Copyright © The Malta Historical Society, 2005.
Source: Melita Historica. [Published by the Malta Historical Society]. 4(1965)2(141-142)
Fr. M. FSADNI, O.P., Il-Migja u l-Hidma ta' l-Ewwel Dumnikani f'Malta (1450-1512). Malta, Lux Press, 1965. Price 3/6.
Much of the history of the Middle Ages in Malta is still shrouded in a cloud of obscurity. Every now and then, however, the curtain is lifted for a little while and a tiny glimpse is offered of the mediaeval scene.
Fr. Fsadni's booklet comes as a result of long years of preparation and of patient, often unrewarding research in various archives — monastic, Cathedral and public. This is testified by the impressive bibliography of manuscript and published' sources appended to this 98-paged account of the early Dominicans in Malta and by the copious footnotes which enrich this work.
The publication under review draws largely on the manuscript account of the three Dominican Priories in Malta left by Fr. Francesco Maria Azzopardi, O.P. (1626-1682), to whose work the author devotes a scholarly and balanced study in the introduction to this book. Besides the actual text, there are additional notes on the Church of St. Mark at Rabat, originally bequeathed to the Dominicans in 1431, and on the Black friars Church and Priory of the Annunciation at Birgu. Various reproductions of paintings and of documents illustrate and add to the usefulness of this publication.
Fr. Fsadni's review covers the period 1450-1512. Within this limit, he has made the best possible use of his sources, enlarging upon and often giving a fresh interpretation of source material already utilised by previous writers, some of them fellow-Dominicans.
Reasoned arguments and logical deductions led Fr. Fsadni to conclude that the Dominicans came to Malta in or about 1450 A.D. There are no grounds to quarrel with this conclusion which, however, makes it most unlikely that Fr. Zurki, the founder of the first Priory, came to Malta in 1456 — as claimed by the Maltese historian Abela. Very wisely Fr. Fsadni points out that in making this statement Abela did not disclose his source and that this date can only be accepted on his authority so long as it is not disproved.
The present work is bound to interest also the social historian. The priory was roofed over with timber or plastered reeds, and the windows were covered with cloth impregnated with wax. Like the priory, the church, which was roomy enough inside, was roofed over with timber, but it had no dome and the ceiling was rather low. The re-construction of the plan of the first priory [p.142] building, with its three dormitories and its cloister complete with refectory, hospice, kitchen, timber room, pantry, grain store, and animal sheds, with its green outlying fields and sweet scented fruit gardens provides a mediaeval picture of a well-organised industrious and peaceful monastic community that recalls similar ones in other countries. This peaceful life, was often abruptly shattered by the Turkish raids, when the Friars had to leave their church and priory behind, and seek refuge within the walls of Mdina carrying with them their most precious belongings and the treasured archives, which were always kept ready for such an emergency in a-red sack. There were times of poverty and privation, too, e.g. in 1511, when the Friars could hardly obtain enough food for human sustenance.
Of interest to the student of the Maltese Language is the information that 13th and 16th century notaries used to explain the contents of deeds arid contracts to their clients in Maltese (p. 61 — footnote 123). There is another note on the place — name Binguiirad, mentioned in a diploma of King Frederick of Spain, which is transcribed in various ways in other documents i.e. Binguerad — Binguerra't — Beni-awd — Benuarmt — BinwarM (p. 72 — footnote 176). The family surnames of some of the early Dominicans also provide material for the study of local patronymics, e.g. de Barthalo, Pachi, Mule, Gaudixi, Xara, de Muscato, Fauzuni (Falsono), de Episcopo, Skembri, Tabuni.
Fr. Fsadni deserves every help and encouragement to carry on further researches in this field and give us other interesting publications on Maltese Monastic History.
J. Cassar Pullicino