereby the first entrance of Jesus in the temple and his reception therein by Simon and Anna. After 542 it was also celebrated with great solemnity at Constantinople in the Virgin's `Blachernis' shrine, the emperor and his court used to take part in these celebrations. Among the Greeks it is known as the Hypapanten feast or Occursus Domini. Here, Christ is at the centre of this liturgical feast. In the West this feast has received a Marian outlook. Though some are inclined to hold that it was already introduced during the days of Pope Gelasius (493-496), this theory is quite difficult to sustain. It is quite probable that it was introduced in Rome during the second half of the 6th century from where it passed on to other western countries. Pope Sergius I (687-701) decreed the holding of a procession on this day. This procession left St Hadrian's church and proceeded to St Mary Major in Rome on this feast as well as on certain other Marian feasts. Incidentally in some old Roman martyrologies the Greek word Hypapante was also used, e.g. "Purificatio B.M. Virginis et Hypapante Domini Nestri", indicating both the Marain as well as the Christological meaning of this feast.

One particular characteristic of this feast is the use of lighted candles — hence Candlemas — which are used during the procession that precedes mass on this day. Some scholars have tried to detect here a custom which prevailed in the West to supplant certain pagan traditions related particularly to the hypercalia.[1]

In Malta, whenever a bequest providing for the feasts of Our Lady was presented for ecclesiastical approval, the 'Candelora' was always included. In the sixteenth century these feasts were normally five, namely Assumption, Nativity, Purification Annunciation and Visitation.'[2]

The earliest documented evidence, however, regarding this feast in Malta is connected with the old Nativity church at Castellum Maris or Castle St Angelo. When Bishop Senatore de Mello approved the erection of a confraternity in the church of `Santa Maria del Borgo' on the 20th May 1445, its members were there and then duly authorised to celebrate all Marian feasts excluding the 'Candelora'. This feast was to be exclusively celebrated in the above mentioned church within the Castle.[3]

Moreover the altar piece of this same church was held in great veneration.[4] Particularly on account of an incident which took place just on the eve of the 1565 Great Siege of Malta. Rumours spread then throughout the island that this wooden altar piece of Our Lady was seen to sweat. This picture eventually was brought over to the Annunciation church at Vittoriosa where since 1538 a confraternity dedicated to the Purification of Our Lady had been founded. On the 8th September a procession with this venerated picture used to take place in Vittoriosa.[5]

[p.78] Away from Borgo, during the 16th century, there were another two 'Candelora' churches, one at Rabat[6] and another at Żebbuġ.[7] While the former, though seriously weathered with the passing of time, managed to survive, the latter's death knell was sounded during the middle of the 17th century.

Apart from these two churches, the 16th century witnessed also the setting up of at least another three altars dedicated to the Purification, namely at Rabat,[8] Żebbuġ,[9] and Żejtun,[10] all of which had ceased to function before 1660. Among other altars founded after the beginning of the 17th century, six in all,[11] the more fortunate among them was the Qormi altar. The confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament, which was in charge of the altar, was keen to look after all its needs and maintained it functioning till our own days.[12]

At Senglea, the 'Candelora' devotion had a remarkable development. This was due to the erection in this Parish of a Marian congregation. The Jesuit Fathers during the first decade of the 17th century had already established two such congregations at their college in Valletta.[13] From here in 1604, through the initiative of Fr Sebastian Salelles SJ, they passed over to Vittoriosa where he founded another congregation.[14] Some of its members passed on to Senglea and used to meet in the church of St Julian. Their number increased considerably on which account it was decided to transfer this congregation to a small chapel dedicated to St Roque which stood near the parish church itself. This transfer took place on the 8th September 1622 and a solemn procession took place on that day. Fr Sebastian Salelles founded this congregation which was dedicated to the 'Candelora' Madonna.

Sometime about 1652 the members of this congregation built their own oratory on the left hand side of the same parish church, where they used to meet each Sunday under the guidance of a Jesuit father.[15] The Jesuits continued to take care of this congregation till the beginning of the 18th century when it became impossible for them to continue to cater for its spiritual welfare. Hence a diocesan priest, Fr Sisto Cap, was elected spiritual director by the members of this congregation and approved by the local Ordinary.[16] Later they rebulit their oratory which was completed by 1759.[17] This Marian congregation commonly known as tal-Gandlora continued to exercise considerable influence in the pastoral life of Senglea.

The scarcity of churches and altars dedicated to this Marian devotion was largely compensated by the way how this liturgical feast was celebrated in all Malta's parishes, where each family was deeply involved in this feast. Candles blessed on this occasion reached each individual household. A special ceremony used to be held when such candles were presented to the Head of the State or his representative as well as to the Bishop and the Inquisitor.

[p.79] THE PURIFICATION OF OUR LADY
A. CHURCHES AND CHAPELS

RABAT

Pur. 1

Santa Marija ta' Xewxija In 1575, the family of Gioanello Calavā celebrated its feast.[1] This church, situated at the very end of the Bishop's estate on the way to Dingli, was provided with an ecclesiastical living by Euzonia Falson Calava recorded by Notary Mario Mallia on the 27th August 1591.[2] Although an old structure already in 1636,[3] this church remained functioning throughout both the 17th and the 18th centuries.[4]

SENGLEA

Pur. 2

This oratory on the left hand side of the parish church was built before 1653 by the Marian congregation of Senglea, which was founded before 1622. Here they used to celebrate both the seven Marian feasts as well as the Forty Hours Adoration apart from their weekly meetings.[5] This oratory was rebuilt about 1758. Four pictures representing the Conception, Presentation, Annunciation and Assumption of the Blessed Virgin were placed on its sides.[6]

ŻEBBUĠ

Pur. 3

At Ħal Dwin Nicholas Galea endowed this church and in 1575 looked after its needs.[7] On its feast day, the parish priest, clergy and people of Zebbug used to go in procession to this church, where mass was celebrated.[8 When it was closed to public worship, its altar piece was transferred to the parish church where it was hanging in 1672.[9]

B. ALTARS AND FEASTS

CASTELLUM MARIS or CASTLE ST ANGELO (BORGO)

Pur. I

The `Candelora' feast was exclusively celebrated at the chapel of the Castellum Maris during the 15th century.[10] While a confraternity in her honour was later, namely in 1538, established at the Annunciation church in Borgo.[11]

GUDJA/BIRMIFTUĦ

Pur. II

A mass was celebrated on the feast of the Purification at the parish church of Gudja. This was transferred from an Assumption chapel which originally stood near [p.80] the main entrance of Birmiftuh church[12]

MOSTA

Pur. III

Giovanni Mangion bequeathed a donation recorded by Notary Gio. Paolo Fenech on the 28th December 1655 for the celebration of this feast at the church of St Paul the Hermit at Wied il-Għasel.[13] An altar in her honour was set up,[14] but this feast was later celebrated on the altar dedicated to Our Lady of Graces.[15]

NAXXAR

Pur, IV

An altar in the old parish church which till 1608 was dedicated to the Nativity of Our Lady, at the request of Blaise Bezzina was rededicated to Our Lady of Graces.[16] He provided a bequest for its maintenance recorded in the acts of Notary Gio. Domenico Debono on the 23rd September 1609 and the 26th March 1611.[17] However, for a considerable number of years it was commonly styled as a `Candelora' altar.[18] From 1636 onwards, preference was given to St Francis of Assisi, although the 2nd February feast continued to be celebrated thereon.[19]

QORMI

Pur. V

When the new parish church of Qormi was nearing its completion, the confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament was assigned this altar which appeared for the first time during the Pastoral Visit of 1601.[20] When this church was readjusted on a Latin cross plan, this altar was placed in one of its transepts,[21] and in 1658 was already adorned with stone sculptured decoration.[22] During the second half of the 18th century a procession was also held on its feast day.[23]

RABAT

Pur. VI

This altar was founded before 1594 by Giovanni Cuschieri,[24] who also endowed it with an ecclesiastical living recorded by Notary Lorenzo Zarb on the 7th October 1585 and Notary Simon Galea on the 16th July 1593.[25] From 1618, this altar was rededicated to Our Lady of Graces.[26] Later, in 1730, the Immaculate Conception was assigned this same altar.[27]

SIĠĠIEWI

Pur. VII

Paolo Dingli founded this altar before 1615 at the old parish church.[28] In 1653 it was rededicated to St Anthony of Padua.[29] Eventually, St Roque was also included here.[30]

[p.81] ŻEBBUĠ

Par. VIII

This altar in the old parish church was founded by Michael Dimech before 1575,[31] and had to be demolished as decreed by Bishop Gargallo in 1588.[32] But it continued to function till 1621.[33] It was not allocated any site in the new parish church.[34]

ŻEJTUN

Pur. IX

In 1588, there was a Purification altar at the church of the Assumption.[35] It was demolished in 1659 and transferred to the main altar of the same church.[36]

Pur. X

This altar at St Gregory's church was recorded for the first time during the Pastoral Visit of 1628.[37] It was however already in existence during Gargallo's bishopric since he had decreed that money collected on St Gregory's feast day was to provide for the maintenance of this altar.[38] Its wooden altar piece representing Our Lady flanked with St Paul and St Catherine,[39] was restored sometime before 1693 by a knight of the Order of St John Fra Pietro Villavincente who carried out this work himself.[40] It is quite probable that this could have been the original altar piece of St Gregory's church. In 1709 it was transferred to the new parish church and its feast was incorporated to the Rosary altar.[41]

MALTA - THE PURIFICATION OF OUR LADY (PU)

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, 18-20; Emilio Campana, Maria nel Culto Cattolico I, 285-305; A.I. Schuster, Liber Sacramentorum VI, 205-214; A Garcia Vieyra, "Purification de Maria y oblation del Seņor en el Templo" in Estudios Teologicos y Filosoficos 5 (1963), 7-36.

[2] Records of Notary Placido Abel dated 27th January 1579 (AAM, Reveli 1615, 86v, 200v; Benefizi, Vol. 1645-46, No 8).

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

[4] Confer No N 46.

[5] Mikiel Fsadni OP, Id-Dumnikani fir-Rabat u fil-Birgu sa l-1620, 88‑89.

[6] Confer No Pur. 1.

[7] Confer No Pur. 3.

[8] Confer No Pur. VI.

[9] Confer No Pur. VIII.

[10] Confer No Pur. IX.

[11] Confer Nos Pur. II-V, VII, X.

[12] Confer No Pur. V.

[13] Confer No Pur. 2 and Daniel Glavina, SJ, "Ignatian Devotion to Our Lady and the Jesuits in Malta" in this publication, passim.

[14] Confer No As. 79.

[15] Same as Note 13 and AAM, VP 1653-54, 91r-v.

[16] AAM, Suppliche 3 (1710-1721), 683v-685r; Suppliche 4 (1714-41 I), 799r-v.

[17] AAM, VP 1758-60 II, 97r.

[1] AAM, VA 1575C, 144r-v.

[2] Idem; AAM, Reveli 1615, 209v; VP 1615-16, 116r-v.

[3] AAM, VP 1635-37B, 118r-v.

[4] AAM, VP 1771-74/77, 31r-v; VP 1781, 18r-v.

[5] AAM, VP 1653-54, 91r-v.

[6] AAM, VP 1758-60 II. 97r; VP 1771‑74/77, 318v-319r; VP 1781, 389v‑390r.

[7] AAM, VA 1575C, 69v.

[8] AAM, VP 1588-1602, 239r-v; VP1579-1608, 416r.

[9] AAM, VP 1671-74, 226r.

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

[11] Mikiel Fsadni OF, op. cit., 88-89; A. Vella OP, "Il-Madonna tal-Kandlora miqjuma fil-Lunzjata tal-Birgu" in Ir-Rużarju, Vol. II No 33, 7-12.

[12] AAM, VP 1758-60 II, 437v.

[13] AAM, VP 1678-80, 56v.

[14] AAM, VP 1667-68, 757r.

[15] AAM, VP 1771-74/77. 149v.

[16] AAM, VP 1579-1608, 351r-v.

[17] AAM, VP 1621-31, 317r.

[18] AAM, VP 1615-16, 141v; VP 1618, 154v; VP 1621-31, 317r; VP 1634, 157r-v.

[19] AAM, VP 1635-37B, 140r; VP 1653-54. 120r; VP 1656-59, 187v.

[20] AAM, VP 1588-1602. 335v.

[21] AAM, VP 1653-54, 181v.

[22] AAM, VP 1656-59, 48v.

[23] AAM, VP 1771-74/77, 405r.

[24] AAM, VP 1579-1608, 126r-v.

[25] AAM, VP 1615-16, 20r-v.

[26] AAM, VP 1618, 181v; VP 1635-37B, 30v; VP 1644-46, 18r-v; VP 1653-54, 24v-25r.

[27] AAM, VP 1758-60 I. 351r-352v. Confer No S/IC XXIV.

[28] AAM, VP 1615-16, 196v; VP 1634, 35r.

[29] AAM, VP 1653-54, 176v.

[30] AAM, VP 1671-74, 320r; VP 1678-80, 223v.

[31] AAM, VA 1575C, 66r-v.

[32] AAM, VP 1588-1602, 29r.

[33] AAM, VP 1579-1608. 169v-170r, 413v; VP 1615-16, 211r; VP 1618, 200v.

[34] AAM, VP 1621-31, 96r; VP 1634. 88v -89r.

[35] AAM, VP 1588-1602, 58v, 275r.

[36] AAM, VP 1656-5.9, 200v.

[37] AAM, VP 1621-31, 296v.

[38] AAM, VP 1634, 99r.

[39] Idem; VP 1635-37B, 81v-82r; VP 1644-46, 179v.

[40] AAM, VP 1692-98, 181v.

[41] AAM, VP 1728-29, 558r; VP 1744-51, 516r; VP 1758-60 II, 402v; VP 1758‑60 II, 473r.