Copyright © The Malta Historical Society, 2005.
Source: Melita Historica. [Malta Historical Society]. 7(1978)3(286-288)
[p.286] Reviews 1978
Le istituzioni ecclesiastiche delta "Societas Christiana" dei secoli XI — XII: diocesi, pievi e parrocchie. Atti delta VI Settimana internazionale di studio: Milano, 1—7 settembre 1974, Vita e Pensiero, Milan, 1977; pp. 888; lire 40,000.
Any glimpse into the unknown process of the Christianization of the Maltese islands in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries is of some value. One approach is through a study of the so-called "rollo" of 1436 and of other post-1400 texts concerning clergy, tithes and ecclesiastical organization. Another is to base assumptions on external parallels, a dangerous but seemingly inescapable procedure. The survival in Malta of an indigenous Christian organization, influences from North Africa, Christians of the Greek rite, the presence of bishops on the island itself, and the implantation of monastic houses can all be ruled out as likely factors of any significance between about 1175 and 1370. With regard to parochial organization, remarkably little is yet known of Sicilian and South Italian parallels in this same period, but the Acts of the Milan meeting of 1974 provide a valuable summary of the Italian, and indeed the Western European, situation in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. To the references concerning parish history in Medieval Malta: Studies on Malta before the Knights, ed. A. Luttrell (London, 1975), 62-63, add D. Hay, The Church in Italy in the Fifteenth Century (Cambridge, 1977), 20-25, 134-135.
A long essay by C. Violante (pp. 643-799) sketches the situation in North and Central Italy where the [p.287] care of souls was largely managed through the plebs cum capellis — that is a pieve or matrice, a baptismal church, with lesser churches or capelle which were not parishes (p. 644). However there is general agreement that matters were different in the South where there were numerous small dioceses and much pastoral work was done by the monasteries, Latin and Greek. It should be noted that the evidence used in C. Fonseca, "L'organizzazione ecclesiastica dell'Italia normanna tra l'XI e il XII secolo: i nuovi assetti istituzionali", derives almost entirely from the Salerno area, which may have had a "Northern" character; the same is also true of B. Ruggiero, "Per una storia della pieve rurale nel Mezzogiorno medievale", Studi Medievali, 3 ser., xvi (1975). The Salemitan evidence shows the diocese subdivided into regions, each called an archipresbiteratus and each having an ecclesia baptismale or matrix which administered sacraments and received decime or tithes; the priest blessed houses, buried the dead, visited the sick and so on. Minor churches or cappelle, which depended on the matrix, had a rector who sometimes administered the sacraments (pp. 345-347, 355). There were also small rural "chapels" or oratories which had sanctuary lamps and occasional feasts, and may often have private foundations. The rector et custos of a minor church dependent on an ecclesia archipresbyteralis could also be a member of a college of priests operating within an archipresbiteratus with an archpriest at its head.
On Malta the diocese was subdivided some time before 1436 into some twelve cappelle, also known as parochiae, which apparently corresponded to the Italian matrice or archipresbiteratus; each had a cappellanus, later known as the kappillan. The situation on Gozo was somewhat different: G. Wettinger, Il-Ġ rajja Bikrija tal-Knisja Matriċi t'Għawdex: 1435-1551 (Malta, 1975). By the late-fourteenth century, at the very latest, there were also private churches on Malta and these too must have fulfilled a Christianizing function, but the problems of the Maltese private church are yet to be solved. Why the term "cappella" was given in Malta, if not in Gozo, to the equivalent of the arch presbytery rather than to the minor, dependent rural church is still not clear. It is true that in a Sicilian text of 1453, to give just one example, an altar and a chapel inside Mdina cathedral were described, with a different meaning, as a capella: text in G. Mangion, "Appunti di storia linguistica maltese", in Dal dialetto alla Lingua, Atti del IX Convegno per gli Studi Dialettali Italiani (Pisa, 1974), 391-392. Many cappellani were also canons of the cathedral, as was the case in 1436, and just possibly they were considered to be "chaplains" to the cathedral, where down to 1575 they owed "by ancient custom" fifteen days a year of choir service: National Library of Malta, Biblioteca Ms. 643, f. 27-28, 630-631. This, incidentally, seems not to have [p.288] occurred in Gozo. This situation may have arisen because for long periods some or all of the canons, like their bishop, normally resided in Sicily. The Maltese bishop or the cathedral chapter may also have sought to exploit or control the cappelle by electing canons as cappellani or by monopolizing the decime, or tithes, as well as the various animagii and other benefices. These questions, so vital to an understanding of the Maltese church, could be investigated for the fifteenth century if not for the earlier period, and prosopographical studies such as those being conducted by Mgr. V. Borg and Dr. G. Wettinger may eventually provide some sort of an answer to the problem of the medieval Maltese cappella.