The Malta Independent 25 May 2020, Monday

A ‘monumental’ book

Noel Grima Tuesday, 24 March 2020, 09:38 Last update: about 3 months ago

Monumenti u busti fil-gzejjer Maltin. Author: Anton Camilleri. Publisher: Book Distributors Ltd / 2019. Pages: 667pp

This hefty and well-researched book is a welcome addition to Melitensia.

It is a description of the many monuments in our squares and streets, in our churches and band clubs - that is in many places not ordinarily open for everyday viewing.

And we may many times pass by a particular monument and do not stop to have a proper look at it let alone understand the story it is telling and why and when it was placed there. As a result, our knowledge of our country can be improved if we understand the backgrounds to the monuments.

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One immediate limitation of this book is that it is in Maltese and thus not immediately accessible to visitors and guests. Perhaps non-Maltese will not be able to understand the many nuances of our complicated history which the author patiently explains.

A corollary of the above is that the monuments are grouped according to town and village and that these are listed alphabetically according to their name in Maltese. Thus Senglea becomes L-Isla, for example.

One quirk I found was that the author tends to first explain the background of the creation of that monument and only then describe the person in the monument.

Having said so, while going through the book I could not help noticing some missing monuments. The list makes no distinction between saints and real persons, and then it does make a distinction.

For instance, to give the most glaring example, the book skips the Giant of the Palace in Valletta which is a pity because the statue has an interesting history and background.

Equally at Hamrun, the statue of St George Preca in the parish church is missing as is the statue of St Catherine recently unveiled in Zurrieq. And in my present hometown Zejtun, it misses the statue of St Gregory in front of the old St Catherine church popularly known as San Girgor from the annual procession in Easter Week.

Having said that, I notice the many monuments dedicated to the war victims in so many towns and villages but also note where there are none and ask why is this so.

I also note that while we have a surfeit of monuments relating to the times of the Knights, we rarely have monuments relating to previous times. I look forward to the day when both Medina and Birgu erect monuments to the slaves who were bought and sold in their main squares.

And moving ahead to our times I look forward to the time when Daphne Caruana Galizia is suitably honoured for her stand against corruption that cost her life.

The book also contains nuggets of information unavailable elsewhere. For instance I never noticed that St John's does not have monuments for all the grandmasters in the main church and that some of the remainder are to be found in the recently re-opened crypt.

One other nugget of information regards the Spencer Monument of Boats l-Bajda. The author says that originally the slender obelisk was erected on Corradino Heights but at a time when the breakwater was not there yet, it was serving as a marker for ships entering the Grand Harbour and they started to enter at will. One day the French navy entered without informing the British and a fight was about to be caused. The Admiralty then ordered the monument to be shifted to its present position.

But the author missed the important fact that Sir Cavendish Spencer who is honoured by the monument (and whose tomb can be found near the Hastings Gardens) is a direct relative of Lady Diana Spencer.

It is amusing to note that some personalities, like some grandmasters and also Archbishop Gonzi apparently did not trust those around them to carry out their wishes and saw to it their monuments were finished during their lifetime.


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