The Malta Independent 20 April 2024, Saturday
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Notarial Archives discovery: Documents from Gozo dating to 1431 saved from the bin

Noel Grima Saturday, 23 May 2015, 08:30 Last update: about 10 years ago

They were in garbage bags together with all kinds of rubbish and were destined to be disposed of.

It seems that in 2008 an attempt was made to tidy up the offices of the Notarial Archives and the process was left in the hands of a handyman who collected what he thought were old, torn papers and collected them in preparation to their disposal.

Fortunately for Malta, they were not thrown away. As a result, the staff of the Archives, led by the redoubtable Dr Joan Abela, has resurrected extremely important documents that date back to at least 1431.

It must be pointed out that as a result of the 'razzia' by Turkish pirates in 1551, and the pillage that followed, no paper records were left in Gozo.

What remains of Gozo before 1551 can be found only outside Gozo. A few were found in the Palermo archives, but these rescued documents have been lying around in the Notarial Archives all these years and only now have they been identified and studied.

Dr Abela was speaking at St Cecilia Chapel in Xewkija last week in the last lecture organised by Wirt Ghawdex before the summer break.

In 1551, among the notaries working in Gozo there was Lorenzo de Apapis, who was caught in the 'razzia' but was redeemed after three years. According to research by Stanley Fiorini and Godfrey Wettinger, Notary Bernardo de Theophilo was active in 1487 and earlier Angelo de Manuele in 1457. A Joseph Zabbaro was also a notary in Gozo but he moved to Malta later.

Intriguingly, according to the main notary of the Order, GB de Cantafiore, notarial records regarding Gozo came to Malta from Constantinople through France. No explanation has been put forward in this regard.

Among the soiled papers that were about to be thrown away, there is a copy of a will drawn up by Nuccio Chamoe in the acts of Angelo de Manuele copied by Lorenzo de Apapis.

This document is thus the oldest surviving document regarding Gozo to be found in the Maltese Islands.

The will relates to funds left for the chapel of St Anthony in the locality then known as 'Hain Xeibe'. This will also contained provisions for establishing a feast for the poor in the environs of the chapel.

To put things in perspective, the oldest such document regarding Malta dates to 1453 refers to the Bir Miftuh chapel in Gudja.

A second document, or rather group of documents, contains no less than eight wills and codicils dating from 1485, including one drawn up on behalf of Paula, the widow of Nicolaus Junabete in favour of Venerandus Dominus Antonius Mahnuq.

This document is very important in the Gozitan context, as it includes part of the legacy left in favour of Don Luciano Godiman who was described as the parish priest of the parish of St George in Victoria. Previously, the earliest extant written document regarding St George's church dated from 1505.

Interestingly too, this series of wills also included a legacy left in favour of a church in Rome which had been built just a few years earlier, in 1470.

Another legacy from this bunch refers to a Franciscan presence in Gozo, a Frater Mattia de Episcopo who seems to have been a Friar Minor but then became a Conventual friar and took the legacy along with him.

A third document refers, intriguingly enough, to a treasure. The document refers to a court case involving Angelo de Amadeo in conflict with Petrus Mahnuq at the Magna Curia with a clear reference to a treasure found but then otherwise claimed.

The fourth document is equally important. In it a Raimondus Carete left his heirs a gold coin, an Augustale, including the important information that this gold coin was a Gozitan one, meaning that Gozo had its own coinage.

These old documents are important also with regard to the place names of Gozo - San Dimitri (in a 1431 document); Sieq Targa (1431), Hain Xeibe (1431), Contrada Nixxia (1487), Sceuchia (1487).

The fifth document is once again a collection of documents, a booklet, dating from 1511 to 1525, a 'bastardello', that is a rough copy written by Notary Jacobus Saliva before being copied on the official register.

The sixth document refers to a contract for a ferry service between Malta and Gozo, the earliest record of which dates to 1248. This contract also shows a certain amount of tax on farming because crossing over from Gozo to Malta included payment of a tax.

The seventh document is a contract regarding the Matrice (today the Gozo Cathedral) dating from 1526 regarding the purchase of purple vestments from Palermo with associated complaints that the material brought to Gozo was of an inferior quality to that ordered.

All this important information risked being destroyed were it not for chance and for the dedication of a small team led by Dr Abela. Slowly, they have been examining the papers and so far no less than 6,000 folders have been drawn up.

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