[p.82] PRESENTATION OF OUR LADY IN THE TEMPLE

The feast of the Presentation of Our Lady in the Temple of Jerusalem has its origins in the Greek church as early as the 8th century. A constitution of Emperor Emanuel Comnenus included it among the principal feasts of Eastern Christianity. It was introduced in the West during the pontificate of Gregory XI, when Philip de Mezieres, chancellor of the King of Cyprus, in 1372 was appointed also ambassador to the Pope at Avignon. The following year the same feast was celebrated at Paris and Pope Sixtus IV (1471-1484) introduced it in the Roman Liturgical Calendar. Pope St Pius V in 1568 revoked this feast on account of its dependence from an apocryphal source, namely the Protoevangelium of James. However, on the insistence of Philip II, influenced by Fr Francisco Turriano SJ, Pope Sixtus V in 1585 reintroduced it in the Universal Calendar. [1]

From available data, it is all too evident that this feast in Malta had a very poor following. However, it is at the same time interesting to note that before Pope Sixtus V had ordered its celebration throughout the Catholic Church, there was in Malta already, at least, one altar duly erected and endowed in honour of this Marian devotion, namely at Żurrieq parish church. [2] In 1596 two foreigners erected a similar altar at the parish church of Burmula. [3] Both altars however did not last long, the former was dismantled in 1618 and the latter, in 1640, was given to sailors and boatmen to honour thereon their patron, Saint Christopher. However the Presentation feast continued to be duly commemorated also on this same altar. [4]

During the following two centuries only two similar altars were erected. One of these, at Qormi's parish church, had a life-span of about sixty years from 1679 till 1726. Its end was due to the fact that Bishop Alpheran de Bussan assigned this altar to the veneration of the Immaculate Conception, requested to do so by the parish priest and the people of Qormi. [5] The erection of the other altar coincides almost with the sounding of the death knell of the previous one. It was, if fact, set up sometime about 1735 as a side altar in the church of St Rocque at Attard and was still functioning till the end of the 18th century. [6]

This Marian feast however was also celebrated in another three parishes notwithstanding that no altar in its honour had been erected in any one of them. Thus in the 1680s it was celebrated at Vittoriosa and Gudja, [7] while during the first decade of the 18th century it was also reintroduced at Żurrieq. [8]

The only church whose main altar was, eventually, reserved to honour the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin, is found at Valletta. The church of St Catherine's monastery was originally dedicated to the Assumption. [9] ,

[p.83] Sometime before 1666 a very befitting adaptation took place. Its titular was changed and thenceforth the Presentation of the Virgin was venerated on this altar. This modification seems to have been purposely done in order to stress the thorough self-offering and dedication to God of all the nuns living inside this monastery. These nuns like Our Lady, had consecrated their lives to the Almighty in a very special way.

Thus, by the beginning of the 19th century, apart from few sporadic instances, where the Presentation feast was provided for, there was in Malta just one church and one altar in its honour. To these, one may add also, the presence of various pictures representing this episode in the Blessed Virgin's life, hanging in some other churches. [10]

PRESENTATION OF OUR LADY

CHURCH

VALLETTA

Pr. 1

The Monastery of St Catherine, for nuns living according to the Augustinian rule, had its church originally dedicated to the Assumption. Its altar piece in fact represented Our Lady with St John and St Catherine on each side. [1]

Towards the middle of the 17th century its titular was changed to the Presentation of Our Lady in the temple and a new altar piece was made to this effect. [2] Two side altars were then also added whereon the two saints included in the original altarpiece were thenceforth venerated. [3]

B. ALTARS AND FEASTS

ATTARD

Pr, I

In 1735, Paolo Galea bequeathed a donation for the setting up of an altar at St Rocque's church. St Anne's feast was also to be held on this altar. [4]

COSPICUA

Pr. II

On the 20th August 1596, Andrea la Porta and Pietro Russo from Piombino founded this altar in the parish church. [5] Bishop Balaguer, requested by sailors and boatmen, through a rescript dated 27th July 1639, [6] authorised them [p.84] to celebrate the feast of St Christopher, their patron saint, on this altar. Eventually it was rededicated to this same saint. [7] However a picture of the Presentation of Our Lady was retained on this altar [8] and its feast continued to be celebrated thereon. [9]

GUDJA/BIRMIFTUĦ

Pr. III

During the last decade of the 17th century, Bishop Cocco Palmieri ordered that thenceforth the Presentation feast was to be celebrated at Birmiftuħ old parish church from endowments previously made for the celebration of the Assumption feast. [10]

QORMI

Pr. IV

In 1679, the Presentation of Our Lady substituted Our Lady of the Chain venerated on a side altar in one of the transepts of the parish church. 121] Fr Domenico Falzon provided a bequest for its feast. [12] In 1736, the parish priest requested to have this altar rededicated to the Immaculate Conception. [13] Bishop Alpheran de Bussan acceded to his request on condition that a new altar piece had to be placed thereon while the feast of the Presentation was to continue to be celebrated on the same altar. [14]

VITTORIOSA

Pr. V

The confraternity of the Immaculate Conception, which had been successful to build its own oratory, placed on its altar a painting representing the Presentation of the Virgin. [15] Moreover, from 1685 onwards, they also celebrated this Marian feast. [16]

ŻURRIEQ

Pr. VI

Before 1575, Carlo Formosa founded a Presentation altar at Żurrieq parish church, [17] which was however demolished after 1618 and its feast was transferred to the main altar. [18]

Pr. VII

Fr Gio. M. Zammit, in his last will dated 30th September 1720 and recorded by Notary Marc Antonio Brancato, bequeathed a donation for the celebration of this feast on the Rosary altar of the parish church. [19]

Pr. VIII

Gregorio Falzon provided further endowments for the same feast. This deed was recorded by Notary Domenico Camilleri on the 6th December 1749. It is here specified that in this instance this celebration was to be held on the main altar of the same parish church. [20]

[p.85] MALTA - THE PRESENTATION OF OUR LADY IN THE TEMPLE (PR)

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] Emilio Campana, Maria nel Culto Cattolico I, 242-251; F.G. Holweek, Fasti Mariani, 267-269; Mario Righetti, Storia Liturgica II, 266; A.I. Schuster, Liber Sacramentorum IX, 167-168; A.B. Weiner, Philippe de Mezieres (+1405) Festum Praesentationis Beatae Mariae. Translated from Latin and introduced by an essay on "The Birth of Modern Acting". New Haven, Yale Univ. Press 1958.

[2] Confer No Pr. VI.

[3] Confer No Pr. II.

[4] Idem.

[5] Confer No Pr. IV.

[6] Confer No Pr. I.

[7] Confer Nos Pr. V and III.

[8] Confer Nos Pr. VII and VIII.

[9] Confer No As. 75; AAM, VP 1644‑46, 55r.

[10] Thus there were such pictures: at Birkirkara's parish church near the Rosary altar (AAM, VP 1781, 266r); at Senglea in the 'Candelora Oratory' (AAM, VP 1758-60 II, 97r) as well as on one of the sides of the choir of the parish church (I bid., 96r); in the chapel of Saura's hospital (AAM, VP 1781, 15r); in one of the pendants of the cupula surmounting Our Lady's chapel at the Cathedral (AAM, VP 1758-60 I, 24r-v); and at Żebbug as a side picture near the altar of Our Lady of Charity in the parish church (AAM, VP 1758-60 II, 577r).

[1] AAM, VP 1644-46, 55r.

[2] AAM, VP 1665-66, 41v.

[3] AAM, VP 1781, 85r-v.

[4] AAM, VP 1736-40, p. 314; VP 1758‑60 II, 283v-284r; VP 1771-74/77, 371v-372v; VP 1781, 307r.

[5] AAM, VP 1588-1602, 408v.

[6] AAM, VP 1644-46, 94r.

[7] AAM, VP 1653-54, 99r; VP 1656-59, 214r.

[8] AAM, VP 1728-29, 164r.

[9] AAM, VP 1751-56, 834r-v; VP 1758-60 II, 76r.

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

[11] AAM, VP 1678-80, 257r-v.

[12] AAM, VP 1758-60 II, 551v-552r.

[13] AAM, VP 1736-40, p. 368, p. 398.

[14] AAM, VP 1758-60 II, 551v-552r; VP 1771-74177, 405r; VP 1781, 572v.

[15] AAM, VP 1685-87B, 59v; VP 1692-98, 436v.

[16] AAM, VP 1678-80, 450r; VP 1758-60 II, 53r.

[17] AAM, VA 1575C, 97r; VP 1615-16, 171v-172r.

[18] AAM, VP 1618, 85v.

[19] AAM, 1771-74/77, 662r-v.

[20] AAM, VP 1758-60 II, 400r.