Copyright © The Malta Historical Society, 2005.
Source: Melita Historica : Journal of the Malta Historical Society. 6(1975)4(444-445)
FILIPP MALLIA O.P., Il-Fratellanza tas-SS.mu Sagrament fil-Parroċċa ta’ S.M. tal-Portu Salvu, il-Belt, 1575-1975. Veritas Press, Zabbar, 1975, xii-356 pp., illus.
Fr Philip Mallia and the Committee presided over by Mr Dominic Borg could not possibly have celebrated better the 4th centenary of their Confraternity than by publishing this excellent work. Research work, if well done and well presented in book form, remains for ever.
What strikes me most in this book is that it is an exhaustive study of the subject. It runs into some 360 pages, and is endowed with 30 interesting, well-chosen, explanatory illustrations. No single detail of the history of the Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament in the Church of Porto Salvo in Valletta, which was worth recording, has escaped the attention of the Author. The only pity is the lack of an index — some-thing which could perhaps be remedied at a later stage. Otherwise the book is a complete work. It is fully documented (with something like a thousand footnotes containing references to original sources). It is the [p.445] result of competence, familiarity with the sources and that particular interest and attraction for the subject without which historical research is hardly possible.
Confraternities, nowadays rapidly disappearing from our Island scene, were numerous, popular, rich, active and widespread in Malta and Gozo in the past, when life in all its aspects really centred round the village church. The Blessed Sacrament Confraternity in Porto Salvo is the oldest in Valletta, and one of the earliest in Malta. Here is the testimony of bishop M.G. Molina in his Report to Rome dated 22/3/1681 (R.M.L. Misc. 252): Societates Laicorum cum Sacco in civitate Valletta novem existunt, in tota Dioecesi 138. Fere omnes habent sua Oratoria, in quibus diebus Dominicis ad plurima pietatis operta conveniunt. Inter has primum locum obtinet Societas Sanctissimi Sacramenti erecta in Parochiali Ecclesia S. Mariae Virginis Pontus Salutis Civitatis Vallettae sub cura PP. Praedicatorum S. Dominici, a cuius Confratribus tertia qualibet Dominica cuiuslibet Mensis fit Processio cum Sanctissimo Eucharistiae Sacramento. Similis societas reperitur in omnibus fere Parochialibus Ecclesiis totius Dioecesis.
A Confraternity was in fact set up in many parishes by Mgr Duzina in order to promote proper respect and veneration for the Eucharist, particularly while carrying the Blessed Sacrament in procession to dying parishioners (this practice, called “viaticum,” is still extant in one or two villages, but was quite common until about twenty years ago). The Confraternity in Porto Salvo proved to be very active, and intimately bound up with that important church and consequently with the broad history of our Capital. Several Knights, and Grand Masters of the Order, for example, became members and enriched the association with donations and privileges. The records of the Confraternity, preserved in their large number and variety, abound with first-hand information on the religious, social, artistic and political history of Valletta. To give one or two examples: Girolamo Cassar was one of the sixty-two founder members of the Confraternity in 1575 (p. 17). Mattis Preti was awarded 50 scudi for his painting for the newly built Oratory, where it can still be seen: the entry in the Libro degli Esiti B 1673-74, f. 76, reads: Per Regalo al Signor Cavaglier Mattia per lo quadro novo — 50 (p. 53). During the French occupation of Valletta the Confraternity got involved in a controversy with the Authorities who were anxious to get hold of its 203 pounds of silver, and it is interesting to see how the former managed to win the dispute with flying colours (pp. 302-8).
Fr Mallia has perfectly succeeded in making of the records of his Confraternity a highly readable narrative of undoubted historical interest.