[p.267]

Mattia Preti, The Porziuncola, St Francis Church, Valletta

[p.268] Alexander Bonnici

MARY IMMACULATE IN THE CHURCHES OF THE FRANCISCANS MINOR CONVENTUAL

IN THE XVII AND XVIII CENTURIES*

Towards the beginning of the seventeenth century, the Franciscans Conventual had two churches under their care, which had already been built some time before. These were the one at Rabat (Malta) and the one at Rabat - Gozo. Meanwhile, at the very start of that same century, they were building a church in Valletta, the then new capital of Malta. Until the end of the eighteenth century, no new churches were obtained by the Franciscans Conventual. Not only so, but towards the end of the eighteenth century, by order of the French occupants, for a short while, the two churches at Valletta and Gozo were shut down.

Although each church and every community has its own particularities, the special devotions fostered by the entire Franciscan Order all had their effect upon our islands. The devotion towards Mary Immaculate was a unifying factor for the Franciscans Conventual. During these two centuries, we come across occasional Maltese writers who had contributed towards the development of the theology of the Subtle Doctor John Duns Scotus. However, when it came to the spreading of the devotion towards Mary Immaculate, the Franciscans Conventual, all to a man, were part of it. Whenever the laity sought to organise themselves under the patron-age of Mary Immaculate, they often found auspices in some church belonging to the Franciscans Conventual.

The churches in the hands of the Franciscans Conventual also housed in them an altar dedicated to St Mary Queen of the Angels, and it is commonly known as the altar at the Portiuncola. The title is intimately associated with St Francis' own experience of Mary's particular intercession and guidance as the Mother of all goodness. But, at any rate, such an altar had no prominence, except for one single day during the year. On 2 August, the commemoration takes place of Our Lady's apparition to St Francis, through which he was instigated to ask of the Pope the concession of a plenary indulgence to pilgrims visiting the church of St Mary Queen of the Angels, in Assisi. Later on, similar indulgences could be obtained in any Franciscan church throughout the world. However, apart from this one occasion during the year, the Portiuncola altar had no other special significance.

I. RABAT

Before any other Mendicant Order had established itself in Malta or Gozo, the Franciscans Conventual took over a church in Rabat and annexed a small friary to it. The oldest existent document concerning this dates back to 1372; but it does not relate to the establishment of the said church. By a decree of the 4 December, 1372, King Ferdinand of Aragon handed over into the care of Father Nicholas Papalla St Francis Hospital, which had its walls touching the above mentioned church of St [p.269] Francis. This is the same hospital which eventually came to be called Santo Spirito Hospital. The church, even if it undergone several transformations in its structure, is still upstanding on the same spot, annexed to the Santo Spirito Hospital, which today is shut down and completely neglected.[1]

All this points to the fact that the Franciscans Conventual settled on these islands at least some years before the year 1370.

MARY IMMACULATE AND MEDIATRIX OF ALL GRACES

In the church of Rabat, along with the devotion to Mary Immaculate, another devotion towards Our Lady sprang up under another title. In the church that existed up to the last years of the XVII century, apart from the altar dedicated to Mary Immaculate, there was another altar dedicated to Our Lady Mediatrix of all Graces: simply called Our Lady of Graces. That of Our Lady of Graces was a triptych with the effigy of Our Lady in the centre and that of St John the Baptist on the right and that of St Blaise on the left. The triptych was painted on wood as early as 1530, and sponsored by the Spanish Lord Giovanni De Nava, a great benefactor of the church.[2]

Both the altar dedicated to Mary Immaculate as well as that dedicated to Our Lady of Graces were the focus of great marian devotion. Amongst other things, there exists a will drawn up on 27 January, 1627, in the presence of the Notary Public Bernard Azupard. Through that will, Imperia, wife of Gregory Xerri, left some benefices so that two masses could be said weekly in honour of M'ary Immaculate, on the altar dedicated to her.[3] The same Imperia also left another benefice so that every Wednesday a Mass could be said on the altar dedicated to Our Lady of Graces.[4] At any rate, after a period of about fifty years, the altar dedicated to Our Lady of Graces was substituted by another. An inventory of December, 1687, does not mention Our Lady of Graces anymore, In the mean-time, it was entered in the inventory that there existed an altar dedicated to St Mary Queen of the Angels. The altar dedicated to Mary Immaculate was still extant. From the same inventory, it is known that there existed a picture of Our Lady, which was situated near the main door, where to-day we find a niche inside of which one can see the statue of Our Lady of Good Health.[5] This picture could have belonged to the triptych. As a matter of fact, in time both the picture of St John the Baptist as well as that of St Blaise were donated to 'Mgr Vincent Vassallo, and today they [p.270] are to be found in the Cathedral Museum (Mdina). However, no one knows what happened to the picture of Our Lady.[6]

These are the first inklings of the devotion to Our Lady of Good Health: a title very similar to that of Our Lady of Graces. There are also some records of a church which was not to stand for long. Owing to enormous damage it suffered, it had to be pulled down and rebuilt.

OUR LADY IN XVIII CHURCH

The church of Rabat was rebuilt according to a design of the well known architect Lorenzo Gafą. For a short period, as the former church was in a dilapidated state, the friars were constrained to say Mass in the chapel of the Santo Spirito Hospital. It was not unusual for the friars to go to their relatives to be able to have some meals.[7] When the construction of the new church was finished, the altar dedicated to Mary Immaculate was the most prominent one after the main altar. The picture and the architecture above that altar date back to 1710. Its architecture was designed by Peter Paul Troisi, while the stone chiselling was done by Paul Zahra. Both of them were Maltese. The picture of Mary Immaculate was a new one. Its painter was Giuseppe D'Arena: known as "Il Romano". It was painted on canvas. As time went by, the Madonna was decorated by a silver crown, while the cornice of the picture was gold-plated. Dr Philip James Gatt sponsored all the expenses. As an adequate recognition, the Franciscans chose a grave in front of the altar of Mary Immaculate, and made it available to him and his relatives. The painting itself cost 60 scudi. However, the architectural design, the work involved, and the setting up of the picture in its place cost 320 scudi in all.[8] In 1898, the picture was replaced by a new one painted by Tito Troia (even if the original painting, which is still extant, was much more artistic).

Right next to the altar of Mary Immaculate, there was situated the altar dedicated to Saint Mary Queen of the Angels, known as the Portiuncola altar. On the latter altar, a new painting was made to match the church designed by Gafa. Concerning this painting, it is documented as follows: "It is a picture painted on canvas by Enrico Ernaud. It depicts Our Lady and Our Father St Francis. Its cornice is gold-plated. The recess in the wall and its architecture were paid for by Maria Cumbi from Mdina.[9] The painting dates back to 1719. It suffered some damage during the great weather storm of 25 October, 1979.

FEAST AND WISHES OF A CONFRATEIRNITY

For centuries, the Franciscans Conventual of Malta fostered very strong ties with their confreres in Sicily. The Rabat friary, for several years, [p.271] housed the novitiate for Sicily and Malta. Over the years, it has always been said that the wooden statue of ,'Mary Immaculate (known today as Our Lady of Good Health") was donated to the Rabat church by the Franciscans Conventual of Palermo. A documentation of the unexpected acquisition of this statue is still preserved in the archives of the friary; but there is no hint of its donor. Nevertheless, association of facts indirectly suggests a valid argument that such a donation might have occurred. In 1646, Gian Battista De Leonardi planned to donate a silver natural-sized statue of Mary Immaculate to the church of St Francis in Palermo; the statue was ready by the end of 1647, and, on December 30, it was presented to the Franciscans.[10] Undoubtedly, the Franciscans Conventual had another statue prior to that one; but that statue was put aside, and no one can trace what has happened to it. Most probably, the statue was preserved somewhere in the church ,or friary; then, in 1731, according to our centuries old tradition, it was donated to the Franciscans Conventual of Rabat.[11] The registers of the friary testify that the Franciscans, in some way or an-other, in 1731, obtained a precious statue carved in wood. Immediately, the friars wanted to find a suitable place for it. A niche was provided by bar-ring a sacristy door, which opened out into the back garden. One of the persons who sponsored that cork was The Bailiff De Guttemberg.[12]

The acquisition of the statue urged the friars to increase the festivities in honour of Mary Immaculate. Thus, on 15 July, 1731, Father Leopold Bonavita, Guardian of the Community, wrote to his Father Provincial in Sicily on behalf of the friars and the faithful in Rabat. He explained to his Father Provincial that the tradition of organizing the feast of the Immaculate had started from time immemorial; it was becoming more popular from year to year. Consequently, he postulated to be allowed to establish a Confraternity in honour of Mary Immaculate. Fr Ferdinand Brullo, the Provincial Minister. gave him his consent in writing on 29 July, 1731.[13] In the Community Chapter of 14 August, 1731, Fr Paul Cavallini was appointed as Spiritual Director of the Confraternity. In point of fact, however, the Confraternity has not as yet been established. The Bishop had not yet given his consent. In the meantime, the Archpriest ,of Rabat, Fr John Guschieri, opposed the establishment of that Confraternity, on the grounds that he intended to celebrate the same festivity in St Paul's, his own parish church. In fact, in 1731, the Franciscans conducted for the first time a procession with the statue of Our Lady. But the desired permission never arrived, despite the fact that, alter a decision taken on 29 December, 1731, they appealed to Rome.[14] In 1763, the acts of the friary attest that the pro-cession of Mary Immaculate started to be organised in the parish after that the friars had already begun to hold it themselves.[15]

[p.272] As a matter of fact, the Confraternity of Mary Immaculate was never established in the Franciscan Church of Rabat. Nevertheless, the devotion for Mary Immaculate did not stop growing. On 25 October, 1752, it was conceded to the Friars that the altar of Mary Immaculate be a privileged one. There still exists in the archives of the friary the decree issued by Padre Carlo Antonio Calvi, Minister General of the Order, and its confirmation by the Bishop of Malta, Mgr Paul Alpheran de Bussan. The decree bears the date of 28 August, 1753.[16]

The procession of Mary Immaculate was to be introduced under a different guise. Since 1815, on the third Sunday of October, the friars were granted permission by Archbishop ,Mattei to start celebrate the liturgical feast of the Purity of Our Lady. During this festivity, the statue of Mary Immaculate was used for the procession.[17]

ORIGINS OF A SHRINE

From time immemorial, the Franciscans Conventual had many ties with Santo Spirito Hospital. Besides, the medical doctor Nicholas Saura left some money so that, after his death, a hospital and an adjoining hospice would be built; logically, this was named after him, and is situated at the back of St Francis Friary.[18]

Subsequent to the replacement, in the old church, of the altar of Our Lady Mediatrix of all Graces by that of St Mary Queen of the Angels, another new very strong devotion cropped up. Opposite the Portiuncola altar, there was the altar dedicated to St Francis of Paola. A picture of Our Lady, placed on the lower elevation of the altar, was attracting a lot of attention from the devout public. Most likely, towards the middle of the XVIII century, it started to be called "Our Lady of Good Health". The gilted frame of the picture had some flowers etched on it. Around that altar, there used to be many valuable embellishments. Moreover, a number of "ex voto" tokens stood as a sign of thanksgiving for graces obtained through the intercession of Our Lady.[19]

"Our Lady of Good 'Health" is a reproduction of an original picture painted by Giovanbattista Sa1vi (1609-1685), known as Sassoferrato. This painter is known for the sentimental strains he tried to evoke with the Madonnas that he painted. The portrait at Rabat comes under a title which contrasts with what it actually shows. Actually, you can attribute any title to that Madonna, even if the painter himself entitled the portrait "La Madonna Orante" The Praying (Madonna). The title of Our Lady of Good Health (Madonna tas-Saħħa) emerged from historical circumstances. The Christian Community, under pressure from life's burden and stricken by ill-health, came into the habit of praying with great fervour in front of that picture of Our Lady. Quite a few people used to frequent Santo Spirito Hospital and the Saura Hospice, in order to visit their sick. Thus, it was not unusual for the Maltese people, who came up to visit their hospitalized [p.273] relatives, to pray to Our Lady and beseech her assistance for the cure of their beloved ones. The sick themselves used to invoke Our Lady's succour and ask her to make them well. Thus, it was quite natural for them to start calling this effigy of the Blessed Virgin with the title of: "Our Lady of Good Health".[20]

18th Century unknown artist, Our Lady of Good Health, St Francis Church, Rabat, Malta

Towards the last years of the XVIII century, this particular devotion had grown considerably. A silver crown adorned the Madonna. Twelve silver plated stars girded her face. A collection of mother-of-pearls, tied together by a golden cross containing precious stones in it, was strung around the Madonna's neck. A golden chain was also hanging as an ulterior ornament of the Madonna's neck.[21]

[p.274] As time went by, St Francis church started to be commonly known as the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Health. There exist other portraits of Our Lady of Good Health, all over Malta and Gozo. Notwithstanding this, whenever the general public speak of Our Lady of Good Health, they are always referring to the one at Rabat.

Devotion towards Our Lady of Good Health reached its peak in the twentieth century. Its greatest propagator was Fr Emanuel Ebejer. As an official recognition of this fact, on 3 February, 1948, Cardinal Tedeschini, through the authority of Pope Pius XII, issued the incoronation decree. On 4 April, 1948, at Floriana, Archbishop Michael Gonzi solemnly incoronated with a golden crown this miraculous effigy of Our Lady of Good Health. Still, thousands of devotees never cease to visit this franciscan conventual shrine to beseech graces through Our Lady.

II. VICTORIA - GOZO

Towards the end of the XV century, the Franciscans Conventual established themselves in Rabat (later known as Victoria) on the island of Gozo. At that time, they were given a small unendowed church, dedicated to St Mark, to look after. However, in 1535, they changed the titular saint of the church, and dedicated it to St Francis.[22] Towards the middle .of the XVIIth century, the friars pulled down the old church, and built a bigger one instead.[23] In the meantime, Pope Innocent X, in 1652, stipulated by means of the constitution Instaurandae, that the small friaries were to be closed down. Consequently, the franciscan one in Gozo had to be closed. Notwithstanding this, after that several persons had beseeched that the Gozo friary be spared, Cardinal Spada, in the name of the Holy See, reassured the Franciscans and informed them that everything had to stay as it was before the promulgation of the Constitution.[24]

ALTARS DEDICATED TO OUR LADY

In Gozo as well, in the XVIIIth century, two altars were dedicated to Our Lady. The altar of Our Lady, Queen of the Angels had nothing that it is worth mentioning. In the accounts of the pastoral visits of the Bishops, not even the picture is described in detail. During the XVII and XVIII centuries, the best description is that of 1728. In that account, we find that the picture represented St Francis of Assisi kneeling down while he is receiving the cord from Our Lady.[25]

The altar of Mary Immaculate was the one which attracted the greatest devotion in that church. It was in the very same spot where it is today: [p.275] on the right hand side of the main altar. The picture of Mary Immaculate was protected from the this by a white velvet veil.[26] During the XVII and XVIII centuries, nothing of special notice was added to the altar. According to all the pastoral visits paid to the church, one can gather that a vessel with oil and wick for giving light was hanging in front of the altar. There was also a tabernacle on the altar where, 'occasionally, the Blessed Sacrament was kept.[27]

THE CONFRATERNITY OF MARY IMMACULATE

On 29 January, 1663, a Confraternity of Mary Immaculate was established in the Gozo church; but, for a long while, no statutes were available

Late 18th Century artist, The Immaculate Conception, St Francis Church, Rabat, Gozo

[p.276] to run it.[28] At any rate, the Confraternity still has developed traditions, though they were not officially approved by ecclesiastical authorities. The report of the pastoral visit conducted by Bishop David Cocco Palmieri, which took place on 24 April, 1687, contains a detailed account of the various works done by this Confraternity. It was a male organization whose aim was not confined just to take part in religious processions. They looked after the altar of Mary Immaculate and organized the liturgical feast of Mary Immaculate, each year, on 8 December. Every second Sunday of the month, a little procession around the church used to be held.[29] Since 1652, the Franciscan Friars obtained the permission to start organizing two processions in honour of Our Lady; one was that of Mary Immaculate; the other, in honour of the purity of Our Lady, was popularly called Our Lady of the Lily.[30] However, it the accounts of the pastoral visits, only the one of Mary Immaculate is mentioned.

There is no reference to statues in the account of the pastoral visit of 1687. But that of 7 May, 1698, states that, on 8 December, a procession with the statue of Our Lady was held each year.[31] The statue in question is not the same one that exists today, which is known to be the work of Salvu Psaila of Burmola. Nothing is known of the original statue.

SPIRITUAL ACTIVITY AND MARIAN CULT

The Confraternity of Mary Immaculate had become very active indeed. In 1687, an oratory for the Confraternity was being built. The entrance to it was on the right hand side of the church choir. The confreres used to meet in the oratory under the guidance of one of the friars belonging to that church.[32] In 1698, the oratory was undoubtedly ready built.[33] When religious functions were held, the confreres used to gather in that oratory in order to prepare themselves; in fact, the oratory was used as their vestry.[34]

In 1760, the Franciscans asked Bishop Bartholomew Rull to grant them permission for solemn exposition of the Blessed Sacrament every second Sunday of the month and on the fifteen Saturdays that precede the feast of Mary Immaculate. Those were days when the confreres gathered together.[35] The Bishop also granted that whoever recited the Hail Holy Queen in front of the picture of Mary Immaculate would gain a 40 day indulgence.[36]

The year 1760 was an important one for the confraternity of Mary Immaculate. Since it still had no statutes, the spiritual director of the Con-fraternity, during a pastoral visit, asked the Bishop if he could approve the same statutes, designed by Father Philip Cagliola for the Confraternity of Mary Immaculate, already established in St Francis church, Valletta. On 1 June, 1760, Bishop Rull appointed Father Louis Gauci to study [p.277] the case.[37] That priest, on 8 June, 1760, came to a positive conclusion, and the Bishop, on the same day, approved Fr Cagliola's statutes, and they started to be operative also for Gozo.[38]

DOWRIES. FOR POOR YOUNG WOMEN

Connected with the 'Confraternity of Mary Immaculate, there was a certain good activity which, in the past, had its significance. Angelino Spiteri, by means of a will and a writ of the 9 and 17 April, 1668 respectively, in the presence of the Notary Public Giovanni Andrea Madiona, left some land to the Confraternity, while binding it with a legacy. Spiteri instructed that the interests accruing from the estate should go each year to-wards a marriage dowry of a Gozitan young marriagable woman, who was to be married for the first time. The administration of those interests was in the hands of the Procurator of the 'Confraternity of Mary Immaculate. According to the wishes stated in the will, the choice was made on the feast day of Mary Immaculate, On 8 December, the confreres used to get together for vespers. Then, each of the confreres wrote on a card the name of a young woman who came from the poorest families of Gozo. The cards were put together, and a name was picked up by lot. It could happen that the name of one girl was put on more than one card. The interest that accrued was 14 ounces of the Maltese coin. The wedding used to be celebrated on the second Sunday of June. If by chance the marriage of the particular woman was cancelled, the money deriving from the benefice was to be offered as Mass stipends.[39]

At a time of dire poverty, this work of charity entrusted to the Con-fraternity of Mary Immaculate was greatly appreciated, and several girls hoped to benefit from it. In time, however, 80% of the capital was lost and the 'Maltese money (just as anywhere else) was devaluated. As a result of this, the interest came to be so little that the dowry was only worth just slightly more than two present-day Maltese pounds. 'Consequently, this custom, still remembered by the people of Gozo, is no longer extant.

In Gozo, Mary Immaculate remained always dear to the faithful who frequent St Francis Church. The Confraternity, however, does no longer have the appeal and efficiency it once enjoyed.

III. VALLETTA

The Friary of the 'Franciscans Conventual at Valletta, if one could really call it a Friary, was ready by the year 1598.[40] In actual fact, it was excavated below ground level, where sunlight did not even reach it.[41] The building of the church continued until the first years of the seventeenth [p.278] century, and probably it came to an end in 1607. In June of 1607, arrangements were being made concerning the structure of the stone cornice that was to hold the titular picture.[42] This church, like the two before it, was dedicated to St Francis. From the very beginning, it was situated on the main street (our present day Republic Street). The history of this church is contemporary with the period that we are dealing with in this study. No less than in the other churches whose history we have already ac-counted for, great devotion was fostered in this church towards Mary Immaculate. The church underwent various changes. In this project, we shall deal with two periods of the history of this church; firstly, when the church was built for the first time; secondly, when the church was enlarged in 1681. At first, there was no picture of Mary Immaculate in the church. On the left hand side of the main altar, there was a side altar carrying a picture dedicated to Our Lady of Monserrat.[43]

The church and the friary in Valletta pertaining to the period between 1600 and 1800, are tied to two well known Franciscan Friars and to a Confraternity which still exists today. The Friars that we are to mention and the Confraternity have had strong attachments to Mary Immaculate,

PHILIP CAGLIOLA (1603-1653) AND

ALESSANDRO FONTANA (1646-1712)

Father Philip Cagliola and Father Alessandro Fontana are two well known Franciscans Conventual who are worthy to be remembered for what they have done to honour the Immaculate Virgin Mary. They did not know each other; when Cagliola died, Fontana was still a little boy.

Father Philip Cagliola (1603-1653) is a priest who earned great honour for the Franciscans Conventual in Malta. He is renowned as a Theologian and historian; meanwhile, in his time, he was well known for the important positions he held both in Malta and in Sicily.[44] What interests us here is what he lovingly and ingeniously did to promote the devotion of Mary Immaculate. Although he was horn in Malta,[45] as he himself wrote in his principal published work;[46] rather Caglicia spent many years in Italy. A work of his, published in 1643, is a collection of discourses meant to de-[p.279]-fend the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady. The full title of the publication is as follows: Lettera di Messina, cioe l'Irnmacolata Concezione della Gran Madre di Dio, provata e difesa per nove discorsi sopra la lettera the Ella scrisse alla nobilissima Cittą di Messina.[47] The title means: "A letter from Messina, or The Immaculate Conception of the Great Mother of God, proven and defended by means of nine discourses concerning the letter she wrote to the most noble city of Messina".

Father Cagliola owes his fame also to the fact that he helped in establishing the Confraternity of Mary Immaculate in Valletta. He was instrumental in its origins. He compiled its Statutes which, later on, were adapted to the Confraternity of 'Mary Immaculate founded at St Francis Church in Gozo. The importance of the Confraternity in Valletta for Marian devotion merits treatment on its own in our study. But, before the narration of some facts about the Confraternity, we give some general details about another Franciscan Conventual who, through the publication of some sermons, helped to propagate the devotion towards the Virgin Mary.

Fr Alessandro Fontana (1646-1712) was a very well-known preacher.[48] Grand Master Gregorio Carafa financially helped him to publish the most important of his sermons in a book of 325 pages.[49] The discourses deal with various themes. But, as a Franciscan, Fontana chose to begin his book with an elaborate panegyric to honour Mary Immaculate. That laudatory discourse was delivered in St Francis Church, Valletta, in the feast of the Immaculate Conception in 1684. Its title was as follows: La Luna simile al Sole. Figuratively, the Virgin Mary is compared to the Moon, which receives all its splendour from the Sun.[50] The eighth panegyric of that book was recited in St Augustine Church at Valletta on the occasion of the Solemnity in honour of Our Lady of Consolation (29 August, 1689). It was entitled: Il modo di ben amare (True Love).[51]

THE CONFRATERNITY OF MARY IMMACULATE

In 1637, a number of cultured and professional people made an ear-nest request to Father Philip Cagliola, in his guise as Commissioner General of the Franciscans Conventual, to grant that a Confraternity in honour of Mary Immaculate be established at St Francis Church. Their aim was to be instructed in spiritual achievements and to gather for liturgical prayers (especially, the Office of the Blessed Virgin) under the auspices of Mary Immaculate.

Father Cagliola welcomed them in St Francis Church, and formulated a petition to Bishop Balaguer, for the erection of the Confraternity. In the petition, he listed the names of the future confreres of the Confraternity. On 21 June, 1637, the Bishop of 'Malta gave his consent in writing.[52] Father Cagliola was asked to draw up the first statutes of that Confraternity. He entitled the Statutes as follows: Statutes of the Venerable Confraternity of [p.280] the Immaculate Virgin Mary, erected in St Francis Friary of the Minors Conventual at the city of Valletta, on the island of Malta,[53] Those statutes were sent to Rome for approval by the Superiors of Franciscans Conventual. On 15 March, 1638, Father Giovanbattista Berardicelli confirmed them.[54]

The Confreres obtained for their use the first altar on the left hand side of the main altar. Since that altar was originally dedicated to Our Lady of Monserrat, they had to replace the picture of Our Lady by one depicting Mary Immaculate.[55] The Friars, in the meantime, made avail-able to the Confreres a room in the friary, situated between the well and the belfry of the church, which they could use provisionally as an Oratory. But the project was that, eventually, an oratory would be built on top of the friars' dormitory.[56] The first Libro delle Consulte, of the Confraternity contains further information regarding marian devotion fostered in that church. On 11 August, 1637, it was established that, every third Sunday of the (month, the Friars along with the members of the Confraternity will participate in a procession, that would stop over at the church of Our Lady of Victories and at St John's.)[57] On 11 November, 1637, it was decided that the solemnity of Mary Immaculate should be extended over a period of eight days. Two separate processions began to be held: one on the feast day and the other on the day of the octave.)[58] As a result of a consultation of 18 January, 1638, it was decided to hold yet another procession on Easter Vigil in honour of Mary Immaculate and the Risen Lord. For this last procession, eight statuettes were made. Among the statuettes, the one depicting Mary Immaculate used to bring up the tail of the procession.[59]

At a time when church functions were so numerous, they still continued to increase. After a consultation of 25 July, 1637, in agreement with the friars, the Confraternity introduced the chanting of the Litany of Our Lady and the Salve Regina, every Saturday evening, throughout the year, The members of the Confraternity used to provide the candles needed for such functions.[60]

After 20 years, the Confraternity completed the Oratory on top of the dormitory belonging to the Friars. It was blessed by Bishop Balaguer, on 8 December, 1657.[61] During the same period, however, the new picture of Mary Immaculate was suffering damage. On 21 February, 1655, it was realized that something had to be done to safeguard the place from humidity.[62]

In the year 1681, additions were made to the church for the first time.

[p.281] This affected the Confraternity as well. Grand Master Gregory Carafa, a great benefactor of the Franciscans, expressed the wish that an altar dedicated to St Anthony should replace that of :Mary Immaculate. Father Alessandro Fontana brought the case up before the Confraternity, during the meeting held on 26 January, 1681. The Confraternity was offered the altar on the right hand side, of the main altar. Not all the members agreed to this. ,Moreover. they did not want to accept unless certain conditions were agreed upon. The main objection they had was the fact that, on that side of the church, there was not enough room for the graves. Furthermore, it was feared that the picture would suffer damage, while being transferred from the other side. They did not want that the picture be reduced in size. At the time, the Confreres were thinking to make some restorations to it. At the same time, they were not ready to incur any expenses which could be involved in transferring the altar from one spot to the other.[63]

At the time when the church was reconstructed, new pictures were painted for the altars. It was at the same time that, among others, the picture of St 'Mary Queen of the Angels, known as that of the Portiuncola, entered in the scene. This was painted by the famous painter Mattia Preti.[64]

The XVIII century brought along with it several problems for Malta. The members of the Confraternity also became aware that the initial enthusiasm was fading away. It was with this in mind that, on 10 February, 1762, they made a petition to the Franciscans Conventual to allow them to ask the Jesuit priest Father Calvi to preach to them during Lent. On that occasion, the friars gave them permission just for once.[65]

The members who made up the Confraternity always originated from the most respected sections of the society. They kept doing their best to celebrate in the best manner the feast of Mary Immaculate. Their desire to make of it a more solemn occasion drove them to change the feast-day, and start celebrating the festivity on the Sunday in the octave of Mary Immaculate. This was decided on 2 February, 1785. The main reason for this decision was the fact that it was much easier for the musicians to participate in the celebrations on Sunday than on 8 December, which mostly happened to be a week-day.[66]

The Franciscans Conventual and the Confraternity of Mary Immaculate maintained their efforts to engender devotion towards the Blessed Virgin. Occasionally of course, there were misunderstandings between them. However, by (mutual consent, they reached a compromise in their conflicting opinions. The ultimate common aim brought the two bodies together. It is the love for Mary Immaculate which animates both of them. She is in fact the patron of both the Franciscans Conventual and the Confraternity.

The period we have dealt with closes on a pleasant and an unpleasant note. In the year 1800, Malta was under French occupation. In the minutes of a confraternity meeting of 19 October, 1800, we come across the fol-[p.282]-lowing note: "After that the island was occupied by the French, they, without having any right, pillaged from our church all our precious be-longings. Apart from that, they also closed down the friary, and forced us to withdraw to the one in Rabat".[67]

Luckily, the Franciscans endured those difficult problems just for a very short period. The first written note of the Franciscans Conventual, on their return to the Valletta friary is connected with their devotion to Mary Immaculate. In November 1800, the Franciscans of that friary wrote to Archbishop Ferdinand Mattei. They petitioned to be granted to solemnize the feast of the Immaculate even more. They entreated the Archbishop to permit them to organize a procession on the feast-day of Mary Immaculate: that is on 8 December. Besides, in order to foster a greater devotion to the Virgin Mary, the Franciscans desired to walk in procession up to Sar rch in Floriana. Archbishop Mattei benevolently assented to their request, and answered them in writing on 28 December, 1800.[68]

These few reflections were concerned with the activities that took place in the three churches belonging to the Franciscans Conventual on our is-lands during the XVII and XVIII centuries. All historical data has shown us that the Franciscans Conventual, in accordance with the tradition of their Order, have always done their utmost to promote love for Our Lady, and particularly under the title of Mary Immaculate.


[1] Palermo, Archivio di Stato, Regia Cancelleria, Req. 6, 192. Cf. G.F. Abela, Della Descrittione di Malta, 1647, lib. III, nota 6, 391 3; Filippo Rotolo, "I Francescani e i Re Aragonesi in Sicilia" in "Misc. Franc.". t 61 (1961), 82; Bonav. Fiorini, "Il Convento di S. Francesco in Rabat" in "Mel. Hist.", v. III (1960-3), 32.

[2] Arch. OFMConv., Rabat, Attuario sive Giuliana, I (1638), 51v; III (1702), 329r. Here, we find collected together centuries old valuable documents.

[3] L.C., Giuliana I, 31r-v. I endeavoured to trace the original registration of this will; but in the Notary Archives, deeds of the Notary Public Azupard for the years here in question are totally missing.

[4] Ibid., 32r.

[5] L.C., Inventario (1681)-Consigli (1681-1748)-Lettere, 3v.

[6] V. Caruana dei Conti Gatto, Malta Artistica Illustrata, parte I, Pittura, Malta 1906, 43.

[7] A declaration of the Fraternity, dated 30 Sept., 1700, testifies that the church was half-built; financial problems were overwhelming. But experts warned the friars that the construction should go on without any interruption: L.C., Inventario-Consiglio-Lettere, 38r-v, 47r.

[8] L.C., Libro Esito Straordinario 1710-16, 177v, 197v, 204r; Attuario del Convento, 1702-40, 204r-205v.

[9] L.C., Inventario delli Giugali, 1801, 4r.

[10] F. Rotolo, La Sicilia nella Luce dell'Immacolata, Palermo 1954, 30.

[11] Arch. OFMConv., Rabat Inventario Consigli. 109v-110r; On 1 May, 1983, I met Fr Filippo Rotolo in Carini (Palermo). As he is the main living historian of the Franciscans Conventual in Sicily, I obtained from him some informations about St Francis Basilica in Palermo. Besides his detailed informations, I consulted his book: F. Rotolo, La Basilica di S. Francesco di Assisi in Palermo, Palermo 1952.

[12] Arch. OFMConv., Rabat, Inventario-Consigli, 120v.

[13] Idem.

[14] Ibid., 119v.

[15] L.C., Libro ove si registrano gl'ordini dei Superiori Maggiori, 1749-79, 60v-61r.

[16] L.C., Litterae Apostolicae in forma Brevis quibus conceditur Altare Privilegiatum.

[17] The original document of this petition and the favourable concession of Archbishop Mattei are jealously preserved by the Friars.

[18] P. Cassar, Medical History of Malta, London 1964, 23-36, 381-2.

[19] Arch. OFM Conv., Rabat, Inventario Belli Giugali, 1801, 5.

[20] Alex. Bonnici, drajjiet is-Santwarju tal-Madonna tas-Saħħa fir-Rabat, 4-5. This booklet of just 16 pages is built up on documents which still can be consulted in the Franciscan Friary of Rabat.

[21] Arch. OFM Conv., Rabat, Inventario Belli Giugali, 1801, 5-6.

[22] This document is particularly important for St Francis Church in Gozo. The following extract is noteworthy: "Die Undecimo Septembris MDXLV: . Ecclesiam olim vocatam Sancti Marchi, nu-per vero ab annis decem infra Sancti Francisci positam in Rabbato praesentis terrae Gaudisii, Melivetanae dioecesis": CEM, RA, 36 (1541-56), 201r. Cf. G. Wettinger, "Il-Ġrajja Bikrija tal-Knisja Matrici t'Għawdex": 350 Sena Kolleġġjata: 1623-1973, 20, nota 9; Alex. Bonnici, Il-Matrici Kolleġġjata ta' l-Assunta u l-Ewwel Parroċċi ta' Għawdex, 1975, 46.

[23] B. Fiorini, "I Francescani al Gozo" in Mel. Hist., v. III, 49.

[24] AAM, VP 1744-51, 243v.

[25] AAM, VP 1728-29, 649v.

[26] AAM, VP 1692-98, 576r.

[27] AAM, VP 1722-23, 642v.

[28] NLM, Lib., 179, 131; A. Ferres, Descrizione Storica delle Chiese di Malta e Gozo, 569.

[29] AAM, VP 1692-98, 576r-v.

[30] B. Fiorini, "I Francescani al Gozo" in l.c., 50

[31] AAM, VP 1692-98, 583r.

[32] AAM, VP 1685-87B. 576v-577r.

[33] AAM, VP 1692-98, 583r. For some information about this Oratory, cf. Arch. OFM Conv., Gozo, Cabreum live Inventarium omnium et singulorum bonorum, 10r-v

[34] AAM, VP 1758-60 II, 665v.

[35] Idem.

[36] Idem.

[37] NLM, Lib., 179, 131.

[38] Ibid., 131-2.

[39] NAM, 915/1 (Giov. Andrea Madiona), 9+17/4/1668. The Pastoral Visit Report of the year 1687, correctly, states that the will is of the year 1668 (AAM, VP 24, 576v). But all other pastoral visit reports erroneously mention the year 1678: Ibid.. 25, 583v; 31, 649r; etc. But the quoted original of the will proves that the year was 1668.

[40] For the foundation of the Valletta Friary, cf. B. Fiorini, "Il Convento e la Chiesa di S. Francesco di Valletta (Malta)" in Misc. Franc., t. 57, p. 97. For the original deed by Notary Alban, cf. NAM, R 12/5, 336v, 338v.

[41] NAM, R 12/5, 337r.

[42] On June 24, 1604, Fr Daniel La Greca was still struggling to obtain what was left for the structure of the cornice by Vincent De Tripoli. But La Greca got what had been donated through the deed by a civil court decision of 29 Jan. 1607: Arch. OFM Conv., Valletta, contracts, not classified.

[43] Arch. Confraternity Immacolata, Contract between Franciscans Conventual and the Confreres of the Immaculate, 25/7/1637, deeds of Notary Public Giov. Domenico Pace, 2. The original deed could not be traced in the Notary Archives. But the Confraternity has in its possession an authentic copy transcribed by the Notary Lucius Azzopardi towards the year 1657.

[44] G. Franehini, Bibliosofia e Memorie Letterarie di Scrittori Francescani Conventuali ch'hanno scritto dopo l'anno 1585, Modena 1693, 203. For a detailed monography, see: B. Fiorini, "Father Philip Cagliola O.M Conv." in The Teacher's Magazine, v III (1945), 437-442.

[45] His baptismal name was Francis; he was born on 4 June, 1603, and baptized in St Paul's Parish Church, Valletta: APSPNV, Bapt. 1, (1595-1618), 81v.

[46] In his main work about Almae Siciliensis Provinciae Ordinis Minorum Conventualium S. Francisci Manifestationes, we find the following declaration in the title it-self: Patre Magistro Philippo Cagliola a Melita,

[47] In a brief way, this work is known as Sermones super Epistolam B.M.V. ad Messanenses. It is published by Giacomo Mattei in 1643.

[48] B. Fiorini, "I Frati Minori Convene mall a Malta" in Misc. Franc., t. 65 (1965), 325.

[49] See Discorsi Sacri Panegirici del Padre Maestro Fra Alessandro Fontana di Malta, Minore Conventuale, Palermo, Tip. Romolo, 1689, 325.

[50] Ibid., 1-35.

[51] Ibid., 230-265.

[52] ACI, Libro delle Consulte, A, 3.

[53] For an authentic copy of these statutes, cf.: NLM, Libr., 179, 29-129. The title of this copy is the following: Costituzioni e Regole della Veneranda Confraternitą dell'Immacolata Concezione di Maria Vergine. Mistakenly, this copy states that the Confraternity was erected on 11 June, 1637; but the correct date is 21 June, 1637.

[54] Ibid., 31.

[55] ACI, Deed between the Franciscans and the Confreres of the Immaculate, 25/7/1637, 2 3,

[56] Ibid., 4.

[57] ACI, Consulte, A, 4.

[58] Ibid., 5.

[59] The following were the titles given to the statuettes: i) Porta Caeli, ii) Mons Signatus, iii) Puteus Agrorum, iv) Turris David, v) Domus Domini, vi) Hortus Conclusus, vii) Templum Domini, viii) the Immaculate Conception: Idem.

[60] Ibid., 7 9.

[61] Ibid., 34.

[62] Ibid., 31.

[63] Ibid., 72, 85.

[64] A. Ferres, Descrizione, 226; B. Fiorini, "Il Convento e la Chiesa di S. Francesco di Valletta" in Misc. Franc., t. 57, 104,

[65] Arch. OFM Conv., Valletta, Libro Figliolanze, (1665-1858) e Consigli (1714-1847), 48r.

[66] ACI, Libro delle Consulte. C (1746‑1812), 149.

[67] Ibid., 235.

[68] Arch. OFMConv., Valletta, Documenti 1800-1899, 28/11/1800.

* Particular Abbreviation: ACI: Confraternity dell'Immacolata