The Malta Independent 9 March 2021, Tuesday

Vinea Carmeli – The newly published Carmelite book

Tuesday, 23 February 2021, 07:45 Last update: about 14 days ago

Fr Hermann Duncan

Vinea Carmeli meaning ‘Carmelite Vine’, is the title of a book that was recently published by Horizons Communications. The book celebrates the presence of the Carmelite Friars in Malta and highlights the history of Carmelite Priories in Malta. It is embellished with large and beautiful photographs making it both informative and a pleasure to read. This book is on sale in all Carmelite Churches and Priories for €36.


Vinea Carmeli was researched and co-authored by Fr Charlo Camilleri O.Carm, Fr Glen Attard O.Carm. and Miss Rita Vella Brincat. The book begins by referring to the first Carmelite Priory and Church in Malta in ‘Lunzjata’ - limits of Rabat - left to the Maltese Carmelite Friars by the noble woman Margarita D'Aragona di Pellegrino – a descendant of the Spanish d’Aragona Royal family - in a will dated 5th June 1418 more than 600 years ago. Today this Priory serves as a house of prayer for spiritual retreats. It was blessed following intensive restoration by Archbishop of Malta Mons Charles J. Scicluna on the 9th of April, 2018.

After 240 years, the Friars left ‘Lunzjata’ and entered the fortified city of Mdina by order of the Grandmaster de Redin, who in the year 1669 ordered that all Priories and Convents of the church should no longer be situated outside the fortifications. However, Bishop Balaguer Camarasa in 1663 gives other reasons for this transfer. The first claim is for health reasons and the second for the protection of believers.

Following this transfer, a third Priory was set up in the new city – Valletta – on Xiberras Hill. Following a request made by the Prior of ‘Lunzjata’ Fr John Vella to the Order to establish a Priory in this new city, on 27 July 1570 a contract was signed between the Carmelite Friars and the Order of St. John and the land worth 66 scudi was later granted to the Carmelites. Fr John Vella commissioned the Architect and Military Engineer Girolamo Cassar to design the plans of the new church. From the archives we know that some 500 investitures and professions of the Knights of St John were celebrated in the Carmelite Church in Valletta. A pastoral visit was also made by the Apostolic Delegate Bishop Pietro Dusina and an important report was issued praising the valuable work of the Carmelites on 19th  February 1575 with the people of this city. The church took about 38 years to be completed.

The Carmelite Friars also managed to establish themselves in the city of Vittoriosa because members of the Carmelite Tertiary Order found it difficult to implement their Order’s sacramental duties, by having to enter Valletta every morning. In the year 1582, on the 17th of September, they were given the church of Our Lady of Monserrat, which the Friars gladly accepted. Fr Guy Campanula and Fr George Moniglia were chosen to administer it. Many locals and sailors welcomed them. They were able to raise money thanks to the people who worked on the Order’s galleys. A rich merchant from Senglea, Master Michael Grech, donated a block of houses next to the sea so that they could build the new church and Priory, which was eventually built in 1611. The Friars spent only 41 years here, because Pope Innocent X issued a decree that those religious communities that were small in number, should close. Therefore, on October 11th 1653, Prior Fr Dionysius Maldonato handed over his resignation to the Bishop of Malta, Balaguer Camarasa.

Years later the Carmelite friars moved to St. Julian's after Mrs. Maddalena Cardona Schembri Rember e Re had signed her will on 20th November 1751, bequeathing a rural seaside piece of land in the bay of Balluta known as ‘Ta’Ljun’to the Confraternity of Our Lady of Mount Carmel of Valletta, who later asked the Archbishop Publius dei Conti Sant to build a small chapel with twelve houses, six on each side, with the agreement that the church would remain in the hands of the Confraternity. On December 18th 1889, the Vicar Provincial Fr Luigi Malfatti asked the Confraternity to take over the new church and build a priory. This second church, however, had to be rebuilt on the advice of Prior Fr Angelo Mallia on December 6th 1900 because it was not large enough for the people of the area. The work was completed in 1911 and its Consecration took place in 1943 by Archbishop Dom Mauro Caruana OSB. The third church - the church of today – was started on December 10 1957. It took 20 years to complete and was consecrated by Archbishop Joseph Mercieca on December 12 1984.

Santa Venera was the next project. The Friars entered Santa Venera on July 10 1912, after the Provincial Fr Spiridione Vassallo O.Carm. made a formal request to Archbishop Pietro Pace for the Carmelites to begin administering the church and living in the Priory next to the church, on condition that they would have an independent Parish. The Bishop granted their request on July 30 1912. However, the Bishop changed his mind soon after as he wanted Santa Venera to become a vice-Parish according to a decree issued on November 12 1912. A few years later the Benedictine Archbishop Dom Mauro Caruana founded it as a Parish on June 14 1918.

As the local population began to grow, the friars wanted to build a larger church in front of Apap institute, run by Dominican nuns. The architect who prepared the plans was Ġuże D’Amato, and the work was started on 19 April 1956 by the contractor Emmanuel Abela from Rabat. The Crypt was opened in 1969 and was put to temporary use. However some years following the demise of the Architect D’Amato, works had to be halted due to a lack of funds. It was only on July 25 1990 that the works were resumed and the building of the church continued. On October 6 1990, the Provincial Fr Leonard Mahoney O.Carm. laid and blessed the foundation stone. The new Parish was transferred from the old to the new on September 14 2003. The new church was blessed by Archbishop Joseph Mercieca on July 17 2005.

On December 14 1945, the Carmelite Friars entered Fgura and moved into a house in Saint Simon Street rented to them by the Garcia family. At first they used to celebrate mass in the nearby chapel. Later Anġlu and Marianna Camilleri left a piece of land to the Carmelites so that they could build a church and a priory. The first stone was laid and blessed by Archbishop Mikiel Gonzi on 11 December 1948. Later, when the church became too small, the friars thought of building a new one and work began on 2 January 1976. The new church was blessed by Archbishop Joseph Mercieca on May 25 1988, and was consecrated on July 1 1990.

With many people having moved from the harbour areas inland, the population of Fleur-de-Lys began to grow. The Carmelite friars who were already present in Santa Venera felt the need to start taking care of this locality. Architect Ġuże D’Amato was commissioned to prepare the plans for the new church. The first stone was laid and blessed on 14 January 1945 and the church was inaugurated on 31 December 1946. At first, the Friars rented two mezzanines next to the church to live in since the Priory had not been built yet and they had to commute from Santa Venera. These mezzanines became the new Priory that were blessed on April 27 1947, and in 1949, the new community of Fleur-de-Lys separated itself from the community of St. Venera. On January 25 1975, the church became an independent parish.

Let us pray that the Lord will send more workers into his harvest especially in the Maltese Carmelite Province.

Father Hermann Duncan O.Carm.


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