News


September 2009

www.vittoriosahistorica.org

Vittoriosa Historical & Cultural Society Ė a Voluntary Organisation
La Valletteís Sword featured in Malta International Airport magazine
Jum il-Birgu 2009
Mr Anton Attard wins the Gieh il-Birgu 2009 award
Collection of Figurines at Inquisitors Palace
Drawing of the the Vittoriosa Holy Infirmary main entrance
Will the Clock Tower be reconstructed ?
Watercolour of Vittoriosa Wharf dating to 1827
Mediterranean Literature at St Johnís Cavalier
Bishopís Palace at Vittoriosa
Icon of Our Lady of Damascene
Forgotten Maltese Saints
Fort St Angelo closed to the public
Britainís uncertainty about Maltaís future in World War II
St Lawrence Cemetery
Old Vittoriosa traditions


Vittoriosa Historical & Cultural Society Ė a Voluntary Organisation
The Committee is please to announce that the Society, which was founded in 1954, after a process of screening involving the review of the statute, has been registered on 15 September 2009 as a voluntary organisation in accordance with the Voluntary Organisations Act. Its registration no. is VO/0272. This gives it official recognition and strengthens its voice in the promotion of Vittoriosaís cultural heritege.

La Valletteís Sword featured in Malta International Airport magazine
On the occasion of the inauguration of the refurbished La Vallette Lounge at Malta International Airport, the Battle Sword of La Vallette has been on exhibition in a specially designed showcase at the Club Class Lounge by kind courstesy of the Birgu Parish Church Museum. The historic Sword is featured in a beautiful photograph in the summer edition of GRIP no. 38, the Malta International Airport magazine distributed to incoming and outgoing passangers. The photograph is accompanied by an article by Lorenzo Zahra entitled The Sword and the Stone, about the impact that Grand Master la Vallette has on the city of Birgu. He mentions the great jubilation in the streets of the city that accompanied his solemn investiture as Grand Master at St Lawrence Conventual Church in 1557, his valorous feats of leadership during the Great Siege of 1565, the rivalries among the knights that flared up in violence against him in 1568. His long-lasting memorial to the city of Birgu is the prestigeous name he besowed on it after the Great Siege vistory: Vittoriosa.

Jum il-Birgu 2009
Vittoriosa Day, Jum il-Birgu 2009, was once again celebrated by the Vittoriosa Local Council at the foot of the Great Siege Monument at Vittoriosa Square. The ceremony started with a Concelebrated Mass of Thanksgiving at St Lawrence Parish Church led by Archpriest Can. Joe Caruana and assisted by the Domenican Prior, Fr Joe Bonnici. Mons. Paul Raggio, President of the historical 7 Cultural Society, was among the celebrants. A contingent of Knights of the Sovreign Military Order of Malta, headed by H.E. Fra John Critien, Governor of Fort St Angelo, participated. The Birgu Mayor, Mr John Boxall then led representative of the Vittoriosa civic society in a cortege through Main Gate Steet toward Vittoriosa Square. The leading speech to commemorate the Victory of the 1565 Great Siege was delivered by Mr J.C. Azzopardi. The principal guest was Mr Rui Arimateia, Chairman of the EU Project Oralities in which in Vittoriosa Local Council is a a partner. At the conclusion of the ceremony, laurel wreaths were laid at the foot of the historic Victory Monumnet.

Mr Anton Attard wins the Gieh il-Birgu 2009 award
During the Birgu Day event, the Vittoriosa Local Council announced the winner of the 2009 Gieh il-Birgu 2009 award which went to Mr Anton Attard, Vice President of the Histrocial & Cultural Society. Mr Attardís love of Birgu and its historic heritege is mirrored in the books, articles and features he wrote about Birgu, including his excellent chronology of the St Lawrence Band Club and the annals and history of the Vittoriosa Section of the Christine Doctrine Society, the MUSEUM. He also published a guide containing four historical walks arounf the streets of Birgu. His fascination, however, is about the lost traditions and folkore of old Birgu. The Vittoriosa Historical & Cultural Society is indeed delighted that, for the third time running, an serving officer from its Committee has won the Gieh il-Birgu.

Collection of Figurines at Inquisitors Palace
In the Summer 2009 issue no 45 of Treasures of Malta, published by Fondazzjoni Patrimonju Malti, Catherine Tabone writes about a unique collection of clay figurines executed by a gifted artist Pawlu Scicluna (1855-1933). The collection was handed to the Museum Department by the artistís brother and is now proudly displayed in Hertiage Maltaís Ethnography Section at the Inquisitors Palace, Vittoriosa. The statuettes are characters whom the artist used to observe passing by from his shop at Valletta and represent a cross section of the society in which he lived: beggars, boatmen, women in black faldettas, priests, monks and even politician. The collection is an intimate study of early 20 th centtury Maltese society. By coincidence, artist Rafel Bonnici Calií, who was a member of the Vittoriosa Histroical & Cultural Society, witnessed Pawlu Scicluna at work and mentions him in his writing. A footnote to the article states that as the National Museum of Ethnography, the Inquisitors Palace is undergoing an extensive programme of regeneration which includes the re-thinking of the museumís permanent display and the redecoration of the palace to highlight its function as a historic museum and one of the foremost centres of power of power in Malta.

Drawing of the the Vittoriosa Holy Infirmary main entrance
The building occupied by the Monastry of St Scholostica, Vittoriosa, was the Order of St Johnís first Holy Infirmary, built by Grand Master LíIsle Adam after the Orderís arrival in Malta in 1530. The nunnery took over the building after the Order moved to Valletta. To make ends meet, the nuns depended on alms and at one stage they decided to pull down part of the Monastry and build residences for renting purposes. In the process, the Gothic main gate to the Monastry had to be removed. Thanks to a intellectual artist and designer of the 19th century, Giuseppe Hyzler, we have an engraving of the entrance and the overlying mural paintings which he published in the journal Repertorio di Conoscenze Utili in 1843. After being dismantled, the gate was rebuilt at the St Roque Cemetry which once stood in the Fortini area outside the walls of Birgu. Giuseppe Hyzler, besides being a painter, carried out extensive research on medieval art in Malta. He is the subject of a study by Antonio Espinosa Rodriguez in the Summer 2009 issue no 45 of Treasures of Malta which carries a picture of the mentioned engraving.

Will the Clock Tower be reconstructed?
In the 2006 Budget Speech, the Government had announced and voted funds for the reconstruction of the Vittoriosa Clock Tower which was destroyed during the war and never rebuilt. Despite some objections to the rebuilding of this lost histrorical monument, the people of Birgu, represented by the Vittoriosa Local Council, were in favour of its reconstruction. However, Vittoriosa Mayor Mr John Boxall in a speech he delivered at Birgu cast doubt on the realisation of the project, stating that the Local Council preferred if the funds were utilised in the creation of more parking pace. This is a preposterous postion taken by the Local Council which in April 2007 had voted unanimously in favour of the rebuilding of the Clock Tower. Besides, it sounds strange that such an announcement about the fate of a Government project would be made by the Local Council.

Watercolour of Vittoriosa Wharf dating to 1827
The Treasures of Malta issue no 45 carries a reproduction of a watercolour from the Albert Ganado collection showing the arrival of the new Governor of Malta, Major General Frederick Cavendish Ponsonby at the Grand Habour in 1827 on board HMS Ariadne. At the background of the painting is Fort St Angelo and part of Vittoriosa Wharf. One can see that already by 1827, the colonnade running all along the wharf was already in place. It was constucted by the British Naval authorities to provide them shade and easy access to the various naval quarters and offices along the wharf. The colonnade was dismantled in the early 1990s. Article on the Arab occupation of Malta in AD 870 A recent publication entitled Les Communautes Mediterraneennes de Tunisie contains an article written by Fouzi Mahfoudh about the Arab conquest of Malta. The articles is reviewed by Simon Mercieca in Treasures of Malta issue no 45. The author states that Khalaf, the Aghlabid civil engineer and military commander, assaulted Byzantine Malta unsuccessfully in AD 868 in a bid to capture the Island to serve as stepping stone for the invasion of Syracuse. The Byzintines were a strong maritime power in the Mediterranean and their navy, which made use of the Birgu harbour, was superior to that of the Arabs. They made use of Malta to strike against Tunisia. Khalaf actually lost his life during the attack. Two years later, his son who suceeded him, sent a strong army to Malta which fell to the Arab onslaught.

Mediterranean Literature at St Johnís Cavalier
Top writers from seven countries (Morocco, Spain, Portugal, Czeck Republic, Italy, Palestine and Malta) performed by reading their work in the Forth Edition of the Malta Mediterranean Literature Festival, coordinated by Inizjamed. This yearís event was held at St Johnís Cavalier, Vittoriosa on three successive evenings. Readings were mainly in Maltese and English but also in the native languages of the various writers. The main highlight was an interview with Catalan poet, translator and literary critic Marta Pessarrodona. Maltaís main representaive was Daniel Massa who, accompanied by actress Jane Marshall, recited various of his poetry.

Bishopís Palace at Vittoriosa
In a study by Michael Galea in Lehen is-Sewwa on the bishopric of Fra David Cocco Palmeri (1684-1711), the author points out that when Malta was ceded to the Order of St John in 1530, one of the conditions was that the jus patronatus, ie. the right to nominate Maltaís bishop, was retained by the Kingdom of Spain and Sicily. Malta was not a separate diocese and formed part of the diocese of Palermo. Up until the arrival of the Order in Malta, the Bishop of Malta resided in Sicily. However, in 1542, Bishop Cubelles felt it was safe to set up residence in Malta and he built his Palace at Birgu which is still in existence. In the same article, the author makes reference to the laying of the foundation stone of Lorenzo Gafaís St Lawrence Church at Vittoriosa on 11 May 1681 by Bishop Cocco Palmeri. The church was inaugurated in 1697 on the occasion of the investiture of Grand Master Perellos.

Icon of Our Lady of Damascene
The summer issue of the Marian Cultural Group Newsletter carries an article by Lorenzo Zahra on the devotion to the sacred icon of Our Lady of Damascene in the Rhodian parish church at Birgu after the arrival of the Order in the city in 1530. It was in this chapel that Grand Master La Valetter prayed for divine intercession during the Great Siege and subsequently after the vistory donated his hat and battle sword in thanksgiving. The article is accompanied by a picture of the members of the Marian Cultural Group who visited the chapel in 1965 in one of the first acivities after the group was set up. The members were shown around by the Archpriest of Vittoriosa at the time, Mons. Lawrence Mifsud.

Forgotten Maltese Saints
In a deeply researched five series study in The Sunday Times of Malta, historian Judge Giovanni Bonello brings to light the story of five Maltese who distinguished themselves in past centuries for their exemplary life and saintly death who had attracted the attention of the faithful but whose memory was lost over the years. One of these is Suor Geltruda Cumbo di Gesuí Maria (1613-1656). Her biography is recounted in minute detail in a contemporary book published in Rome. She was born in Valletta and showed saintly inclinations even at a young age. She joined the Carmelite Convent of St Therese at Palermo. Devotion to her spread widely after her death and the Benedictine Monastry of St Scholastica at Vittoriosa, which possessed various relics from notably her girdle, became the centre of her cult. She became renouned for miraculous healings from critical sickness and difficult childbirth. Another holy Maltese figure mentioned by Judge Giovanni Bonello with Vittoriosa connection is the domenican Padre Santo Grech (1729-1793). He was born at Vittoriosa and servred his novitiate at the Annunciation church and convent at Vittoriosa. Following his solemn profession, he proceeded to Palermo to further his studies of philosophy and theology. On his return to Malta, he was for seven years parish priest of Dt Dominic Church, Valletta. He then settled at the dominican convent at Ciminni, a village close to Palermo where he died and was laid to rest. Many documented episodes evidence his reputation for sanctity endowed with special powers to work wonders, predominantly in rural scenarios. The villagers referred to him as Patri Malta. Devotion to him persisted even till the 1950s.

Fort St Angelo closed to the public
For the first time in many years, access to Fort St Angelo was closed during the Great Siege Victory celebrations on 8 September due to dangerous cracks that have developed in the fortification stonework. This was reported with prominance in the press. The Fortís deteriorating state has for long been brought to the publicís attention. The Vittoriosa Historical & Cultural Society has voiced its concern to the authorities several times on the need for proper restoration. The Society ia also worried about the whereabouts of the Fortís original wooden gate which was removed some years back, supposedly for repairs, but has never been re-installed.

Britainís uncertainty about Maltaís future in World War II
In a two-series feature in The Sunday Times of Malta about Malta during the war, Lino Bugeja contends that even at the crucial moment of Fascist Italyís entry into the fray, the British authorities were still uncertain as to what role should play in the concoming onslaught; they believed Malta was indifensible, that no adequate protection could be given to the Island against the Italian aircrafts close by. As a consequence to this procrastination, preparations for war were insufficient and Malta paid dearly for this. The author explains how the pro-British sentiment prevailed at Vittoriosa in pre-war years as minifested by the names of bars and coffee shops: Englandís Glory, Coronation, Rose Shamroch & Thistle, etc. The author narrates his boyhood experience at Vittoriosa during the war, how the city was devastated and the few families who defied the bombing and stayed on at Vittoriosa had to live in primitive conditions in rock-cut shelters within the cityís bastions. A correspondent remarked that the assertion made by the author on Britainís lack of commitment to Maltaís cause appeared inaccurate as can be witnessed by the many British soldiers who sacrificed thei life to the defence of Malta and are now buried in the RAF Cemetery at Kalkara.

St Lawrence Cemetery
Anton Attard writes on the origin of this Cemetery in the Sept-Oct edition of the St Lawrence Band Club Newsletter. Following the tragic explosion at the Polverista at St Lawrence Wharf in 1806, which left innumerable victims, there was no further space left in the underground burial place (kannirja) both of St Lawrence Church and of the Annunciation Church at Vittoriosa. In view if the the government allotted a tract of land near St Louis Bastion close to Fort San Salvatore which was consecrated as a cemetery. In 1890 the statue of St Lawrence which used to be at Vittoriosa Square was erected in the Cemetery. For some years the place was left in a state of abandonment but nowadays it is again being used and is well kept.

Old Vittoriosa traditions
Lorenzo Zahra, in another article in the Sept-Oct edition of the St Lawrence Band Club Newsletter recalls various religious traditions at Vittoriosa, most of which have not survived. In particular he mentions the procession on the Feast of the Sacred Heart which until the outbreak of war, was held with great pomp and devotion. Also mentioned is the Feast of the Holy Cross (Santu Kruc) and the special events surrounding Holy Week and Easter at Vittoriosa.