Rocco Buhagiar (attr.) Our Lady of Good Counsel (1775c), Church of St Bartholomew, Tarxien


The worship of Our Lady of Good Counsel, venerated at Genezzano, spread itself during the last five centuries in various parts of Western Christianity, This picture of Our Lady holding the Child Jesus had reached Genezzano from Albania on the 25th April 1467, when it appeared all of a sudden in a church dedicated to St Blaise which was under the care of the Augustinian friars. This holy picture was solemnly crowned by the Vatican 'Chapter in 1682. In 1789, Pope Pius VI authorised the above-mentioned Friars to recite her office on the 26th April of each year. This divine office had been approved in 1777. It is commonly held that this picture of Our Lady is second only to the Hodigitria Madonna, on account of the popularity which it enjoyed.[1]

The earliest recorded initiative in the spreading of this Marian devotion in Malta dates back to the 1750s. Marquis Enrico Testaferrata decided to build a church in her honour at Żejtun[2] Incidentally, this was the only church dedicated exclusively to Our Lady of Good 'Counsel in Malta till the end of the 18th century. Another church which was partially dedicated to this Marian title, was provided for in the last will of Fr Bartholmew Mangion in 1759. This church was eventually built at Tarxien a few years afterwards.[3]

When these two churches were built, an important event happened with-in the Maltese branch of the Augustinian Order which could have fomented still further the propagation of this Marian devotion. In 1763, the Sicilian Province of this Order, which included then the Maltese Islands, chose Our Lady of Good 'Counsel as its special protectress.[4] Almost from this time onwards there was a gradual infiltration of her worship in various Maltese parishes. During the Pastoral Visit of 1758-60 her first two pictures appear, one at Floriana[5] and another at Żebbuġ.[6] In twelve years time, namely between 1769 and 1781, another twelve parishes introduced her devotion through similar pictures.[7] While at Qormi, apart from the parish church, the Nativity church had also a Good Counsel Madonna enshrined within in.[8] These pictures were, normally, inserted on side altars as sub-titular altar pieces. This custom prevailed throughout the second half of the 18th century and proved to be an easy solution to bye-pass practical difficulties which could have had to be faced if re-dedication of side altars were to be involved. By that time, these side altars in Malta's parish churches had, normally, already been allocated to some other form of worship. At Dingli, however, it had been possible to have such a side altar exclusively honouring Our Lady of Good Counsel. This altar was erected in 1781.[9] This results to be the only sporadic single instance of such an altar erected within a parish church.

The importance and prominence which the Good Counsel devotion attained during this period, is attested still further, at least, by two particular [p.165] developments. A confraternity in her honour was approved by Bishop Bartholomew Rull and duly erected at the Augustinian Priory church of Valletta on the 15th February 1762,[10] just a year before the Sicilian Province of the same Religious Order had declared her its special protectress. Two parishes in Malta followed suit in less than ten years time. On the 9th October 1770, Bishop Pellerano acceded to a request formulated by the Parish Priest of Siġġiewi to have a similar aggregation within his own parish church.[11] While the neighbour parish of Żebbuġ was granted an identical authorisation on the 26th April 1771.[12]

Apart from these confraternities, there seems to have been a sudden outburst of intensive popularity around this Marian devotion, This is all too manifest from the various votive offerings, at times of considerable value, which immediately surrounded the altar on which the reproduction of the Good Counsel 'Madonna was placed. This factor was indeed common from 1770 onwards.[13]



GC 1

Fr Bartholomew Mangion, in his last will stipulated in the re-cords of Notary Pietro Antonio Madiona on the 29th July 1759, left a bequest whereby a church in honour of St Bartholomew and Our Lady of Good Counsel was to be built at Tarxien.1 Bishop Rull, on the 28th April 1762, authorised the building of this church,2 which was eventually blessed on the 10th March 1776. Four days afterwards, the mortal remains of its founder were laid to rest in this church. Its feast was celebrated on the second Sunday of November, when the Liturgical Calendar celebrated the feast of Our Lady's patronage.3


GC 2

Marquis Enrico Testaferrata sought and obtained permission to build a church dedicated to Our Lady of Good Counsel at zejtun. This authorisation was granted him on the 7th April 17534 Bishop Fra Paul Alpheran de Bussan himself blessed this church once it was ready. The sons of the founder endowed it with sufficient provisions for the celebration of its feast whose celebration was to take place on the 25th April A triduum was to precede this feast on the 21st, 22nd and 23rd of the same month, during which there was to be the solemn exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and a sermon.5




In August 1763, Giacomo Galea was granted permission by the ecclesiastical authorities to have a reproduction of Our Lady of Good Counsel placed for public veneration at Tal-Ħerba church. More-over, Bishop Rull granted an indulgence of forty days for the recitation of certain prayers in front of this picture.6



In 1772, a Good Counsel picture was included as a sub-titular altar piece on St Francis of Paola altar within St Paul's church.7



Sometime before 1781, an altar was erected on the right hand side on the parish church's main entrance. During that year it was already surrounded with a certain quantity of votive offerings.8



In 1758, there was a reproduction on the Crucifix altar at St Publius' church.9 In 1782, when the building of this new church was reaching its completion, it was then transferred to St Anne's altar.10



In 1774, a sub-titular altar piece, replaced another one which, previously, represented St Francis Xavier on St James' altar in the parish church.11



At Ta' l-Isperanza church, in 1781, there was a similar reproduction on its main altar.12



Fr Luke Zammit provided a picture of Our Lady of Good Counsel which was placed on the side altar dedicated to the Coronation of the Blessed Virgin in the parish church. In 1774, there were various votive offerings around it.13 In virtue of a rescript given by the local Ordinary on the 30th April 1773, Fr Zammit was authorised to continue holding the usual devotions in her honour on each second Sunday of the month as well as to celebrate her feast on the Sunday following the 17th April and not on the 27th of the same month. A procession could also be held on that occasion.14



A picture, decorated with twelve gilded silver stars around the halo of the Blessed Virgin was placed on the main altar of St Paul's church sometime before 1774.15

[p.167] QORMI


The Procurators of the Crucifix altar and the sodality of the Dying in 1780 sought episcopal authorisation to place on their altar a reproduction of this Madonna, promising to provide for the celebration of its feast which has to include also a panygeric. This authorisation was given them on the 7th June of the same year.16 This picture was al-ready on their altar, dedicated to Our Lady of Sorrows, during the following year.17


In 1781, a similar reproduction had also been placed on the main altar of the Nativity church.18


Giovanni Grech placed a statue of Our Lady of Good Counsel at a corner on the outside of his private residence in the neighbourhoods known as Ta' Naġġiar. On the 10th November 1783, Bishop Labini granted a forty days indulgence for the recitation of a Hail Mary in front of this image.19



The Archpriest of Gozo, Fr Antonio Camilleri, who hailed from Qrendi, left a bequest, recorded in the acts of Notary Gio. Domenico Gatt on the 18th September 1774, providing for the celebration of the Good Counsel feast on the Holy Ghost side altar in the parish church.20 Her reproduction had been placed on this altar before 1769. On the 26th April of that year, the parish priest of Qrendi was duly authorised to sell certain gold and silver offerings presented to this Marian title placed on the above-mentioned altar, whereby he could provide for the needs of its upkeep and the celebration of its feast.21



By 1770, a reproduction of the Genezzano Madonna had been placed in the Parish church. Thereupon, the parish priest thought it wise to erect a Sodality in her honour. On the 9th October of that year the local ecclesiastical authority gave its approval.22 In the meantime, the above-mentioned picture, set up on the side altar dedicated to the Holy Trinity, by 1774 was adorned with various precious off erings.23



In 1775, a similar sub-titular altar piece was included on St Francis of Assisi side altar in the parish church.24



As far as 1759, there was al-ready another similar representation of this Madonna on St Catherine's altar at Żebbuħ parish church,25 which, by 1781, was transferred to St Michael's altar.26 On the 26th April 1771, Bishop Carmine Pellerano sanctioned the canonical erection of a Sodality in her honour. A petition to this effect had been formulated by Notary Filippo [p.168] Amato, Dr Angelo Agius and other persons.27



Angelo Mallia in 1774 sought permission to place on the main altar of St James' church a picture of the Genezzano Madonna, providing an endowment of two annual scudi for its feast. His request was granted during the Pastoral Visit of that year.28


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, op. cit., 58-59; Emilio Campana, op. cit., Vol. II, 63-85.

[2] Confer No GC 2.

[3] Confer No GC 1.

[4] Confer Henry Schembri, "The Blessed Virgin and the Augustinians in the Maltese Islands during the 17th and 18th Centuries" in this publication, Note 61.

[5] Confer No GC IV.

[6] Confer No GC XV.

[7] Confer Nos GC I, II, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, X, XI, XII, XIII, XIV XV, XVI.

[8] Confer No GC IX.

[9] Confer No GC III.

[10] AAM, Suppliche 1762-1776 I, 10v‑13r.

[11] AAM, Suppliche 1762-1776 II, 691v‑692v.

[12] Ibid., 735r-736v.

[13] Confer Nos GC III, VII, VIII, XII.

1 AAM, Suppliche 1762-1776 I, 413r‑414r.

2 A. Ferres, Descrizione Storica, 440.

3 AAM, VP 1781, 554r.

4 AAM, Suppliche 1741-61 II, 687v.

5 AAM, VP 1758-60 II, 466r-v; VP 1771-74!77, 466v.

6 AAM, Suppliche 1762=76 II, 151v‑153r.

7 AAM, VP 1771-74/77, 347v; VP 1781, 400v.

8 AAM, VP 1781, 33v.

9 AAM, VP 1758-60 II, 126r; VP 1771‑74/77, 181r.

10 10. AAM, VP 1781, 94r.

11 AAM, VP 1771-74/77, 676r

12 AAM, VP 1781, 237r-v.

13 AAM. VP 1771-74/77, 629v.

14 AAM, Suppliche 1776-85, 399r-400r.

15 AAM, VP 1771-74/77, 92r-v.

16 AAM, Suppliche 1776-85, 406v-407v.

17 AAM,VP 1781, 571v.

18 Ibid., 577r-v.

19 AAM, Suppliche 1776-85, 652r.

20 AAM, VP 1771-74/77, 446r.

21 AAM, Suppliche 1762-76. 602v-604r.

22 Ibid., 691v-692v.

23 AAM, VP 1771-74/77, 603r.

24 Ibid., 502r.

25 AAM, VP 1758-60 II, 599r.

26 AAM, VP 1781, 336r-v.

27 AAM, Suppliche 1762-76 II; 735r-736v.

28 AAM, PV 1771-74/77, 645v-647r; VP 1781, 438v.