Copyright © The Malta Historical Society, 2005.
Source: Melita Historica. [Malta Historical Society]. 7(1977)2(193-194)
ALEXANDER BONNICI, Il-Matriċi Kolleġġjata ta' l-Assunta u l-Ewwel Parroċċi ta' Għawdex, Gozo 1975, pp. 136.
This study is a sane, readable and thoroughly informative piece of work, marked by an academic objectivity [p.194] and a meticulous regard for strict documentary evidence, both local and foreign. In comparison, one can put all previous and contemporary publications on the subject, including Wettinger's Il-Ġrajja Bikrija tal-Knisja Matrici t'Għawdex 1435-1551, on an undergraduate introductory reading list.
The book begins with two brief chapters. The first is on the early writers on the history of the church in Gozo, whom, with the exception of Ciantar, the author considers of no great historical value. The second attempts the dubious task of tracing the origins of the earliest church in Gozo.
Chapter III evaluates the Church of the Assumption's claim to precedence over all other parish churches in Gozo. The key document in question, i.e. the will of the Gozitan Nucio de Episcopo, dated 12 October 1435 and preserved, according to Wettinger, in the Notarial Archives, Valetta (R. 399/7, f. 276v), is analysed critically in the process. It is the earliest document which refers to the Assumption as the Mother Church in Gozo. It implies also that by then it was normal usage to refer to that church by the name of Matrice. But since when still remains obscure; so, too, does our knowledge of whether this parish church was "the Matrice of Gozo" in the whole judicial sense of the term. No documentary evidence has so far been produced to prove that before 1678 — when Xewkija (and others later) was dismembered from the Assumption and given the status of parish, cfr. ch. IX-X — any church or churches had ever sprung from her. This does not imply, says Bonnici, that the Assumption was not the oldest parish church, but simply that the other early parishes in Rabat (Gozo) had not been her offshoots.
The next chapter gives a detailed and precise definition — essential as a basic term of reference — of the Latin phrase terra et insula ("the city and island") with reference to Gozo. In chapters V, VI and VII the author casts "a cursory look at the four parish churches in Rabat" — San Ġorġ, Savina, San ġakbu and the Assunta — during the 16th and 17th centuries in the light of Duzina's Apostolic Visit of 1575 and Bishop Molina's of 1680. In a later chapter (XIII) and with an accelerated narrative pace, Bonnici passes a few concluding remarks on the Mother Church and "all the other parishes together at the dawn of the eighteenth century".
This monograph is a serious study in the history of the early church in Gozo. Its only limitation is that Gozitan society, within which the churches grew and gained in their relative importance and stature, has been (wilfully?) neglected. One looks forward to the publication of Wettinger's promised study in the social and economic aspects of Gozitan life during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.