[p.249] Ant. Zammit Gabarretta

THE ORDER OF ST JOHN AND THE DEVOTION TO THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY

The Order of St John of Jerusalem blossomed and flourished in an age when the crusading spirit swept over Catholic Europe and thrilled the hearts of men prone to adventure. It is hard to gauge the spiritual values which stir one's contemporaries to a definite line of action. It is harder still to assess those values in men, living in a different age, which one may understand only through the study of the written records which time has mercifully spared for us. But doubtlessly, the brave young scions of the noble families, who embraced the Order of St John, set a high value on the spiritual ideals which instigated them to take up the habit of the eight pointed cross and become members of a religious, military order in defence of Christendom.

Our Lady of Caraffa, St John's Co-Cathedral, Valletta

The haunting call for adventure would have played its part and the hue and cry to free the Holy Sepulchre of the Redeemer from the hands of the infidel was the widely diffused slogan of the day. But it was certainly an age of faith, when the time-hallowed words of the Nicene Creed, ex-[p.250]-pressing faith in One Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, made :man by the power of the Holy Ghost and born of the Virgin Mary, were not a mere formula to be chanted in the solemn tones of the gregorian chant echoing through the stone solid aisles and apses of the dimly lit Cathedrals of Europe. On the contrary, those words manifested a deeply rooted and strongly felt religious faith which was constantly expressed in terms of facts and deeds in actual life.

The Knights Hospitallers, who were tending the christian pilgrims in Jerusalem in the Xlth century, might well be considered as worthy children of their age and their faith in the Divine Lord, Jesus Christ, born of the Virgin Mary must have formed a major factor in the development of the high ideals which prompted them to achieve many a worthy deed for which the Knights of St John have been justly recorded in history. The Master of the Hospital humbly defined himself as the Pauperum Christi Custos and together with his companions, he took care of the poor sick people of Christ.

Their charitable work developed and by 1099, when Godfrey de Bouillon captured Jerusalem, they had erected two hospices: one for men and another for women, where they received the Christian pilgrims coming to Jerusalem. At the same time, the Knights Hospitallers nourished a devotion towards the Virgin Mother of Christ to whom they prayed for help from God Almighty. To the Blessed Virgin Mary, they dedicated their first chapel Sancta Maria ad Latinos - built on the site close to the Holy Sepulchre, which the Mahometan Governor of the City had assigned to them: and in St Mary's Church special rites were held according to the Latin liturgy for the benefit of the pilgrims visiting the Holy land.

This devotion towards the Blessed Virgin Mary marks the history of the Knights of St John. They asked her heir whenever in the thick of battle, they charged the Infidel, because they considered her protection as powerful as a whole army in battle array.[1] In their conventual churches scattered in many lands their chaplains sang her praises before her incensed icons placed on richly decorated altars. To the Gracious Mother of their Redeemer, they had recourse in times of peril; to her they rendered thanks on days of victory.

The young ardent candidate, asking admission into the Order had to call upon the Holy name of the Blessed Virgin Mary on the day of his profession. She was to be witness to the sincerity of his oath to remain faithful to the Order, which he was then embracing, to defend Christendom on land and sea with his very lifeblood. The statutes of the Order of St John dictated a somewhat similar ceremony which had to be observed by the Knight who was elected Grand Master. In the presence of the Grand Prior of their Major Conventual Church and of the other Grand Crosses and Knights, the newly elected Grand Master had to swear before the High Altar that he intended to rule the Knights of St John according to the legally established statutes of the Order. In his solemn oath, the holy name of the Blessed Virgin was invoked by the newly elected Grand Master, who implored the Mother of God to help him in carrying out the exacting duties of his new office.[2]

[p.251] This help from heaven - spiritual and invisible - is for the believer in God real and indispensable. Little wonder that the Grand Masters of the Order of St John per varios castes, per tot discrimima rerum"[3] repeatedly sought the help of the Virgin Mother of God and gratefully thanked her when success crowned their perilous enterprises.

One such successful enterprise was the capture of Rhodes in the first decade of the XIV Century. The Master of the Knights Hospitallers, Fra Fulco de Villaret, wanted to establish his Order in Rhodes so as to provide a sound place of security for his Knights and a safe outpost of defence to Christendom in the Eastern Mediterranean. A study of the map of that region in the beginning of the XIV Century would make one realise why Pope Clement V looked upon the hazardous venture as a holy crusade against the threat of Islam and why he issued a papal bull granting spiritual benefits to those who contributed financially and materially helped the expedition.[4] Fra Fulco de Villaret besides the encouragement and aid of Pope Clement had also the support of King Philip of France, ,of Charles II, King of Naples, and of the Genoese. He had another asset in his favour. The Emperor of Constantinople, Andronicus II, was not loath to see the Knights Hospitallers well established in the Island of Rhodes.[5] Giacomo Bosio, the great historiographer of the Order of St John, described in detail the expedition, which set sail towards the east from Brindisi in the spring of 1309. Rhodes was captured, as the same writer put on record, after repeated assaults and very heavy fighting on the day of the Assumption of Our Lady, 15th August 1309. A group of seven other islands fell into the hands of the Knights of St John, together with the island of Rhodes.[6] Grand ,Master Peter d'Aubusson had this glorious feat recorded in gorgeous, coloured tapestries as was customary at the time. But the memory of the capture of Rhodes was kept alive in the annals of the Order of St John in a more befitting manner. In the Chapter General of the Order held in Rhodes under Grand Master Fra Elione de Villeneuve in 1332 - only a few years after the capture of that Island - it was established by a Capitular Decree of the 22nd September, that every year on the 15th of August solemn processions were to be held in all the Churches and Chapels of the Order in honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary, as a thanksgiving for her protection in the capture of Rhodes.

Centuries rolled ,by, and still the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary was observed with great devotion by the Knights Hospitallers. An XVIII century manuscript, indicating the religious services which were annually held in the Major Conventual Church of St John in Valletta, confirms this assertion. From this manuscript one learns that the feast of the Assumption was still held in the most solemn manner by the Order of St John in the XVIII century.[7] The Grand Prior of the church held on that day a Pontifical Mass "rita solemni" at which the Grand Master and the Knights Grand Cross had to attend. The novices, aspiring to become [p.252] members of that religious order, received Holy Communion in the Oratory of St John Church at eight o'clock in the morning, and after the singing of Terce, the procession with the icon of the Blessed Virgin made its way through the main streets of Valletta.[8]

The Knights Hospitallers stayed in Rhodes for over two centuries - a long and glorious stay which made them become known as the Knights of St John of Rhodes. They stuck to their ideals in their perennial feud against the Crescent. But the odds against their presence in the Island increased and multiplied as time passed by. In 1453, Constantinople fell to the Sultan of the Turks, Mahomet II, and the Empire of Byzantium came to an end. Rhodes, the bulwark of Christianity in the Eastern Mediterranean, became the target of the ever growing power of the Crescent. In 1480, Mahomet II attacked the Island with an enormous fleet and a powerful army, but the Knights of Rhodes withstood the terrible siege and Grand Master Pierre d'Aubusson earned the Cardinal's Hat in 1489. In 1522, the Turks under Suleiman the Magnificent attacked again. For six months Grand Master Philip Villiers de L'Isle Adam and his Knights defended their stronghold. The attacks became fierce and the resistance heroic. By the month of December, it became evident that the inevitable end was near. The Metropolitan of Rhodes and a group of Knights Grand Cross spoke to Grand Master L'Isle Adam and told him in plain terms that the citizens would not like to see their wives and children butchered by the Turks. He had to come to an agreement with the enemy - otherwise, the people themselves would see to that. The Grand Master understood completely the whole import of their unpleasant message.

Under these threatening circumstances, as the historian of the Order put on record,[9] Philip Villiers de L'Isle Adam, prayed God "in all humility and devotion to assist and enlighten him on what course to follow in that dark hour of dire need and affliction." It was the feast of the Conception of the Blessed Virgin, and special prayers were held so that the Blessed Virgin might intercede before God for the Knights of Rhodes and free their City of the besieging army. An entry, now faded by time and hardly legible, recorded by Bartholomew Policano, the Vice Chancellor, in the minutes of the Councils of the Order of St John, still attests the devotion with which Grand Master L'Isle Adam and his Counsellors had recourse to the glorious Queen of Heaven in those last, hectic days of their stay in Rhodes.[10] It was this devotion to the Blessed Virgin which prompted them to make a solemn vow to build a church in her honour if they succeeded in resisting and repelling the enemy, who encircled their island. Notwith-[p.253]-standing all their efforts, however, it became daily clearer that the rule of the Knights Hospitallers in Rhodes was getting to an end. They had done their utmost in their strenuous defence of the Island. Heaven willed otherwise. By the end of December, the banners with the Crescent of Suleiman the Magnificent were fluttering over the ruined turrets and conquered battlements of Rhodes.

The valour of the Knights commanded the respect of the victors. They were allowed to leave Rhodes in their own ships, with their arms and their property. The Grand Master took care to take with him the sacred relics and icons held in deep veneration by his Order: foremost among them, the relic of the Protector of his Order, the hand of St John the Baptist, and the miraculous icon of Our Lady of Philermos.

After eight years wandering from one place to another "diversa exsilia et desertas quaerere terras",[11] Grand Maser L'Isle Adam and his Knights came to Malta on 26th October 1530.[12] The Island had been given to them by Emperor Charles V and in it they established their abode. Their belligerent attitude towards Islam could not make them look on barren, unfortified Malta as the "sedes ubi fata quietas ostendunt".[13] Without any delay they consequently started to fortify the castle, jutting out in the midst of the Grand Harbour, with its little Borgo where they had placed their convent. With an unshakeable faith in the sacred cause to which they had dedicated their lives, they started building their new stronghold. "Illic fas regna resurgere"[14] - Malta was to bring to them fresh laurels and an unending glory.

Besides strengthening the fortifications to withstand any eventual onslaught of the enemy, the Knights of St John saw to the spiritual needs which animated their religious order. Within the walls of the Borgo, they established their Conventual Church, in which they placed the sacred relics brought with them from Rhodes.[15] Here, the venerated image of the Madonna of Philermos was installed as a symbol of Our Lady, Protectress of the Order. The then Prior of the Church, the Most Reverend Fra Ponta Laurenzin selected a chapel in this Church, where the Holy Image was exposed and remained as long as the Order remained in the Borgo.[16] The Vice Prior of the Order, Fra Antonio Riga was explicitly detailed to take care that this Sacred Lon of the Blessed Virgin was kept well adorned for the veneration of the Knights and the people who visited the Church.[17]

It was only after spiritually strengthening themselves through prayers to God and to His Divine Mother that the Knights of St John placed themselves on the battlements to withstand the Turkish hordes when the ordeal came in May 1565. The leading historians of the Order of St John, who recorded the events of the Great Siege of 1565 - like Giacomo Bosio, Francesco Balbi and Antonfrancesco Cirni, make reference to the prayers and processions held by the Knights, imploring divine protection.[18] Their Christian faith inspired them with hope in victory against great [p.254] odds, and made them stick to their posts in spite of fire and sword till they saw the enemy retreating and the long expected hero of Viceroy de Toledo approaching the coast of Malta on the evening of the Seventh September 1565.

It was the hour of Victory and the Grand Master La Vallette, who had placed his hope in God and in the Most Holy Queen of Heaven, gave immediate orders to ring in joyous notes the bells of the Conventual Church to summon the Grand Prior and the chaplains of the Order to intone the First Vespers of the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin.[19]

Fra Antonio Cressino and the Conventual Chaplains solemnly intoned the antiphons in honour of the Most Holy Baby Mary and heartily sang Our Lady's hymn of praise to God Almighty who rescues the humble to whom He reveals His might. Outside the Church, the people in the beleaguered city went wild with joy laughing and weeping, embracing and kissing each other in the cramped, narrow streets, and thanking God who had indeed protected their city throughout the siege.[20]

That night no enemy could be traced lurking in the ditches and trenches which encircled the Borgo and at dawn the bells rang again - not summoning the warriors to the battlements but announcing the happy day of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin. the day of Victory for Malta and the Maltese. After his return to his native land, the historiographer of Correggio, who had taken active part in the defence of Malta, could still hear tinkling in his ears, the sweet melody of those bells ringing and inviting the Knights and the Maltese to give thanks to God Almighty in a solemn mass in honour of the Blessed Virgin.[21]

Giacomo Bosio has recorded in detail the official religious services of thanksgiving, which was held in the Conventual Church of St Lawrence on Sunday, 16th September 1565, by Grand Master La Vallette and his Knights accompanied by the important personages, who had come from Sicily to defend Malta. In the description which he gives of this religious service, Bosio does not hesitate to comment that it was with the most deep devotion that the Knights rendered due thanks to God and to the Blessed Virgin for the happy ending of the devastating siege.[22] The Knights of St John who, when invoking the Holy Queen of Heaven, had repeatedly hailed her with the words "Spes Nostra Salve", could not but ,be convinced that it was her mighty spiritual aid which earned them victory - Maria, non duces, victores fecit nos. This conviction explains the fact why the heavy sword of La Vallette, when the siege was over, was placed in a shrine at the Gospel's side of the altar, in the chapel of Our Lady of Damascus, venerated since the days of Rhodes by Knights and Greek Christians, who followed the Order of St John to Malta. And in this shrine, later decorated by Grand Master De Rohan, this sword of La Vallette who saved Malta from Islam, still rests.[23]

[p.255] The victory of 1565 was annually commemorated by the Knights of St John throughout their long stay in Malta and a special thanksgiving service was held every year on the 8th September to keep alive the memory of the special intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary on behalf of the Order and the Maltese. Among the records of the Archives of the Order of St John, one may still trace the decree, passed in the Chapter General, which was held at Vittoriosa on 10th February 1566, and drawn up by the Vice Chancellor of the Order, Fra Martino Royas de Portalruvio, concerning the "Solemnitas, quae fieri debet in festo Nativitatis Beatae Virginis ob victoriani contra Turcam (sic) eo die obtentam".[24] The very words, in which the decree of Grand Master La Vallette is phrased, betray the inner sentiments and emotions of the Grand Master elated ,by unexpected success and his deep faith in the spiritual help from heaven, which carried him on to victory. The decree of La Vallette reflects the devotion towards the Holy Queen of Heaven of that undaunted hero - Ille, Asiae Libyaeque pavor tutelaque quondam Europae".[25]

In the opening sentence of this historic decree, La Vallette stated that the Order of St John had to observe the day commemorating the Birth of the Glorious Virgin Mother of God in a very special manner, with the greatest reverence and devotion not only because of the many special favours constantly bestowed upon the Order by the Blessed Virgin, but also because of the glorious victory granted to the Order on that particular day. The Grand Master was fully conscious of the odds against him when the Emperor of the Turks, Suleiman the Magnificent, the sworn enemy of Christendom and of the Knights Hospitallers sent his soldiers, fully armed, against Malta which they besieged and fiercely assaulted by land and sea. It was only through God's help that the Knights of St John, with admirable valour and constancy, could withstand the terrible siege in which the enemy had succeeded to destroy many a fortress and to devastate and ruin the whole Island.

In fact the Grand Master did not hesitate to declare that he acknowledged such an unexpected victory to the help of God, to the Blessed Virgin Mary and to Saint John the Baptist. He, consequently, ordered that sdeoi l prayers of thanksgiving be said every year on the Eighth of September in all the Churches of the Order. A sermon in honour of the Blessed Virgin had to be delivered on that day, and the principal events of the Siege, which led to the final victory had to be mentioned in the course of the sermon to the congregation. On the eve of the feast of the Nativity, a holy mass for the repose of all those who had died during the siege had to be celebrated. The Grand Master also ordered that the Treasury of the Order had to provide marriage dowries for six poor maidens, each receiving fifty scudi.[26]

This magisterial decree was observed in all its details since the very first years following the victory of 1565. The venerated icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Philermos was the centre of devotion throughout the religious services in commemoration of the victory. When the Major Conventual Church of St John was built in Valletta and the Order transferred itself from Vittoriosa to that City, the religious functions could be held [p.256] with that magnificence and pomp which the occasion required. The Grand Prior and his chaplains carried out the liturgical ceremonies in that major church of the Order with meticulous care. This appears from the Caeremoniale ad usum Ecclesiae Majoris S. Joannis, which describes minutely the religious service yearly held in St John's Church in honour of the Blessed Virgin in thanksgiving for the Victory of 1565.[27]

The Church of St John was decorated with curtains and damask and twelve precious candelabra were placed on the high altar, which was, moreover, adorned with statues of the Apostles. The remaining altars in the conventual church were also adorned for the occasion, especially that of the Blessed Virgin of Philermos. Here a very beautiful silken veil adorned the deeply venerated icon.

The religious service commenced with a spectacular ceremony in which the Grand Prior and the conventual chaplains, together with the Grand Master, the Grand Crosses and the Knights of St John paid homage to the Blessed Virgin of Philermos. This act of worship was immediately followed by the singing of the First Vespers ,of the Nativity.

In accordance with the decree of Grand Master La Vallette, the festivities commemorating the Nativity of Our Lady and the victory of the Great Siege of 1565 included also a procession and a pontifical high mass on the 8th September. It was, consequently, the duty of the Master of Ceremonies to remind the religious congregations in Valletta and all the religious orders to be present in St John's Church at the appointed time for the procession. He had also to remind the sacristan to place in a high position the silver lamp in front of the High Altar, so that the lamp would not stand in the way of the Knight of the Langue of Auvergne when he saluted the altar and the Grand Master with the banner of the Order, which was carried in the procession. The Master of Ceremonies had also to remind the "Maestro di Piazza" to keep the streets of Valletta, through which the procession had to pass, free and clean.

The Grand {Master and his Council were keen in holding annually these festivities in honour of the Blessed Virgin. In 1665, on the occasion of the first centenary of the victory of the Great Siege, Grand Master Cotoner and the Council decided to hold these festivities with special pomp and greater solemnity. The records in the Archives of the Order of St John still attest this devotion.[28]

With this end in view, the Council of the Order appointed four commissioners - the Marshal of the Order, the "Castellan d'Emposta, the Prior della Roccella and the Grand Bailiff - who had to draw up a report on the festivities, which were to be held officially by the Order on that special occasion. The opening statement of this report, submitted to the Grand Master and the Venerable Council on the 24th July 1665 denotes the gratitude and devotion which the Commissioners felt towards the Blessed Virgin Mary, through whose intercession, victory had been obtained:

[p.257] "Most Eminent Lord and Members of the Venerable Council," the commissioners stated, "it seems to us very reasonable to commemorate this year with greater signs of joy and solemnity the feast of the Nativity of Our Lady because of the victory obtained on that day in 1565 by our Order over the Turks who were ignominously repelled from the terrible siege in which they held this City ... It is most essential to render thanks to God for such a special favour. We, consequently, suggest that on that day the usual procession be held with the greatest solemnity."[29]

At the time of the procession, the officers in charge of the artillery were to give royal salutes from the battlements of Valletta, from Fort St Angelo and Fort St Michael as also from Notabile and Gozo. The galleys, which happened to be in the harbour had to fire salutes. On the nights following the 7th and 8th September a general illumination was suggested "doveranno per tutte le Citta e Gozo farsi da tutti luminarie senza veruna eccezzione". On the feast day soldiers were to provide the guard of honour at Valletta, and in the afternoon, races were proposed so that the public would participate in the general joy. The Commissioners further suggested to provide more marriage dowries for poor maidens than was usually done every year on this occasion. One might hers note that also in 1765, on the occasion of the second centenary of the victory of the Great Siege, the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary was solemnly commemorated by the Knights of St John in Malta under Grand Master Fra Emmanuel Pinto de Fonseca.[30]

Apart from these official, liturgical celebrations, which the Knights of St John held in honour of the Blessed Virgin and in thanksgiving for her intercession before God in times of peril, Grand Master La Vallette set up in the new city, which he founded just after the siege of 1565 and which still bears his name, a chapel dedicated to the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Here, the hero of the Great Siege was buried in 1568 till his remains were finally laid to rest in 1579 in the silent crypt of the Conventual Church of St John, In 1617, this chapel of the Nativity was established a parish church for the members of the Order of St John and in 1752, it was enlarged and embellished through the efforts of the Bailiff of Majorca Fra Girolamo Ribas Montelieu and of its parish priest Fra Francesco Antonio del Castillo et Gordan. The conviction that the victory of the Great Siege was obtained through the heavenly intervention of the Blessed Virgin was so diffused among the Knights of St John and the Maltese that the festivity of the Nativity of Our Lady and the victory obtained on the 8th September became for them synonymous, with the consequence that this church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary was, and is still referred to by the people in Malta as Victory ,Church.[31]

Another striking evidence of the devotion, which the Order of St John nourished towards the Blessed Virgin Mary is met with in the second half of the seventeenth century when Malta was stricken by plague. This terrible epidemic appeared in the island in December 1675. It is not the place here to discuss how the disease cropped up in Malta; some writers held that it was imported in the island from Tripoli and Algiers, when the English vessels of Admiral Narborough, who had been fighting the corsairs [p.258] in those parts, stayed for some time in the harbour of Malta in 1675.[32] Within a few weeks, the epidemic spread like wild fire, causing havoc throughout the Island.[33]

Notwithstanding the measures taken, it could not be efficiently checked. The situation seemed desperate for the plague could in no way be stamped out. With good reason, an amanuensis described the situation in the following terms:- No human diligence could extirpate the disease, not even the solicitous care of the Grand Master, Nicholas Cotoner, who spent all the public funds of the Order to help the population.[34]

As they had often done before in similar, difficult circumstances, the members of the Council of the Order of St John had recourse to heaven and implored God to deliver them from the terrible evil. Notwithstanding all their human foibles, about which we read so much, the Knights of St John had deep religious convictions, which repeatedly came to light throughout the history of the Order. This faith in God and this devotion to the Holy Virgin Mother of God are clearly manifested in this instance in the vow which the Ven. Council in the name of the whole Order made the building of a chapel in honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary for the deliverance from the plague.[35]

Ever since 1585, outside the walls of Valletta, there stood a small chapel built by a Knight of the Order of St John, Fra Martino de Sarria. In fulfillment of this vow the Order erected in 1678, when the pestilence was over, a spacious round church, designed by the renowned Maltese architect, Lorenzo Gafą, in place of this old chapel.[36] The new church, built in honour of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin became, consequently, a centre of devotion where an annual service of thanksgiving to God for the deliverance from the plague was officially held by the Grand Prior of the Church of St John.

The outbreak of the plague was also an occasion for the Grand Master and his council to remind the Knights of St John of their spiritual duties as members of a religious order. When one considers the deliberations of the Council of the Order during the time of the plague, one comes to the conclusion that the spiritual values, emanating from their Catholic convictions, were still held high by the Knights Hospitallers. As in moments of victory, so also in times of distress, they inevitably raised their prayers before God and His Virgin Mother. The following paragraphs confirm this assertion:‑

On the 11th April 1676, the members of the Council, "seeing that the epidemic was still spreading throughout the island and that the only way to calm the just wrath of God was that of having recourse to the protection of his Most Holy Mother", unanimously implored the Blessed Virgin to protect them throughout those terrible days. They solemnly vowed that in future all the members of the Order had to go to confession and receive Communion on the feast day of the Immaculate Conception. They were to go in procession to the chapel built in her honour in Floriana. The Council [p.259] also decided to place in this same chapel the holy images of St Sebastian and St Roch. At another sitting held on 25th August 1676, the Council of the Order solemnly vowed to observe in a special manner the feast days

of St Michael, St Roch and St Rosalia by holding a pontifical mass in their major conventual church.[37]

Mattia Preti, The Immaculate Conception, Sarria Church, Floriana

It was in thanksgiving for benefits received from God, through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin that the feast of the Immaculate Conception was celebrated with great solemnity by the Knights of St John.

[p.260] In the records of the Archives of the Order, describing the liturgical festivities held in the Conventual Church in Valletta, it is explicitly stated that the Knights of St John held the Blessed Virgin Mary, venerated in the mystery of her Immaculate Conception, as their special patron.[38]

The feast of the Immaculate Conception was extended to the universal church by Pope Sixtus IV in 1476. It was elevated to a holy day obligation in 1708 by the constitution "Commissi Nobis" of Pope Clement XI. It was, however, commemorated in a special manner by the members of the Order of St John, who looked at the Belssed Virgin as their special patron and protectress, so much so that a decree of the Holy Congregation of Rites of April 6, 1737 granted them the privilege to solemnise the feast of the Immaculate Conception in the most solemn manner "sub rite duplici, primae classis".[39]

For the occasion of the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Conventual Church used to be duly adorned with damask. Special care was taken to adorn the altars of the Madonna of Philermos and that of Saint Catherine where the venerated image of Our Lady, donated to the Conventual Church by the Prior Fra Girolamo Carafa was placed.[40] These altars received special attention throughout the religious services held on 7th and 8th December, and the icons of the Blessed Virgin were liturgically incensed .by the Vice Prior during the singing of the "Magnificat" in the First and Second Vespers.[41]

The liturgical functions of the feast of the Immaculate Conception in St John's church opened with the singing in choir of the morning prayers of the Divine Office. After Prime, the conventual chaplains of the Venerable Tongue of Italy celebrated mass in the chapel of St Catherine. Terce was then sung, after which a procession with the icon of the Blessed Virgin was held within the church. The icon was subsequently placed on the High Altar and the Pontifical High Mass began The Grand Master accompanied by the Knights Grand Cross clad in their black ecclesiastical robes, carrying the white eight pointed cross and the "manto di punta" attended the pontifical mass from his magisterial throne. During this pontifical mass, the novices and the professed knights, the Grand Crosses and the Grand Master received Holy Communion as the decree of the Venerable Council prescribed in 1676 in thanksgiving for the deliverance from the plague. At the end of the High Mass, a sermon in honour of the Blessed Virgin was held.

The festive ringing of the bells at midday reminded the members of the Order and the Maltese of the votive procession which was to be held in the afternoon from the Church of St John to Sarria Church. This votive pro-cession was held after the singing of Compline. It was conducted by the Grand Prior, who used to intone the Te Deum in front of the High Altar of the Conventual Church before the procession started to make its way to-wards the Church of the Immaculate ;Conception in Floriana. In it, the choir singers, the conventual deacons and chaplains, the serving brothers and the [p.261] knights, the Grand Crosses and the Grand Master took part. As they went through the main streets of Valletta towards Floriana, the bells of many churches in the city rang incessantly, petards were fired and the galleys in harbour gave their salutes.

On arriving at Sarria Church, the Grand Prior recited the prayers of thanksgiving as indicated in the Ritual Book, and the prayers in honour of the Blessed Virgin and of the saints whom the Ven. Council of the Order had invoked for help and protection during the terrible months of the plague. The procession then returned to the conventual church in Valletta. The ceremony concluded with an act of homage to the sacred icon of the Blessed Virgin by the Grand Master before he left the church to return to the magisterial palace.[42]

Besides this liturgical cult which the Knights of St John officially held in honour of Our Lady, one may point out another important fact which at-tests this same devotion of the Order towards the Blessed Virgin - that is, the number of chapels dedicated to the Virgin Mother of God, which members of the Order built, embellished or generously endowed with donations. Referring to the religious practices of the Knights of St John in his "History of the Church in Malta", Mgr A. Bonnici indicates the churches and chapels built by the Knights in Malta and concludes: "Moreover, chapels were also constructed in the Magisterial Palace, in hospitals, in forts, in prisons, and in other places whenever need was felt. Nay, the Langues vied with each other in building more beautiful houses of worship and in embellishing them as befitted the House of God."[43] Their faith in God and their devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary prompted them to act that way.

The Knights from Spain perhaps with a nostalgic yearning for their beloved countryside between Heusca and Zaragoza washed by the waters of the Ebro, built in the city of Valletta in Malta a church in honour of Our Lady of Pilar, just near the Auberge of Aragon. This small but beautiful church counts among its past benefactors the generous Grand Master Raymond Perellos, the Bailiff of Majorca, Raymond de Soler, and Commander Felice Innigues de Ayerbe, who has found his last resting place within its sacred walls.[44]

The French Knights built the church of Our Lady of Liesse, recalling to one's mind the old, happy story of Ismeria and the three French brothers from Picardy, all Knights of St John, who were miraculously saved from the dungeons in Cairo and transported, within a few minutes, to their sweet homeland.[45]

A chapel in honour of the Blessed Virgin, built by Grand Master Nicholas Cotoner enhanced the beauty of the charming magisterial palace jutting out of the green trees on Boschetto hill.

Another chapel, also dedicated to the Immaculate Queen of Heaven, this time built by Grand Master Manoel de Vilhena, softened the rugged wilderness at Wied Gerżuma in the limits of Rabat.

The country residence of Grand Master Antoine de Paule, surrounded by sweet-scented flowers in May and by red mellowing oranges in December was not complete without the elegant, small chapel of Our Lady of [p.262] Pilar as befitted a mansion, where a Christian prince held sway.

About a mile distant from this peaceful country residence of the Grand Masters there exists the rural chapel dedicated to "Sancta Maria ad nives", but commonly known in Malta as "Tal-Mirakli", the chapel of Our Lady of miracles, from the miraculous old painting of the Virgin, jealously kept there. The chapel stands on an open site - between Lija, Attard and Mosta in the midst of crimson-flowered, perfumed clover fields with historic Imdina and Mtarfa forming a picturesque background. Since olden times, there existed in this Ħal Bordi area a small chapel in honour of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin, which Mgr Duzzina, the Apostolic Delegate, visited in 1575. It seems, however, that by the middle of the seventeenth century this old chapel was badly damaged - almost completely ruined. Grand Master Nicholas Cotoner had a happy idea. He built a new, larger and lovelier church in honour of the Blessed Virgin instead of the old, crumbling chapel. He put the cotton's plant, cut in local stone, representing his family coat-of-arms on the facade of the church and his portrait in the sacristy. Unluckily, these relics of the benevolence of Grand Master Nicholas Cotoner have all gone lost, but there still remains the artistic painting of the great Mattia Preti, commissioned by the generous Grand Master to paint this altar-piece representing the Madonna with the Baby Jesus, accompanied by St Peter and St Nicholas and the Archangel Raphael. The visitor, with a good knowledge of local history, is thus inevitably reminded of the two Cotoner brothers, Raphael and Nicholas, both of them Grand Masters of the Order of St John from Catholic Spain and both deeply devoted to the Virgin Queen of Heaven and the Holy Church of Peter.[46]

The church of Our Lady of Damascus of the Christian Greeks in Malta was endowed by an annual pension for its parish priest by the Order of St John. From far off Rhodes the Christian Greeks and the Knights Hospitallers had brought with them to Malta in 1530 this venerated icon of the Holy Virgin with the Infant Jesus in her arms. It was at first kept in the church of St Catherine, freshly dedicated to our Lady of Damascus, in the Borgo. In 1578, it was transferred to the new Greek parish church in Valletta, where the knights of St John had placed their convent. On this occasion, the Knights Hospitallers again gave evidence of their devotion towards the Blessed Virgin. It was their Grand Prior, Mgr Alfonso de Dominicis, accompanied by his conventual chaplains, who conducted the procession when the old, venerated icon of the Damascena was placed in the newly erected parish church for the Green Christians in Valletta. The Knights of St John and the Grand Crosses of the Venerable Council together with their Grand Master Hughes de Loubenx Verdalle participated in that religious manifestation.[47]

The Grand Masters and the Knights of the Order of St John gave positive help to the religious orders in building churches dedicated to the Blessed Virgin in the new city of Valletta.

On 18th May 1571, Grand Master Peter Del Monte freely granted to the Franciscan Friars Minor the site for the church of St Mary of Jesus, [p.263] which was later further embellished through generous donations made by Grand Masters Mendez de Vasconcelos, Nicholas Cotoner and Gregory Carafa.[48]

The Carmelite Friars received another site for their church dedicated to Our Lady of Mt. Carmel.[49] The same Grand (Master Del Monte, gave a site in Valletta to the Friars Preachers for building their church dedicated to "`Sancta Maria Portus Salutis", whose foundation stone was laid on 19th April 1571. Indeed, one of the earlier benefactors of this church was the Knight of St John, Fra Martin de Lescut, known as Romegas, through whose generous donations the apse of the church was built.[50]

Since time immemorial, it has been the custom among Catholics to manifest their devotion towards the Holy Virgin Mother of Jesus by making offerings and visiting sanctuaries dedicated to Our Lady. Grand Masters and Knights of St John followed this laudable custom and made offerings to Sanctuaries dedicated to the Blessed Virgin in thanksgiving for benefits received. The sanctuary at Mellieħa has a long, rich story to unfold to writers interested in the cult of the Blessed Virgin in Malta. Its venerated image, traditionally held to have been painted by St Luke during his stay in the island, has witnessed many generations of Maltese Catholics imploring the intercession of the Queen of Heaven in times of distress and need. The Knights Hospitallers venerated this ancient Marian shrine and the French Grand Master Alof de Wignacourt was a frequent visitor to the sanctuary.[51] It was to the Blessed Virgin Mary venerated at the Mellieħa shrine that the Bali of Negroponte, F. Antonio Correo, recommended the fleet of the Order of St John in 1681 and in answer to his prayers the galleys survived the imminent dangers which threatened them. Grand Master Raymond Perellos implored the help of the Blessed Virgin Mary venerated in the same sanctuary during his serious illness in March 1708. On his recovery, he came to the sanctuary in Mellieħa and donated in thanksgiving a silver lamp and other precious offerings.[52]

There are conserved in the Marian sanctuary at Żabbar several very interesting old "ex votis" representing naval battles between the galleys of the Order of St John and those of the Turks and Barbary corsairs. According to the identification of these "ex votis" given by Mgr G. Zarb,[53] a XVI century painting illustrates the victory at the Goletta in 1535[54] two other paintings refer to the famous battle of Lepanto of 1571 and represent the galleys of the Order at Messina and in the Gulf of Taranto before that historic naval battle which completely crippled the sea power of the Sultan's Empire.[55] The capture of a Turkish polacre in the waters of Sfax by Knight De Revel in 1631 is illustrated in another "ex voto", while another painting represents the victory of 1656 at the Dardanelles which the combined fleets of Venice, Rome and ,Malta won in the long, enervating war of [p.264] Candia.[56] In the records of the Parish Archives of Żabbar, one comes across an interesting entry, informing the reader that General Colbert donated in 1683 to the Blessed Virgin Mary, venerated in this sanctuary, a banner bearing the effigies of Our Lady and that of St John the Baptist. This banner was given in thanksgiving for naval victories achieved in the waters of Sardegna and off the coast of Calabria.[57] An inscription on another seventeenth century painting recalls the loss of the "San Alessandro", a galley of the Papal fleet on its return from naval engagements near Corinth. Together with the Papal Galleys there were the Venetian fleet and that of the Knights of St John under the Captain General, Fra Sigismondo Thun.[58] Notwithstanding a heavy tempest, the galleys of the Order reached safety in Malta harbour and at the Sanctuary of Our Lady at Żabbar there was added another precious "ex voto".[59] Similar "ex votis" from the eighteenth century conserved in the same sanctuary attest the constant devotion which the captains and crew of the galleys of the Order of St John felt towards the Blessed Virgin. They invoked her help when danger loomed - during bloody naval engagements with their sworn enemies of the crescent and when the menacing waves of the angry seas threatened to engulf them for ever.

When writing about those foreigners, who have shown in the past, their generosity and their benevolence towards the 2abbar sanctuary, Mgr Zarb mentions prominent members of the Order of Saint John. Among these, one comes across the names of the Bailiff Wolfgang Philip von Guttenberg, General Antoine de Colbert and Bali Fra Diego Veles Degura.[60] It appears that also Grand Masters of the Order of Saint John nourished a devotion towards this Marian sanctuary. Alof de Wignacourt stood godfather in the first baptism held in the newly erected parish in 1615 and his coat-of-arms was engraved in the baptismal font of the church.[61] The Cotoner brothers and Ferdinand von Hompesch made several donations to the "Madonna delle Grazie" of Żabbar, while John de Lascaris was a frequent visitor to her sanctuary. One is glad to note that when the sacred icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary of 2abbar was solemnly crowned by the Archbishop of Malta, Mgr M. Gonzi, on 2nd September 1951, the then Grand Master of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, H.E. Prince Ludovico Chigi della Rovere Albani sent a banner of the Order to the sanctuary in homage to the Holy Queen of Heaven.[62]

These offerings and donations which one repeatedly finds in Marian sanctuaries in Malta constantly recall to one's mind the devotion which the Knights of St John sincerely felt towards the Blessed Virgin Mary. It was, however, the chapel of the Most Blessed Lady of Philermos jealously kept in their conventual church which may rightly be considered as the centre of this devotion, the holiest Marian shrine venerated for long centuries by the valiant Knights Hospitallers, who defended the Cross against the Crescent in Jerusalem and in St John D'Acre, in Rhodes and in Malta. The [p.265] sacred icon had been saved for the Order by Grand Master L'Isle Adam after the Second Siege of Rhodes in 1522. It had miraculously escaped the devastating fire, which burnt down St Lawrence Church in Vittoriosa on April 1, 1532.[63] As soon as the seat of the Order was moved from Vittoriosa to Valletta in 1571, the Grand Prior of the Church, Mgr Antonio Cressino, had it placed in the Victory church in the new city. There it remained, venerated by the Knights and the Maltese until Grand .Master La Cassiere prepared a fitting chapel in St John's Church for the treasured sacred icon. As a lasting evidence of his devotion to the Queen of Heaven, this Grand Master had his coat-of-arms engraved in the cupola of the atrium to this Marian shrine together with the inscription: Casserae, o Maria, Coeli Regina, memento - 1576. The coats-of-arms of Grand Master Martin de Redin and John de Lascaris, those of Bailiff Fra Flaminio Balbiano, Grand Prior of Messina, and the ,glorious escutcheon of the Order, masterly painted in colour or carved in stone and marble, further manifest a permanent expression of homage to the Blessed Virgin

The altar is a delicate and intricate gem of art in rare marbles Within the inner recess of four columns, amidst a wealth of coloured marble, precious stones and artistically gilded bronze, the sacred icon was encased, with a group of angels holding an Imperial Crown above the head of the Madonna. All the skill of available, talented artists was lavished in the decoration of this holy of holies to the glory and honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Philermos, protectress of the Knights of St John.

There was the pious practice among the Knights Hospitallers to donate to the Madonna of Philermos a silver, ornamental covering for the sacred icon. These "dresses", some of which were adorned with jewels, enriched with precious stones and studded with diamonds did not only form a treasure of inestimable value but they indicated the deep veneration in which the sacred icon of the Blessed Virgin was kept by the Order of St. John. Grand Master L'Isle Adam had made a similar offering; his donation was made of crimson velvet, embroidered with large pearls and the Holy Name of Jesus in the centre, garnished with countless jewels and precious stones and adorned with the escutcheon of the Order and the coat-of-arms of the Grand Master. Other very precious dresses were donated by Commandeur de Cloyac, by the Prior of Barletta Fra Sigismondo Piccolomini and by Prior Fra Joseph Graf von Herberstein. Apart from these "dresses" which draped the venerated image of the Madonna, innumerable jewels and precious stones, offered by different members of the Order, brilliantly blazed within the actual frame of the sacred icon.[64]

All these precious offerings, which had once been donated to the Madonna of Philermos by Grand Masters and Knights of the Order of St John were taken by Napoleon, when he captured Malta in June 1798 and ousted the Knights Hospitallers from the Island. Nevertheless, when leaving Malta Grand Master Ferdinand von Hompesch took with him the venerated icon of the Blessed Virgin even though deprived of all its precious decorations.[65]

[p.266] The Grand Master Ferdinand von Hompesch and the Knights, who remained faithful to the Order, could still invoke the Queen of Heaven with the words "Spes Nostra" as the Knights Hospitallers had done for long, long centuries. By the grace of God and the heavenly help of His Virgin Mother, the Order of St. John has withstood the great ordeal of the loss of Malta and has survived the difficult years which followed that loss. From Palazzo Malta in Rome, the Order still pursues with energy and vigour its original, humanitarian ideals in taking care of the poor sick people of Christ. Its Grand Master is still, as of yore, the Pauperum Christi Custos.

The Order of St John has left a rich heritage in Malta part of this heritage is a deeper and fuller devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Several religious ceremonies, dating from the days of the Knights, which were once conducted by the Grand Prior of the Order in St John's Church in honour of the Blessed Virgin are held today in the same church by His Grace Mgr G. Mercieca, the Metropolitan Archbishop of Malta. On the feast day of the Nativity of Our Lady, thanksgiving services are still kept in Vittoriosa and in Valletta, and the parishes of Senglea, Naxxar, Mellieħa and Xagħra pride themselves that on the Eighth September they honour the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin to whom their splendid churches are dedicated. Among the Maltese, as among the Knights Hospitallers, the devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, of whom Jesus was born, is traditionally deep and sincere. Over four centuries ago, Grand Master La Cassiere recommended himself and his Order to the Madonna of Philermos in the inscription: Casserae, O Maria, Coeli Regina, Memento. During this International Marian Congress, which is being held this year in our Island, we dare adapt La Cassiere's words to form the humble prayer to the Virgin Queen of Heaven Melitae, O Maria, Coeli Regina, Memento.


[1] Cant. 6, 9.

[2] Grand Master La Vallette, for instance, emitted this oath on August 21, 1557. Vide N(ational) L(ibrary) of M(alta), Liber Conciliorum Arch. 89, 118v.

[3] Virgil - Aeneid I, 204.

[4] G. Bosio, Dell'Istoria. . . ,Roma1602, ii, I, 34.

[5] NLM, Arch. 315, 34v.

[6] G. Bosio, op. cit., ii, I, 34-35.

[7] NLM, Caeremoniale ad usum Ecclesiae Majoris S. Joannis. Arch. 1952, 311. "Assumptio SS.mae Dei Genitricis Virginis Mariae ab Ordine Nostro Solemnissime celebranda in gratiarum actione expugnationis Insulae Rhodi hac die de manibus Infidelium, scilicet ob Victoriam per Fulcum de Villareto Ordinis Magistrum hac die in expugnatione Rhodiensis Civitatis et Insulae reportatam."

[8] NLM, Arch. 1952, 312.

[9] G. Bosio, op. cit., ii, xx, 695.

[10] NLM, Liber Conciliorum, Arch. 83, 63v: "Die nona mensis decembris 1522 qua celebratur solemnitas conceptionis Beatae Mariae Virginis et cum esset urbs Rhodi vallata arcte obsidione Turcensi et vires humane non sufficerent ad defendendum hanc urbem R.mus D.nus Magnus Magister et Consilium recurrerunt ad divinum praesidium precantes Beatissimam Virginem Mariam Matrem D.ni N.ri Jesu Christi dignetur intercedere apud D.num N.rum Jesum Christum pro salute huius urbis et incolumitate ac diuturnitate Sacrae Religionis Hierosolymitanae, et voverunt edificare infra dictam urbem hnam ecclesiam sub vocabulo Conceptionis Beatae Mariae Virginis casu quo Religio remaneat domina huius urbis, et hoc scriptum fuit ad futuram rei memoriam per me Bartholomeum Policanum vice cancellarium de mandato ipsius R.mi D.ni et Consilii ordinarii".

[11] Virgil, Aeneid III, 4.

[12] G. Bosio, op. cit., iii, v, 89.

[13] Virgil, Aeneid I, 205.

[14] Virgil, Aeneid I, 206.

[15] NLM Sacra Capitula Generalia Arch. 286, LXXXV I II, Arch. 297, LXXIX.

[16] H.P. Scicluna, The Church of St John in Valletta, Rome 1955, 130.

[17] G. Bosio, op. cit., iii, v, 89.

[18] G. Bosio, op. cit., iii, xxv, 521. A.F. Cirni, Commentarii, Roma, 1567, iv f. 51. F. Balbi, in his La Verdadera Relation. Barcellona 1568, on f. 53 gives a vivid description of the procession of Corpus Christi held that year in the Borgo in spite of the siege.

[19] G. Bosio, op. cit., iii, xxxiii, 693.

[20] Idem.

[21] F. Balbi, op. cit., f. 105. "Yo no creo que musica jamas consolasse humanos sentidos, como a nosotros consolo el son de nuestras campanas, a los ocho dia de la Natividad de nuestra senora . Esta manana pues tocaron la missa, la qual se canto muy de manana, y en pontifical, muy solemnemente, dando gracias a nuestro senor Dios, y a su bendita Madre por las gracias que nos avian hecho."

[22] G. Bosio, op. cit., iii, xxxiii, 706-707.

[23] A. Zammit Gabarretta, The Church of the Grand Masters and Inquisitors, Malta 1974, 68.

[24] NLM, Capitula Generalia, Arch. 299, f. 122.

[25] Inscription on the tomb of Grand Master La Vallette in the crypt of the Conventual Church of St John in Valletta.

[26] NLM, Arch. 1952, 340-342.

[27] NLM, Arch. 1952. 342-343, xxiixxviii.

[28] NLM, Arch. 1952. 344. "Anno vero 1665 quo completurn fuit centenarium, hoc est post an-nos centtam Victoriae eadem die in Insula Melitae contra Turcas reportatae, intercessione, ut supra diximus, Gloriosissimae Dei Genetricis Mariae semper Virginis, ac Sancti Joannis Baptistae, Magnus Magister F.D. Nicolaus Cottoner et Ven.dum Concilium ordinaverunt hoc Festum Nativitatis Beatae Mariae Virginis solemnius celebrari".

[29] NLM, Arch. 1952, 345.

[30] NLM, Arch. 1953, 106.

[31] A. Ferres, Descrizione storica delle chiese di Malta e Gozo. Malta 1866, 185-190.

[32] P. Cassar, Medical history of Malta, London 1964, 172.

[33] L. Axiaq, De postrema melitensi lue praxis historica, Panormi1677.

[34] NLM, Arch. 1952. 428.

[35] NLM, Arch. 1952, 429. 'Si obbligb anche per voto la Religione di erigere una chiesa, come poi magnificamente si eresse, fuori del primo recinto della Cittą ad onore e sotto l'Invocazione dell'Immacolata Concezione di Maria sempre Vergine."

[36] A. Ferres, op. cit., 237-238.

[37] NLM, Arch. 1952, 429.

[38] NLM, Arch. 1952, 432. "Conceptionis Beatae Mariae Virginis Festum de Praecepto, Indulgentia Plenaria. Conceptio gloriosae semper Virginis Genetricis Dei Mariae, quam singulari veneratione et obsequio, ob eius sub hoc Misterio electionem in Patronam Universus Hierosolymitanus Ordo orosequitur."

[39] NLM, Arch. 1952, 434.

[40] H.P. Scicluna, op. cit., 93.

[41] NLM, Arch. 1952, 431, 436.

[42] NLM, Arch. 1952, 435-437. A. Ferres, op. cit., 119-120.

[43] Art. Bonnici, History of the

[44] A. Ferres, op. cit., 202. Church in Malta, Malta 1968, Vol. II, 110-112.

[45] A. Ferres, op. cit., 204-205,

[46] R. Bonnici Cali, Il-Madonna tal- Mirakli, meqjuma fis-Santwarju tagħha f'Ħal Lija, Malta, Malta1964, 8-12. A. Ferres, op. cit., 449.

[47] Abela - Ciantar, Malta Illustrata, Malta 1780, II. 200-201. A. Ferres, op. cit.. 181-184. Art. Bonnici, op. cit. 32.

[48] NA, R 4/2 Notary P. Abela, Acts 1569-79, if. 526v-8. A. Ferres, op. cit., 206-207. Art. Bonnici, op. cit., 120-121.

[49] NA, R 4/2 Notary P. Abela, Acts 1569-79, 27th July 1570, 336v-337v.

[50] NA, R 4/2 Notary P. Abela, Acts 1569-79, 492-493. M. Fsadni, Id-Dumnikani fil-Belt 1569-1619, Malta 1971, 14. A. Ferres, op. cit., 169‑176. Art. Bonnici, op. cit., 120.

[51] Art. Bonnici, op. cit.. Vol. II, 108. A. Ferres, op. cit., 523.

[52] A. Ferres, op. cit., 527.

[53] G. Zarb, Ġrajjiet is-Santwarju tal-Madonna tal-Grazzji, Malta 1951, 48-76.

[54] G. Zarb, op. cit., 51-52. G. Bosio, op. cit., III, viii, 157.

[55] G. Zarb, op. cit. 56-57.

[56] G. Zarb, op. cit., 62.64.

[57] Żabbar Parish Archives, Memorie, 27.

[58] NLM, Arch. 1771, if. 97-106.

[59] G. Zarb, op. cit., 67-68. This ex voto has the following inscription: V.F.G.A. A di XVI 8.br, 1696: La tempesta sopra Capo Colonni allora the ritornava dall'Armata Veneta, la squadra di Malta con la Pontificia, essendo andata attraverso la galera patrona papalina.

[60] G. Zarb, op. cit., 88-94.

[61] G. Zarb, op. cit., 80-81.

[62] G. Zarb, op. cit., 82-87.

[63] G. Bosio, op. cit., III, vi, 111.

[64] H.P. Scicluna, op. cit., 133-134.

[65] The icon of the Blessed Virgin of Philermos was consigned to the Czar Paul I of Russia on October 12, 1799. It was placed in the Church of Gatschina, whence, on the death of the Czar it was removed to the chapel of the Winter Palace in St Petersburg. Here it remained an object of fervent devotion for more than a century. During the Russian Revolution, the Empress Feodorovna, before leaving St Petersburg removed the Image of Philermos from the Winter Palace of the Czars. Until the outbreak of the Second World War, this relic is known to have been preserved in the Royal Palace of Belgrade. Vide:- H.P. Scicluna, op. cit.. 134-135.