School of Mattia Preti, The Miracle at Cana, Collegiate Church, Vittoriosa*
Joseph A. Vella,
The origins of this form of Marian worship in Malta are traceable to the last decades of the 16th century. Holweck noticed that its feast was held exclusively in the 'Maltese Islands on the fourth Sunday after Pentecost and enjoyed a double major liturgical rank. Abroad however, there were other representations of Our Lady which were also known by the same title.
Vittoriosa is closely linked with the first beginnings of this identification of Our Lady as a perfect expression of christian charity. In 1580, a confraternity bearing this title was founded and two years afterwards received formal papal approval. In 1610 another similar confraternity was founded at St Paul's parish church at Valletta, while in 1615 a third one was established at Senglea's parish church. It is highly evident that these confraternities, whose aim was to carry out social assistance to the needy inspired and imbued with high Christian ideals, came into existence in the more densely populated areas of Malta namely the harbour area. Nevertheless their example exercised its influenced even elsewhere. Thus, at Żejtun a fourth confraternity was founded in one of the churches of this parish during the first decades of the 17th century itself. In 1655 a similar institution was established at nearby Għaxiaq. The sixth and last Charity confraternity came into being, at Żebbuġ. This received formal ecclesiastical approval in1695. The Senglea confraternity in 1715 was amalgamated to the confraternity of the Crucifix which was founded during that same year and its altar was allotted to the new corporate ecclesiastical entity.
This development may have been influenced by the activities of a confraternity which, from the 16th century onwards, had been exercising intensive beneficial influence in Rome itself. This Roman confraternity established at the church of 'San Girolamo della Carita', near Palazzo Farnese, was renowned for its work of Christian charity which was the special characteristic of its members. The confraternities founded in Malta sought and obtained their aggregation to this Roman prototype.
This can easily imply that apart from participating in the indulgences and other prerogatives granted to the Roman Archconfraternity, they could have been inspired in their own foundation by its example and ideals.
These confraternities gave a new meaning to Marian worship in Malta. Mary at the marriage of Cana indicated to them a path to follow whereby to help those who were in need of their assistance for their daily sustenance throughout their life and to provide them with a decent funeral and burial as well to remember them in their prayers after their death.
At Vittoriosa, the altar piece represented the Cana Wedding and the feast of this altar was held on the second Sunday of January when the Gospel of the mass gave the account of that episode. The altar piece at St Paul's church, painted by Filippo Paladini, brought out the figure of Our Lady with the souls of the departed having on each side the founders of the two prominent mendicant orders, St Francis and St Dominic. Moreoverá[p.129] when the confraternity built its own oratory, the altar piece here represented also the miracle at Cana.
Both the confraternity of Valletta and that of Vittoriosa were successful in building an oratory for the particular needs of their members including their weekly religious meetings. At Valletta, they took special care to insert a crypt beneath it, wherein to bury the poor of the city. A door in St Helen's chapel led to this crypt. Incidentally, the Bishop of Malta Fra Lorenzo de Astiria decreed to be buried in this crypt among the poor. This oratory was ready in 1658. At that time the members of this confraternity amounted to one hundred. They used to meet every Sunday and feast of Our Lady for various pious exercises held under the guidance of a Discalced Carmelite Friar.
The Vittoriosa oratory was built few years afterwards. In 1659 Bishop Balaguer authorised the erection of a congregation within this confraternity to look after the spiritual formation of its members. At first these used to meet on each second Sunday of the month at St Sebastian's chapel in St Lawrence parish church, but they needed more space for their meetings. Hence they petitioned the local ecclesiastical authorities for permission to have their own oratory in the cemetery of the same parish church. This request was granted them and this oratory was ready before 1679. Hence they used to meet on each Sunday. Its altar piece was the work of Matta Preti.
The confraternity at Valletta, among the various works of Christian charity which hallmarked its social apostolate, introduced a custom whereby to commemorate in a befitting way Maundy Thursday. This custom may have given birth to the traditional aspect in Malta's Holy Week celebrations, namely the 'Apostles' table'. Sometime before 1634, the members of this confraternity began to organise a dinner for a group of thirteen poor men from Valletta. This dinner was offered on Maundy Thursday after a ceremony during which the officials of the confraternity washed the feet of these persons. Later towards the end of the 17th century each one of these poor men was given a tarý, while a similar number of poor women received each a loaf of bread and other victuals. A further development in this regard is noticeable during the second half of the 18th century. The ceremony of the washing of the feet was carried out by the Archpriest of St Paul's. A new dress was given to each one of the thirteen men, while bread and a sackload of victuals, including wheat, ricotta and similar provisions was handed over to each woman.
There were many other aspects .of charitable assistance which these confraternities, particularly the one at Valletta, carried out. Various individuals afforded the necessary means needed in this form of apostolate among the needy. Indeed, this aspect of Marian worship brought to the limelight a deep involvement in social assistance typical of the due fulfillment of christian dedication and identity.
[p.130] OUR LADY OF CHARITY
ALTARS AND FEASTS
Don Pietro Gatt obtained from Bishop Labini on the 21st June 1781 an authorisation to introduce her worship at Birikirkara by celebrating the feast of Our Lady of Charity on the Rosary altar. Her picture was to be placed on this altar. His brother Don Giuseppe Gatt had left a bequest for the feast of the Holy Name of Our Lady, which bequest was transferred to this one as the worship of the Holy Name had not yet been approved by the Church.1
A confraternity of Charity was founded by 'Episcopal authority on the 17th August 1655 on the altar of Our Lady of Sorrows at the parish church.2
A picture of Our Lady of Charity was placed sometime before 1758 on the side of the main altar of St Sebastian Church at Rabat.3
A chapel in honour of Our Lady of Charity was built and included in the parish church sometime before 1616 and a confraternity was also established. This confraternity was also aggregated to the Roman Archconfraternity.4
When the new parish church was built this altar was also allocated a site within it.5 Its feast was celebrated on the 5th August coinciding with the liturgical feast of Our Lady of the Snow.6 The members of this confraternity carried out various charitable works, including the burying of poor people. When the confraternity of the Holy Crucifix was erected, on the 18th September 1715, the Charity sodality was incorporated with it and its altar was given to the new confraternity through a rescript dated 25th August 1725.7
The erection of the confraternity of Our Lady of Charity at St Paul's church in Valeltta took place on the 2nd December 1610.8 The following year namely on the 26th August 1611 it was aggregated in virtue of papal letters to the Roman Archconfraternity of St Jerome ċdella Carita'. It had then sixteen members Their altar was already adorned with a painting done by Filippo Paladini, representing Our Lady, St Francis and St Dominic as well as the Souls in Purgatory.9 Tombs for the burial of Valletta's poor were included in this chapel.10
Sometime before 1659 this confraternity was successful in building an oratory near St Paul's parish church, its altar piece represented the wedding at Cana. Its members used to have weekly spiritual [p.131] meetings under the guidance of a Discalced Carmelite Friar who used to come from Cospicua each week. They celebrated their feast on the second Sunday in June.11 The four confraternities existing at Valletta used to take part in the solemn procession which included the statue of Our Lady as attested by the records of the Pastoral Records of 1686.12 Various endowments enabled this confraternity to carry out its charitable apostolate and attest the thorough dedication of its members to works of christian charity throughout the 17th and 18th centuries.13
A confraternity of Our Lady of Charity was founded in St Lawrence parish church in 1580 and was duly approved by Bishop Gargallo. A papal brief dated 15th March 1582 granted various indulgences to its members. Its aggregation to the Roman Arch-confraternity of St Jerome 'della Carita' followed almost eighty years afterwards, namely on the 20th October 1660.14 However, in 1615 it was stated that such an aggregation had already taken place.15 Their altar piece represented the marriage of Cana and they celebrated their feast on the second Sunday of January when the liturgy of the mass commemorated this event during the gospel reading.16 Later, on the 30th August 1659 Bishop Balaguer authorised the erection of a congregation within this con-fraternity. Its members used to meet on each Sunday at first in St Sebastian's chapel, later after 1670, they obtained permission to build their own oratory which was ready sometime before 167917 in the cemetery of St Lawrence.
Another confraternity was founded at Żebbuġ by Episcopal decree dated 26th February 1695.18 Its aggregation to the Archconfraternity of St Jerome followed on the 2nd July 1696.19 Its members on each second Sunday of the month used to go through the village streets to collect alms for the poor.20 This confraternity was allocated also an altar in the main aisle of the Parish church which had been previously dedicated to the Transfiguration of Our Lord.21 In 1736 per-mission was obtained to change this altar to another one in the Rosary transept which was more suitable for their needs. This altar was dedicated to the Nativity of Our Lady.22 In the sculpture decoration surrounding this altar they included two stone statues representing the virtues of Hope and Charity.23
[p.132] ŻEJT UN
Another Charity confraternity was founded in the church of the Holy Ghost which had been built and endowed by Giovanni Cassar through an authorisation granted him by Bishop Gargallo on the 10th June 1589. He himself had constructed tombs within this church to bury the poor in them. Cassar was a Franciscan Tertiary24 and led a hermit's life near this church till his death.25 This confraternity was founded here some months before 1623 and in 1628 it was aggregated to the Roman Archconfraternity.26 During its early beginnings, it had normally twelve members.27
MALTA - OUR LADY OF CHARITY (Ch)
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.
* Confer: Antonio Espinosa Rodriguez, "The Miracle at Cana" in Mario Buhagiar (Ed.), Marian Art during the 17th and 18th Centuries, Malta 1983, 39-40.
 F.G. Holweck, Fasti Mariani, 351.
 Confer No Ch. VI.
 Confer No Ch. V.
 Confer No Ch. III.
 Confer No Ch. VIII.
 Confer No Ch. II.
 Confer No Ch. VII.
 Confer No Ch. III.
 Gaetano Moroni, Dizionario di Erudizione Storico-Ecclesiastica, Vol. II, Venice 1840, 301-302.
 AAM. VP 1621-31, 4r; VP 1758-60 II, 47v.
 AAM, VP 1615-16, 334v.
 AAM, VP 1685-87B, 133v.
 AAM, VP 1692-98, 375r, 379r-v; VP 1758-60 II, 117v-118v.
 AAM, VP 1656-59, 226r; VP 1662-63, 390v.
 AAM, VP 1635-37B, 189r-v; VP 1656-59, 226r; VP 1671-74, 11r.
 AAM, VP 1667-68, 146r-v.
 AAM, VP 1678-80, 449v-450v.
 AAM, VP 1692-98, 437r; VP 1708-10, 499v.
 AAM, VP 1722-23, 53v-54r.
 AAM, VP 1634, 139r.
 AAM, VP 1699-1700 ab Alia, 436v-437r.
 AAM, VP 1758-60 II, 117v-118v.
1 AAM, Suppliche 10 (1776-85), 464r‑v; VP 1781, 265v
2 AAM, VP 1667-68.
3 AAM, VP 1758-60.
4 AAM, VP 1615-16.
5 AAM, VP 1665-66, 69r; VP 1667-68, 213r-v.
6 AAM, VP 1685-87B, 102v-103r.
7 AAM, VP 1728-29,119v-120r;VP1758-60 II, 93v-94r.
8 A. Ferres, Descrizione Storica, 162.
9 AAM, VP 1615-16, 334r-v.
10 AAM, VP 1634, 189v.
11 AAM, VP 1656-59, 226r-v.
12 AAM, VP 1685-87B, 133v. The confraternities at Valletta were the following, namely: the Rosary, the Immaculate Conception, the Mount Carmel and St Michael's confraternities.
13 AAM, VP 1699-1700 ab Alia, 436v-437r; VP 1722-23, 156v; VP 1758-60 II, 117v-118v.
14 AAM, VP 1667-68, 146r-v.
15 AAM, VP 1615-16, 277r-v.
16 AAM, VP 1758-60 II, 47v.
17 AAM, VP 1678-80, 449v-450r; VP 1667-68, 146r-v.
18 AAM, Suppliche 2 (1686-1706), 143v-146r.
19 AAM, Suppliche 12 (1786-1808 II), 910r-913v; Suppliche 13 (1808-1816), 10r-13v.
20 AAM, VP 1708-10, 63r-64r.
21 AAM, VP 1699-1700 ab Alia, 58r-v.
22 AAM, VP 1736-40, p. 413.
23 AAM, VP 1744-51, 604r-605r; VP 1758-60 II, 577r.
24 AAM, VP 1588-1602, 276v-277r.
25 AAM, VP 1621-31, 112r; VP 1634, 100v.
26 AAM, VP 1621-31, 301v; VP 1635‑37B, 84r-v; VP 1685-87B, 377r; VP 1771-74/77, 466v.
27 AAM, VP 1621-31, 301v; VP 1634, 100v; VP 1635-37B, 84r-v.