Copyright © The Malta Historical Society, 2005.
Source: Melita Historica. [Published by the Malta Historical Society]. 8(1981)2(163-165)
ALEXANDER BONNICI, L'Isla fi Ġrajjiet il-Bażilika-Santwarju ta' Marija Bambina, Vol. I; Twelid ta' Belt u ta' Parroċċa, Printwell, Malta, 1981, pp. 179, illus.
1981 is the fourth centenary of the raising of Senglea to parish status and the publication of this book was meant to commemorate this event. Personally, I can think of no better way to perpetuate such events and more particularly when such works [p.164] are entrusted to trained historians. Unfortunately, there is no dearth of articles, pamphlets and even books about local history which are written by amateurs in the truest and fullest sense of the word and which only serve to instil into the unintiated an acceptance of the mediocre and, unfortunately, the propagation of mere parochialism. Happily, this is not the case with the work under review.
Its author, the Franciscan Conventual Father Alexander Bonnici, certainly needs no introduction to Melitensia readers and collectors. His prolific works - be they religious, historical or biographical - all bear witness to his painstaking research by the author for the truth without looking at events through tinted glasses. This volume, about the first century of :he existence of Senglea (or 1-lsla) is a continuation of Fr. Bonnici's delving into the past to present the reader with a true account and an exact picture of what really happened and what accurately existed, without resorting to the recounting of legends or figments of the imagination.
Fr. Bonnici notes that at first he did not know where to begin from. He started, naturally enough, by reading all the published material he could find about Senglea. He then realized that a number of spoken accounts about Senglea were not to be found in published works. As every serious historian knows, popular accounts are notorious for their untruths, inconsistencies and imaginative presentations; they have to be verified and this was exactly what was done in this case. Fr. Bonnici has not relied on hearsay or even on published material but has had recourse to the different archives where the real source material is to be found. He has shown that even the manuscript entitled Memorie Ecclesiastiche in the Senglea Archives and written in 1786 - and on which quite a number of writings about Senglea are based - contains a number of inaccuracies and errors which is quite understandable particularly when the writer, presumably the Archpriest of Senglea Fr. Salv. Bonnici, was recounting events which had happened about 200 years before. However, Fr. Bonnici has been critical in his approach and the result is a very good history of Senglea's first 100 years based on critical, painstaking, and sometimes frustrating, research extending over a long period of time.
The book is divided into six main parts which amply cover Senglea's history from the coming of the Knights to Malta up to 1634. We are told, for example, about the two hills of Senglea, the connection of Grand Masters d'Omedes and La Sengle with Senglea, the Church of Our Lady of Victories, the pastoral work of the first three parish priests, i.e. Fr. Anton di Nicolaci, Fr. Vincent Caruana and Fr. Cosimo Talavera, a description of the first parish church as it existed during the times of these first three parish priests and an insight into the social history of the inhabitants. In chapter after chapter, historical facts follow each other with regularity and, as much as possible, in chronological sequence. The lay-out of each chapter is, in fact, as orderly as one may expect. Profusely footnoted, the book leaves the reader in no doubt as to the authenticity of the facts being recounted. The chapters are also [p.165] amply illustrated with concise, relevant and explanatory captions. After the six chapters, there follow four appendices of relevant documents, whilst appendix E covers a list of important dates in the history of Senglea covering the period 1539 1634. Pages 169-170 give us a list of the manuscripts consulted in eight different archives.
Lastly, one must thank Fr. Bonnici for providing this book with an analytical index. Unfortunately, most local publications lack such an index and it is indeed a relief that such work avoids this shortcoming.
Indeed, I find it difficult to fault this work on any count. It is neatly printed with an attractive cover design by Trevor Zahra. In many ways, this book has reminded me of Fr. Joseph Micallef's Ħal Luqa: Niesha u Ġrajjietha (reviewed in Melita Historica, Vol. 6, p. 458-9), not least because of its sound basic research and critical approach. I would indeed recommend budding writers of local history to follow in Bonnici's and Micallef's footsteps when attempting the writing of the history of a particular town or village.
I certainly have no hesitation in recommending this book and hope that the second volume will see the light of day very shortly.
Joseph F. Grima