The Malta Independent 19 November 2018, Monday

Our Heritage Saved...Mistra Gate

Malta Independent Wednesday, 2 April 2008, 00:00 Last update: about 5 years ago

Coming down from Xemxija Hill in the direction of Mellieha, one cannot fail to notice the imposing gate when looking up towards Selmun Palace.

Mistra Gate was the principal gateway to an estate belonging to a Foundation called Monte di Redenzione degli Schiavi set up in 1607. The aim of this institution was to collect money for the ransom of Christian slaves, and is said to have been inspired by a Lenten sermon preached by a Capuchin monk.

The Grand Master of that period, Alof de Wignacourt, accepted the proposal and set up a foundation to collect funds and to use them where needed.

The nominated head of the Foundation was the Grand Master, who appointed four officials annually from the different Langues of the Order to administer it. They, in turn, appointed other representatives who acted as collectors in various towns and villages. Procurators also dealt with claims for ransom.

The officials met in the sacristy of St John’s Cathedral every second Sunday of the month to deliberate the merits of various claims for ransom, and to examine any news on the whereabouts and location of the slaves. At that time, a slave was redeemable against the payment of about 70 scudi for a secular person, rising to 200 scudi for a captured knight. The resultant list was then submitted to the Grand Master who had to extract names for redemption.

The Monte di Redenzione could not collect enough money to redeem many Christian slaves. This changed in 1619, after the death of a certain noble woman, Caterina Vitale, who bequeathed a large part of her wealth to this institution. Within her huge property, lay the territory of the Fego di Salamone – or ta Salamuni – today known as Selmun. This territory, and its surrounding lands, was also left to the Monte di Redenzione for the ransom of slaves, and these lands were accessible through the Mistra Gate.

The gate itself was erected in 1760 during the time of Grand Master Pinto, and is surrounded by four coat-of-arms sculptured in stone. The foundation’s coat of arms is three hills crowned by the letter “R” – for Redenzione. Above this appears the coat of arms of Grand Master Pinto. The two small coats-of-arms flanking the gate were so badly deteriorated that they could only be identified from old photographs. These probably belong to Bali’ Claudius de Montagne de Lafeuliere and Bali’ Carlo Maria Olgiati.

On Napoleon’s arrival in 1798, the funds of the Redenzione were transferred to the State and the land became government property.

The gate was restored in 1937 by the Public Works and the Museum Departments, but since then, has suffered severe and rapid deterioration. Between 1995 and 1996 a condition survey was prepared by the fourth year students of the Faculty of Architecture and Civil Architecture of the University of Malta.

The restoration of the gate was coordinated by Din l-Art Helwa, and works to restore the Gate to its original state have been carried following expert advice. The cost was generously sponsored by the Corinthia Group of Companies. The project was completed in 1998.

Din l-Art Helwa is trying to increase membership. Be a guardian of Malta’s heritage by becoming a member. For more details send an e-mail to [email protected] indicating your name and forwarding address, or visit our website www.dinlarthelwa.org

Mr Rizzo is the Hon. Treasurer of Din l-Art Helwa

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