The Malta Independent 21 September 2021, Tuesday

The history of the Dominicans in Vittoriosa

Thursday, 22 July 2021, 12:21 Last update: about 3 months ago

A book launch of Id-Dumnikani fil-Birgu (The Dominicans in Vittoriosa) was recently held at the Grand Hotel Excelsior. The book is authored by Anton Attard and published by the Vittoriosa Organising Committee for the eighth centenary of the death of St Dominic.

Despite various attempts by many historians to document the history of the Dominicans in Vittoriosa, all their works were either limited to a particular era or too brief to do justice to the rich history behind the Dominican presence since their arrival in 1528.

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After more than 30 years of research in the Conventual Archives of the Annunciation Priory of Vittoriosa and beyond, Attard succeeds in collecting together all the various facets surrounding the Dominican presence in Birgu. With great skill the author manages to harmonise various historical sources and joins them together in one consistent stream that quenches the desire for the complete articulation of the history of the Dominicans in Vittoriosa.

The book is divided into 12 chapters starting from the foundation of the first religious community in Malta outside the safety of the unassailable Mdina; moving on to survey how the Dominicans contributed to the pastoral care of the people of Birgu and the continual development of the structures of their priory and conventual church. The reader is reminded once again of the artistic legacy that the Dominicans in Vittoriosa managed to build through their commissions to some of the finest artists and artisans across the ages. The various historical landmarks, which carry significance to the Order of Preachers and the Church in Malta at large, that were achieved in the Dominican Church of the Annunciation are also noted with great detail. Among which, one reads about the establishment of the first Rosary Confraternity in Malta, which this year commemorates the 450th anniversary since its inception.

In this new publication Attard pays particular attention to the various artefacts that adorned the Dominican Church of the Annunciation prior to its destruction in 1941 during the blitzes of World War II. He also visits the beginning of the external festivities in honour of St Dominic in Vittoriosa and the original contribution that the many Dominican supporters of Birgu had given to the cultural development of the Maltese festa. To name a few, the first cloth decorations hanging in the streets, the hoisting of a statue onto a street pedestal and the celebratory parades on the eve of the feast known as Il-marċ tat-Te Deum. The unforgotten festivities held in Vittoriosa by the Dominicans in 1922, almost a hundred years ago, to mark the seventh centenary from the death of St Dominic are also revisited by Attard in great historical detail.

Yet the major contribution of this new publication is the collection of the post-war events that the Dominicans of Vittoriosa went through, after the destruction of their much-beloved church and priory. The author manages to gather the historical facts and complements them with various memoirs of the hardships faced by the Dominican friars and the bravery of their supporters, who contributed with skill, funding and devotion to the reconstruction of what was lost during the war.

Finally, the reader may also enjoy a supplementary chapter on the history of the Prince of Wales Own Band Club of Vittoriosa. The club, whose history has so far not yet been collected in one place, has always cherished strong ties with the Dominicans and the feast of St Dominic in Birgu.

The innovative contribution that is gained by Attard's work in this new book is the anthological and researched collection of all things relating to the Dominicans in Vittoriosa, accompanied by more than 85 historical and modern pictures. The history related in Id-Dumnikani fil-Birgu is not only presented as hard evidence, drawn from the manuscripts stored within the Conventual archives, but it is also at times seasoned by the memories of those who lived it.

A copy of the book may be acquired from the Convent of the Annunciation of Vittoriosa or by sending an email on [email protected]


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