18th Century unknown artist, Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Parish Church, (Sacristy), Balzan*

Photo: Joseph Zahra


The arrival of the Carmelite Friars in Malta after 1418 introduced in the island the worship of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, their patroness, in their priory outside the walls of Mdina, their first residence on Maltese shores. Later, about 1570, the White Fathers moved also to the new city of Valletta, from where in 1611 they were also successful in founding another Carmelite house at Vittoriosa. In less than fifty years afterwards, namely in 1659, the Rabat community transferred itself from its rural neighbourhoods, somewhat far away from Mina, to the old city itself, where a new church and more decent surroundings were eventually provided.[1] On the 30th April 1664 the Vicar Capitular, ,anon D. Attard authorised the foundation of the first confraternity of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in the church of this new priory.[2]

The Discalced Carmelites reached Malta in 1625. With the help they received from Bishop Baldassare Cagliares himself, they managed to settle down at Cospicua. Here they developed one of their international colleges, whose aim was to prepare some of its members to cater for missionary work in the Near East.[3]

The houses of these two Carmelite religious families, formed the central nuclei for the promotion of all form of devotions related to the Mount Carmel Madonna. The celebration of her feast on the 16th July received the approval of Pope Sixtus V in 1587. Immediately afterwards, namely by 1638, 'members of the Diocesan clergy in the Neapolitan kingdom, as well as in some regions of Spain and Sicily, began also to celebrate this feast. Moreover the Sacred Congregation of Rites, at the request of the Queen of Spain, on the 21st November 1674, extended its celebration to all countries under Spanish rule. This same concession was granted in 1679 to the kingdoms of Austria and Portugal.[4]

Malta indeed was somewhat abreast of these developments. In fact in 1616 the first church in honour of the Mount Carmel Madonna within the diocesan jurisdiction was built at Fawwara, in the rural area of Siġġiewi,[5] followed sometime afterwards by a number of similar altars in a group of parishes. The earliest of these altars was erected in 1630 at Żurrieq parish church.[6] At Birkirkara and Siġġiewi itself two altars, previously dedicated to another titular, changed to the Mount Carmel Madonna. Both altars stood in the parish churches of the respective villages. In the former in-[p.148]-stance this change took place in 1646,[7] and in the latter twelve years afterwards.[8] At Naxxar, her veneration goes back, at least, to 1634. The altar piece of St Catherine's altar in the parish church, included, in its upper part, the figure of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, while at a lower level both the titular saint and the Souls in Purgatory were also inserted.[9] In nearby Għargħur, a Mount Carmel altar was erected about 1668.[10]

Meantime the Carmelite church at Vittoriosa was also incorporated to the Maltese diocese. This took place in 1653, when a papal enactment suppressed a certain category of small religious houses throughout the church universal.[11]

Thus by the end of the 17th century there were two churches and a small number of altars in honour of Our Lady of Mount Carmel within diocesan jurisdiction.

This Marian devotion in Malta received further impetus during the eighteenth century. Though no new churches were built during this period, a number of altars, eleven in all[12] as well as the introduction of the Mount Carmel feast in a certain number of parishes[13] are highly noticeable. Moreover three confraternities in her honour were founded, i.e. one at Senglea in 1722,[14] another one at Siġġiewi in 1745[15] and finally the Żurrieq confraternity whose statues were duly approved in 1801.[16]

Though there were only these three confraternities within the diocese, one has to take due account of another human factor which was providential in the spreading of this worship, namely the presence of female members of the Third Lay Carmelite Order in different parishes. During the first decade of the 17th century itself they helped in the setting up of the Carmelite Community at Vittoriosa.[17] At Birkirkara they redecorated the Mount Carmel altar at the old parish church providing it also with a new altar piece which was ready before 1709. Hardly thirty years after-wards, they defrayed the expenditure involved in the building of one of the side chapels in the new parish church, thereby securing its exclusivity for their devotions in honour of their patroness.[18] Their presence was highly noticeable in other Maltese parishes.[19]

This Marian devotion, like the Our Lady of Graces worship, was closely associated with popular devotion to the Souls in Purgatory. The description of one of the earliest altar nieces which included Our Lady of Mount Carmel, i.e. the one at Naxxar in 1634, clearly specifies the presence of these souls within this painting.[20] The same pattern repeated itself in various other altar pieces afterwards. This relationship is all too obvious on account of the special intercession of Our Lady of Mount Carmel on behalf of those who wear the brown scapular and particularly the concessions contained in the renowned Bulla Sabatina. This aspect is all too evident in some of the earliest iconographic representations available in Malta such as the portrait at Mdina's friary, at the parish church of Qrendi, and elsewhere, where the presence of the Brown Scapular is exceedingly stressed upon.

Apart from the Brown Scapular, the worship of the Mount Carmel Madonna introduced in Malta another marian devotion which was, normally promoted abroad, at an earlier date, by the Franciscans, namely the Seven Joys of Our Lady.[21] This devotion in Malta found its expression in special religious services, including the celebration of a mass and a sermon, throughout the seven successive Wednesdays between Easter and Pentecost. This devotion was introduced at Birkirkara during the last decades of the 17th century by Archpriest Gio. Batt. Xicluna when they were already styled as the 'Mercoledí di Udienza'[22] in Maltese still known as 'L-Erbgħat ta' l-Udjenza'. In 1708, the endowment providing for the setting up of the Mount Carmel Altar at Qormi's parish church included also the celebration of a high mass on this altar throughout these seven Wednesdays.[23] This same devotion had already been introduced in the church of Mount Carmel at Vittoriosa.[24] Later during the 18th century, when this devotion was established at Żebbuġ, it was precisely stated that on each Wednesday a sermon, on one of the 'allegrezze' of Our Lady, was to be delivered.[25] It is thus quite evident that the theme of this devotion was the Seven Joys of Our Lady, which in Malta was closely associated to the Mount Carmel Madonna.

The data analysed point out the gradual development of this Marian worship which was introduced in the diocesan churches during the early decades of the 17th century and reached considerable popularity throughout the following century. This popularity is closely linked to Mary's intercession on behalf of souls of the departed who had cherished her patron-age throughout their human existence In certain instances, at least on two occasions, namely at Luqa and Żabbar, this popularity developed around it also certain unusual out door festivities, particularly during the second half of the 18th century.






Car. 1

Fawwara This church was built about 1616 by Girolama Ciantar wife of Martino Vella in a garden known as ta' Ġebel Ċiantar.1 Its administration later passed on to the Confraternity of Our Lady of Charity at Valletta, heirs of the foundress2 which rebuilt this church during the 1750s.3


Car. 2

The Carmelite Fathers, requested by members of their Lay Tertiaries and helped by members of the crews of the Order of St John's galleys, in 1611 built this church at the marina of Vittoriosa. The White Friars stayed here till 1653. On the 1st October 1652 Pope Innocent X published a Constitution known as Instauranda which suppressed a considerable amount of small religious houses. The Carmelite community at Vittoriosa was one of these entities. On the 11th October 1653 its prior, Fr Dionisio Maldonato handed it over to Bishop Balaguer.4 This church was given to the Congregation of the Oratorians of St Philip Neri. In 1671, these were already carrying out restoration work on this site.5 This church was held in high esteem by members of the Order of St John and by the personnel engaged in the Order's galleys, who used to hold here various religious services.6



Car. I

Canon Carlo Cirino, from Catania residing at Attard, was the founder of a Mount Carmel altar at the village's parish church. This altar in 17237 substituted another one previously dedicated to St Bartholomew.8 In 1796 Anna wife pf Surgeon Andrea Garsin provided further endowments for its feast which was held on Sunday following the 16th July.9


Car. II

In 1796 Bishop Labini accepted a deed for the foundation of the Mount Carmel feast at Balzan's parish church. The donator was Giuseppe Grima.10 During the 19th century an altar in honour of the Blessed Virgin of Mount Carmel replaced another one dedicated to the Holy Trinity and the Souls of Purgatory.11


Car. III

Between 1646 and 1679, an altar in the old parish church, previously dedicated to the Immaculate Conception, is described as a Mount Carmel altar.12 Later St Francis of Assisi was venerated on it.13 Sometime before 1709 the female Lay Carmelite Tertiaries undertook its redecoration including a new altar piece representing the Mount Carmel Madonna, St Simon Stock, St Francis of Assisi and St Agatha.14 When St Helena's parish church was being built, they also offered to pay the bill involved in the building of one of its side chapels, which was then allocated for the veneration of their patroness.15


Car. IV

This altar in the parish church was founded sometime before 1668 by Domenico Grech,16 while Angelo Grech in 1675 provided an endowment or its feast.17


Car. V

The Mount Carmel feast was provided for through a bequest made by Francis Dalli in 1713. By 1723 an altar, whose picture together with Our Lady included also St Michael and the Guardian Angel, was already present in the parish church.18


Car. VI

This devotion was already introduced at the old parish church in 1723. A side altar dedicated to St Rocque and St Gregory was adorned with a new altar piece which included also the 'Madonna of Mount Carmel.19 This altar was inserted also in the new baroque church and by 1774 a new altar piece was placed thereon.20


Car. VII

In 1723 St Joseph's altar in the parish church was rededicated to Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Flaminio Galea provided whatever was needed for this modification, including a new altar piece and all the decoration around it.21


In 1771 a picture of this Marian worship was placed on the altar of the Immaculate Conception church.22


Car. IX

A popular feast used to take place at Luqa's main square, notwithstanding that there was no Mount Carmel altar in the parish church. In 1737 her portrait was to be placed on St Dominic's altar23 and in 1768 an endowment for its feast was also provided.24 In 1848 a [p.152] new church in her honour was built.25


Car. X

Carmela Falzon provided a bequest for the celebration of the Mount Carmel feast in the parish church. This bequest was formally accepted by the ecclesiastical authorities on the 25th October 1790.26


Car. XI

Although there was no particular altar in the parish church dedicated to this Marian devotion, the Mount Carmel Madonna was included in the altar piece of St Catherine's church as far back as 1723.27 During the same year, a sub-titular altar piece representing this Madonna stood on the altar honouring the Coronation of Our Lady,28 while in 1729, a similar picture had also been placed on the Visitation altar.29


Car. XII

In 1634 the altar piece on St Catherine's altar in the parish church included in its upper part a painting of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.30 On the 7th March 1798, Bishop Labini decreed the acceptance of a bequest for its feast on the said altar left by Euphemia Xeberras.31



Bishop Cocco Palmieri in a rescript dated 7th July 170832 authorised Giuseppe and Caterina Bonnici to have an altar in the parish church dedicated to the Mount Carmel Madonna. Sufficient endowments had already been provided by them as detailed in the records of Notary Thomas Vella on the 25th February 1708.i= This new altar replaced St Matthew's altar, though a sub-titular picture representing this saint was also retained thereon.33


Car. XIV

According to the records of Notary Raffaele Mifsud dated 7th April 1737, Maria Formosa established the feast of Mount Carmel on the altar dedicated to the Souls in Purgatory at Qrendi's parish church.34 By 1759, a new altar piece representing Our Lady together with St Simon Stock and St Theresa and, at a lower level, the Souls in Purgatory, had been placed on this altar.35


Car. XV

Sometime about 1700, popular devotion established a similar altar at Porto Salvo's church. During the Pastoral Visit of that year, Bishop Cocco Palmieri authorised the Rev Fr Provost of the Oratorian Community in charge of this church to bless this altar.36 In 1719, [p.153] Giorgio Psaila provided an endowment for its feast,37 while on the 2nd November 1722 a confraternity in honour of Our Lady of Mount Carmel was founded on this altar.38

Car. XVI

The same feast was introduced in the parish church later on. Don Pietro Bianchi placed her picture on St Rocque's altar and by 1781 provided for the celebration of its feast on this same altar.39



On the 6th November 1658, Marietta widow of Castaldo Bonello, and her daughter Caterinuzza, were duly authorised to rededicate an altar already existing in the old parish church. St Cecilia had to yield its place to the Mount Carmel Madonna.40 This altar was eventually also transferred to the new parish church.41 A confraternity in her honour was established here on the 7th September 1745.42



When the transept of the parish church was given an elliptical shape, a new altar in honour of the Blessed Virgin of Mount Carmel and the Souls in Purgatory was inserted on the left hand side of the main altar.43 Giovanni Farrugia in his last will, dated 30th March 1719, bequeathed what was needed to defray the expenses involved in painting its altar piece.44 While popular devotion looked after its needs. Its feast was celebrated on Sunday following the 16th July.45


Car. XIX

In 1759 Our Lady of Mount Carmel replaced St Nicholas on a side altar in the parish church. During that year, it is also stated that the confraternity of Mount Carmel provided for the celebration of her feast on this altar.46 It is interesting to note that at Żabbar it was customary, before 1781, to sing the Litany of Our Lady on the eve of the 16th July in front of her statue in the neighbourhoods known as tal-Coccla after which the people used to stay there till night time and a good amount of revelry ensued accompanied with the sound of musical instruments. Bishop Labini decreed the total abolition of this form of feasting 'ad evitanda peccata'.47


Car. XX

Sometime about 1708 a new altar piece was inserted on St Rocque's altar in the parish church portraying the Mount Carmel Ma-Madonna with this saint and St Anthony of Padua.48 Her feast was eventually provided for in 1736. The records of Notary Gio. Domenico Pace, dated 3rd January of that year, registered the bequest made for this purpose by Giuseppe Galea and his two daughters Car-[p.154]-mina and Magdalena.49


Car. XXI

When the new parish church was being built sometime about 1709, popular devotion introduced here the devotion towards Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. The altar on which the Souls in Purgatory were also suffragated was ready by that year.50 Marc Antonio Caruana and his wife Francesca in 1723 endowed it for the celebration of the Mount Carmel feast.51



This altar's foundation is due to Antonio Zammit and was already erected at the parish church of Żurrieq in 1630.52 Three years later, his last will records the bequests he left for its maintenance.53 This altar was also incorporated in the new parish church.54 A Mount Carmel confraternity was established here at a later date and had its statutes approved on the 23rd March 1801.55


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.

* Some have attributed this work to Francesco Zahra (1710-1773), confer Malta Karmelitana, Malta 1951 p.n.n.; Dominic Cutajar, "The Virgin of Mount Carmel" in Mario Buhagiar (Ed.), Marian Art during the 17th and 18th Centuries, Malta 1983, 47.

[1] Valentine Borg Gusman OC, "Marian Devotion in the Maltese Carmelite Province during the 17th and 18th Centuries" in this publication, passim.

[2] AAM, VP 1758-60 I, 122v-123v.

[3] Angelico M. Busuttil OCD, "The Discalced Carmelites — A New Marian Order in Seventeenth Century Malta" in this publication, passim.

[4] F.G. Holweck, Fasti Mariani, 144-145: Emilio Campana, Maria nel Culto Cattolico I, 382-388; Elisee de la Nativite OCD, "La Vierge

Marie dans 1'Ordre du Carmel" in Alma Socia Christi — Acta Congressus Mariologici-Mariani Romae Anno Sancto MCML Celebrati, Vol. IX, Rome 1953, 152-164; Nilo Geagea OCD "Una forma di Culto Mariano del Secolo XIII: la devozione alla Madonna del Carmelo" in De Cultu Mariano Saeculis XII-XV — Acta Congressus Mariologici-Mariani Internationalis Romae anno 1975 Celebrati, Vol. III, Rome 1979, 437-475.

[5] Confer No Car. 1.

[6] Confer No Car. XXII.

[7] Confer No Car. III. It is to be noted, however, that Francesco Habejer, the founder of this altar, in his bequest dated 5th December. 1624 and recorded in the acts of Notary Ferdinando Zarb, had already included the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel (AAM, VP 1644-46, 186r).

[8] Confer No Car. XVII.

[9] Confer No Car. XII.

[10] Confer No Car. IV.

[11] Confer No Car. 2.

[12] Confer Nos Car. I, VI, VII, XIIIXV, XVII-XX.

[13] Confer Nos I, IV, VIII, IX.

[14] Confer No Car. XV.

[15] Confer No Car. XVII.

[16] Confer No Car. XXII.

[17] Valentine Borg Gusman, op. cit.

[18] Confer No Car. III.

[19] A thorough analysis of the sections detailing the names of female Tertiaries belonging to different Religious Orders and living in different parishes in Malta, as recorded in the following Pastoral Visits, gave these interesting data: 1685-87: OP: 30; OC: 23; OFM Conv.: 0; OFM: 0; OFMCap.: 0; OSA: 5; ODC: 0; OFilip: 0; Total 55. 1722-23: OP: 187; OC: 114; OFM Conv.: 0; OFM: 29; OFMCap.: 56; OSA: 23; ODC: 1; OFilip: 4; Total: 414. 1728-29: OP: 39; OC: 27; OFM Conv.: 1; OFM: 15; OFMCap. 15; OSA: 9; ODC: 1; OFilip: 0; Total: 107. 1781: OP: 33; OC: 135; OFMConv.: 6; OFM: 49; OFMCap.: 50; OSA: 17; ODC: 22; OFilip: 0; Total: 312. From these data, one notices immediately a heavy decline after 1722-23. This was due to the fact that Bishop Gori Mancini was very strict and would not allow anyone to wear the habit of a Tertiary unless the individual concerned was able to prove that she had made a regular profession in a specific Religious Order. It is however all too obvious that the Carmelite female tertiaries maintained a leading role throughout the 18th century.

[20] Confer No Car. XII.

[21] Emilio Campana, op. cit., 336 ff.

[22] Maria Gabriele, nephew of the above-mentioned Archpriest of B'Kara, provided a bequest whereby, what had been introduced by her uncle could continue to flourish (AAM, Suppliche 6 (1741-61 I). 205r).

[23] AAM, VP 1708-10, 105v.

[24] Ibid., 500r-v.

[25] AAM, Suppliche 10 (1776-1785), 309r-v.

1 AAM, VP 1618, 190r; VP 1771-74/77, 611v.

2 AAM, VP 1671-74, 333v-334r.

3 AAM VP 1758-60 II, 305v-306r.

4 AAM, VP 1728-29, 90r-v.

5 AAM, VP 1671-74, 152r.

6 AAM, VP 1758-60 II, 53v-55r; VP1771-74/77, 268r-269r.

7 AAM, VP 1722-23, 578r.

8 Records of Notary Gio. M. Felici, 11th November 1719 (AAM. VP1758-60 II, 280v). He also defrayed the expenses involved in the deco-ration of the altar (AAM, Suppliche 5 (1714-41 II), 859r).

9 Records of Notary Ignazio Bona-vita, 12th April 1796 (AAM, Suppliche 11 (1786-1808 I), 506v-508r)

10 Ibid., 498v-499v.

11 Dun Gwann Dimech, "Il-Knisja Parrokkjali (27) - Tal-Karmnu" in Ħal Balzan, 39 (1978), 2-3.

12 AAM, VP 1644-46, 186r; VP 1678‑80. 384r-v.

13 AAM, VP 1685-87B, 615v-616r; VP1692-98, 79r.

14 AAM, VP 1708-10, 302r; VP 1714-20, 570v.

15 AAM, Suppliche 6 (1741-61 I). 129r; VP 1744-51, 640r; VP 1758-60 II, 23r-v.

16 AAM, VP 1667-68, 710r.

17 This bequest was recorded by Notary Matteo Cauchi on the 3rd June 1675 (AAM, VP 1692-98, 244r).

18 AAM, VP 1722-23, 537v.

19 Ibid., 492v; VP 1758-60 II, 445v.

20 AAM, VP 1771-74/77, 473r. In Malta Karmelitana, Malta 1951, p.n.n., this picture is attributed to Francesco Zahra.

21 AAM, Suppliche 4 (1714-41 I), 223v-225c, 242r; Vinc. Borg, Il‑Knisja Parrokkjali ta' Ħal Lija, 36-38.

22 AAM, VP 1771-74/77, 419r-v.

23 AAM, VP 1736-40, p. 966.

24 Dun Gius. Micallef, Ħal Luqa, Niesha u drajjietha, 114.

25 Ibid., 252.

26 AAM, Suppliche 12 (1786-1808 II), 293r-297v.

27 AAM, VP 1722-23, 304r-v; VP 1758-60 II, 350v.

28 AAM, VP 1722-23, 298v; VP 1728-29, 405r.

29 AAM, VP 1728-29, 407r; VP 1744-51, 353v; VP 1781, 474v.

30 AAM, VP 1634. 158r,

31 AAM, VP 1771-74/77, 119v; Suppliche 11, 1786-1808 I), 496v-498r.

32 AAM, Suppliche 2 (1686-1706), 544v-546v; VP 1722-23, 223v.

33 AAM, VP 1758-60 II, 551r; VP 1771‑74/77, 404r.

34 AAM, Suppliche 4 (1714-41 I), 811r; VP 1736-40, p. 931.

35 AAM, VP 1758-60 II, 362v.

36 AAM, VP 1699-1700 ab Alia, 506r-v.

37 AAM, VP 1722-23, 100v.

38 AAM, Suppliche 4 (1714-41 I), 105r; VP 1758-60 II, 99v; VP 1771-74/77, 307v.

39 AAM, VP 1781, 381v.

40 AAM, VP 1656-59, 124v-125r.

41 AAM, VP 1758-60 II, 302r-v.

42 Idem.

43 AAM, VP 1722-23, 522v; Vinc. Borg, Il-Knisja Parrokkjali ta' Ħal Tarxien, 58-60.

44 Tarxien Parish Archives, Liber Conjugatorum II, p.n.n.

45 AAM, VP 1736-60, p. 783.

46 AAM, VP 1758-60 II, 496r.

47 AAM, VP 1781, 520v.

48 AAM, VP 1708-10, 62r; VP 1722-23, 252r.

49 AAM, VP 1744-51, 608r.

50 AAM, VP 1708-10, 373r-v.

51 Records of Notary P. Paolo Saliba, 9th May 1723 (AAM, VP 1722-23, 466v-467r).

52 AAM, VP 1621-31, 422r,

53 Records of Notary Domenico Camilleri, 1st April 1633 (AAM, VP 1634, 124r).

54 AAM, VP 1653-54, 225v.

55 AAM, Suppliche 12 (1786-1808 II), 575r-604v,