The Malta Independent 23 January 2020, Thursday

L-Imnarja an old feast in Malta

Friday, 28 June 2019, 14:53 Last update: about 8 months ago

Fr Hermann Duncan O.Carm

To this day, one of the biggest feasts celebrated in our country, is the feast of Imnarja on 29th June, when we commemorate the Apostles St. Peter and St. Paul. We know through Scripture that Peter was chosen to lead the church after Christ ascended into heaven, while Paul spent three months on our island and preached Christianity. We are fortunate to have two heritage pieces in Malta, linked to St Paul, the grotto of St. Paul in Rabat which was visited by two Popes, and the Mdina Cathedral which reminds us of the palace of Publius.


The feast of Imnarja, goes back many centuries, well before the arrival of the Knights of St John in 1530. Way back, the Romans used to celebrate a pagan feast called luminaria, from which was derived the Maltese word "Imnarja". Luminaria (lights) comes from the practice on the eve of the feast when people would burn fiaccoli and fires on the bastion walls and roof of the Mdina Cathedral which celebrated the solemn feast of St. Peter and St. Paul, who are the light of the church.

Imnarja, is known as the feast for farmers which would take place following the harvest, when they would rest after their hard work. It was held in Buskett Rabat where the majority of the people were farmers. This holiday increased in size and popularity during the time of the Knights of St John. In the Archives of the Order we find a document that states that the Grandmaster Pinto increased the Solemnity of Imnarja by his participation in it, as the Prince of the island.

In the past, on the eve of the feast, farmers would lie in wait in Saqqajja waiting for the following day, to hear Mass for Imnarja, and to see the procession coming out of the Cathedral led by the Archbishop and Monsigneurs of the Cathedral. The main attraction of Imnarja, was the race, which used to depart from the Judge's porch, after which they would distribute silk prizes. Formerly men and children used to race, but today only horses and mares race.

In later years, when the agrarian society 'Societa' Agraria del Económico-di Malta' was set up, in 1844, and started running the Maltese Industry, based on farming, animals, fruits, vegetables, honey and cheese, farmers began to meet in Rabat to show off their produce, and prizes would be distributed to promote trade. Over time Maltese folk songs accompanied by guitars became an added attraction and even the local band of Rabat began to take part.

The feast of Imnarja is also connected with marriage, where the notary would write up a marriage contract and the groom would pay the bride's father a sum of money in accordance with their agreement. This agreement would also bind the groom to take his future wife out to the feasts of St. Gregory, St. John and the feast of Imnarja as in the past there weren't many occasions for newly weds to entertain themselves. There is a funny Maltese idiom which goes like this "Twedgħiex l - Imnarja għax tagħmel l -arja" - "Don't promise her the feast of Imnarja as she will start to boast".

During the feast the spouse would wear her wedding dress. The bride would drink a drink  called 'ċomnota' which was a mixture of aromatic herbs crushed in a mortar with honey, a symbol of fertility, to signify sweet-words, coming from her mouth. The groom would give the bride a ring, shaped in the form of two hands holding eachother, or sometimes a lace handkerchief was also customary. The two families would then give precious items or clothing to eachother.

It is interesting to note that before the wedding, the groom would not be able to talk to his spouse and would walk past her house hoping she would look out. Sometimes he would sing (L-għanja Maltija - Maltese folk songs) or get a singer to sing a song.

There are many folk songs related to love written in the form of short verses, sung to tunes or songs thought up on the spur of the moment. These were not written, but were thought up there and then, and yet have been passed down through elderly people. This is one of the songs that used to be played before marriage. It is worth noting that there are very few love songs composed specifically for after marriage.

Ħanini mur u ħallini

Issa x'nagħmel biex ninkieħ

Naqla wieħed isbaħ minnu

Minn quddiemu ngħaddi bih.

Żewiġni ommi żewiġni

Żewiġni fizzjal Ingliz

Għax il- Malti jrid id-dota

U jien dota le mgħandix.


Dear, go and let me be

Now what should I do to tease him

I'll be granted one more beautiful than him

In front of him I'll pass with him.

Marry me mother, marry me

Marry me to a British officer

For the Maltese wish for a dowry

And I do not have a dowry.


Besides spouses and grooms, whole families would travel to Rabat on their cart which would be decorated with reeds or rose branches and leaves placed on the horses head and harness. After sunset, people would leave joyfully especially if they had won a prize.

  • don't miss