The old chapels of the Maltese Islands

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In the town center village of Lija there is a very beautiful chapel dedicated to the Savior. The chapel, which is said to have been built in the first decade of the 16th century, is considered a fine example of local architecture. Its style is simple and rather rustic. It had only one nave. However, in the following century it was enlarged with the construction of two wings, making it in the shape of a cross. In 1594 Hal Lija became a separate parish and the chapel served as his parish church. She continued to fulfill this role for about a century until the current church was built. This is the reason why the old chapel is called that of the “Old” Savior.

The chapel had six altars and six masses were celebrated daily. Today only two altars remain. For a while it was almost half abandoned, but now the chapel is well maintained and it is a pleasure to visit. The chapel is located in a grove of olive trees, which generate the spiritual atmosphere of Gethsemane. Each year, during Holy Week, the chapel organizes a painting of the Last Supper in Jerusalem. The table is set as for the Jewish Passover meal. On the feast of Christ the Savior, August 6, the procession stops in front of the chapel, the titular statue is turned to face the chapel and the participants sing the hymn of the Savior.

Chapel of the Annunciation in Balzan

Courtesy of Kappelli Maltin | Photo by Caroline Busuttil

This chapel is located in the oldest part of the village of Balzan, located in the heart of the island of Malta, that is to say in its center. The first reference we have of this ancient church is in Msgr. Report by Pietro Dusina, which he wrote during his apostolic visit in February 1575. It is said that from the beginning the church was dedicated to the Annunciation. Professor Stanley Fiorini, an authority on the subject, describes its architecture as that common in Malta in the 15th century. As soon as you see it, you will be surprised at how well it has been preserved in its original condition. This fact testifies to the love and devotion of the parishioners towards the Annunciation.

The style of the church is simple and rustic. Inside, the roof rests on six Sicilian-Norman arches with rows of stone benches between the arches. During her visit, Dusina estimated that at that time the church served around 300 worshipers, from 60 households. Mgr. Dusina was impressed with its beauty and described the church as pulchris (Latin for beautiful). Today the chapel has an altar dedicated to the Annunciation, but on another pastoral visit, this time by Bishop Tommaso Gargallo in December 1601, the church had three altars: the centerpiece dedicated to the Annunciation, the one on the right at the Visitation of Mary, and the one on the left, also at the Annunciation. The painter of the titular image of the Annunciation is unknown. On March 25, a solemn high mass is celebrated and many faithful attend this liturgical function.

The old St. Catherine’s Church in Żejtun

Courtesy of the Archdiocese of Malta | Photo by Ian Noel Pace

church.mt/photos

This large chapel is of very old origin. It was once the first parish church in Żejtun, and that is why it is called “the old church”. Although it is known as the Church of Saint-Grégoire, it is dedicated to Saint-Catherine. Its age is proven by the fact that it was already built before the visit of Bishop Senatore de Mello who had drawn up his Rollo (list) in 1436 of existing Maltese churches. The original chapel, small and primitive, served as the first parish of the hamlet of Bisqallin, located to the south-east of present-day Żejtun, which was the furthest parish from Mdina. The chapel operated until 1492, when it was rebuilt on a larger scale. After the Great Siege, during which Turkish forces occupied Żejtun, the chapel was destroyed. After the Turkish defeat, it had to be rebuilt again, on an even larger scale.

The reconstructed chapel housed three altars – the high altar dedicated to Saint Catherine and the two side altars dedicated to Our Lady of Mount Carmel and Saint Pope Gregory the Great, respectively. The titular painting replaces an old one, which represents the beheading of Saint Catherine. It is very precious and is kept in the museum of the parish church. Outside the church there is a stone statue of Saint Gregory, which was erected in 1781 to commemorate Mdina’s annual pilgrimage to Żejtun. The pilgrimage-procession was led by the bishop himself, and all the priests, convents and thousands of the faithful took part.

Sainte-Marie-Madeleine Chapel, Dingli

Malta Tourism Authority

Nick D’Ancône

It is one of the most beautiful chapels in Malta, also known as the Kappella ta ‘Santa Marija Maddalena ta’Fuq l-Rdum’, meaning “Chapel on the cliff of Sainte-Marie-Madeleine”, since it was built right on the edge of the Dingli Cliffs on the east coast of Malta. In the past, fishermen used this chapel as a navigation landmark. No one really knows when it was originally built; nevertheless, we know that it is very old and that it already existed in 1446. The Sainte-Madeleine chapel once served the spiritual needs of the families who lived on the farms under the cliffs and in the surrounding countryside. The panorama from its location is incomparable. Indeed, the views are so breathtaking that we can truly feel in communion with the Almighty, and praise and thank him for the gift of nature that is offered to us. Due to extensive damage, the chapel was rebuilt in 1646.

The Chapel of the Annunciation in Gozo

Courtesy of VisitGozo

One of the most interesting chapels in Gozo is that of the Annunciation, located in the picturesque and charming fertile valley of Tal-Lunzjata (Annunciation in Maltese). The valley was once known as Saqqajja, a name which means “valley of automatic watering”. The devotion of Western Christians to the Annunciation dates back to the 5th century, and for the Gozitans it also has deep historical roots, going back to the beginning of this devotion. In ancient times, there were five chapels dedicated to the Annunciation in Gozo. One of them was a cave chapel in the Saqqajja valley, where the current chapel was later built. This chapel was surely built around 1347. It was built outside the entrance to a cave to serve as a facade. Its style was rustic and medieval, like many others built around the 14th century. Its facade is as austere as it is simple. The painting on the high altar is the work of the knight-painter Fra Luca Garnier and represents the Archangel Gabriel making the announcement to the Blessed Virgin.

In 1372, King Frederick II, said Stupor Mundi, was in Gozo and delegated a Gozitan canon to take care of the chapel. From that day on, the Sicilian viceroys continued this tradition by delegating members of the clergy from Gozo to take care of the unique Chapel of the Annunciation. In this church, the celebration of the Annunciation is still a great event; in fact, on March 25, holy mass is celebrated by the bishop of Gozo.

Chapel of Our Lady of Mercy in Qrendi

This photo was taken before restoration work began in 2019, which is expected to be completed this year. Unfortunately we were not able to take a good photo of the restored church as most of the sides (interior and exterior) are still covered with scaffolding and restoration material | Courtesy of Ivana Farrugia of the Catering Directorate, Malta | Photo by Charles Tanti

The current church dates from the 1650s, but occupies the site of an old chapel dating from the 13th century (around 1250). In addition to being documented in Bishop Duzina’s 1575 pastoral visit report and an 1841 report written by the Archpriest of Isla, remains of this 13th-century chapel were discovered during restoration work in Classes. In medieval times, the hamlet was called Hal Lew and depended on the parish of Żurrieq. The origin of the name “Mercy” is questionable; some have attributed it to a miraculous apparition of our Most Merciful Mother in Savona in 1536. Others insist that it is derived from the expression “della Mercede” which means “Redemption”, referring to liberation. slaves. In 1618, Bishop Calgiares separated the hamlets of Ħal Lew and Ħal Manin from the parish of Żurrieq to create the new parish of Qrendi. The great devotion shown to Our Lady of Mercy is attested by the large number of exvote paintings given to the chapel. Devotion peaked during the leprosy epidemic of 1676. Devotees visited chapels all over the island to pray and seek help from their Blessed Mother.

In 1695, Pope Innocent XII granted a number of indulgences to those who visited the chapel. The pilgrims were so numerous that it was necessary to provide fresh drinking water from a fountain near the main portico. In 1679, Bishop Molina called Our Lady of Qrendi “Our Lady of Graces”, because of the torrent of graces granted. The main painting, by the famous artist Giuseppe D’Arena, shows the Virgin of the Assumption holding the infant Jesus, flanked by Saint Gaétan on the right and Souls in Purgatory on the left. The chapel boasts of several works of art, among which we find an imposing crucifix of Sister Maria de Domenicis and a painting of the Magdalen, the work of Mattia Preti or one of her pupils.

Chapel of Our Lady of Miracles, Lija

An old image of the chapel | Courtesy of Kappelli Maltin

In the village of Lija there is an ancient Marian shrine known as the Church of Our Lady of Miracles. The current church, built in 1664, is not the original one where devotion to the Blessed Virgin began. The current building is located about 100 meters from the old chapel. The original chapel had a Sicilian-style triptych from the end of the 13th century, which can still be admired in the current church. It was attributed to the Sicilian artist Corso di Buono. The painting represents the Virgin seated on a throne, holding the Child Jesus on her knees. The child is portrayed as the Savior of the world. The chapel was first dedicated to the Assumption of Our Lady. In 1664, the Grand Master Nicola Cotoner commissioned the famous artist Mattia Preti to paint the current titular altarpiece. The theme was to be a new take on the Sicilian original. To meet the request of the Grand Master, Preti added Archangel Raphael in memory of Nicola Cotoner’s recently deceased brother, Raffaele.

A miraculous event took place in 1743, increasing ardent devotion to the Virgin. While lighting a lamp in front of the Holy Image, the sexton noticed drops of water on the forehead, cheeks and chest of the Virgin. The sexton decided to inform the ecclesiastical authorities. After much deliberation and examination, it was established that the drops consisted of human sweat. The same day, Malta was struck by a devastating earthquake, probably that of February 21, 1743. But not even a single life was lost in the calamity. The Grand Master and the Bishop concluded that it was a miracle through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin. Subsequently, the sanctuary became known as the “Church of Our Lady of Miracles”.

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