Thursday, April 02, 2009

Holy week


the street down from Victory Square in Vittoriosa

This morning I ventured over to Vittoriosa and thought I'd wander down to Victory square for a coffee. It being close to Good Friday, the band club in the square has already started putting up the decorations related to the holy week. I walked down some steps and the paved road that leads from the square towards the water front and noticed some tourists walking out of a relatively modest looking church.

The church turned out to be the Collegiate Church of St Lawrence, one of the most historically venerated churches in Malta. The original building was built on its site in 1090 and the Knights adopted it as their first conventual church in 1530 after enlarging it. It contained many treasures the Knights brought over from Rhodes when, two years later, it was badly damaged in a fire. The present church is that which was built by Lorenzo Gafa' in the 17th century.

The pulpit

Inside I met a wonderful 72 year old volunteer who told me of the town's well known expertise in wood furniture and intarsjar (inlaid wood). He proudly showed me the amazing pulpit in the church as a prime example of such work.

A Mattia Preti

He insisted I have a closer look at the Mattia Preti painting above the altar. It depicts the martyrdom of St Lawrence. Lawrence is said to have been martyred on a gridiron. An interesting anecdote is that during his torture Lawrence cried out "Assum est, inquit, versa et manduca." (This side’s done, turn me over and have a bite). Christians' dark sense of humour never escapes them, it seems!

Spanish statue of Veronica (17th Century)

But what really intrigued me were the wooden sculptures, some imported from Spain and some sculpted by Maltese artists. They represent the different stages of Jesus' Passion. Some are rather gruesome and in normal circumstances (outside of a church) would require parental guidance.

The dead Jesus

The statue of the dead Christ is housed in an old hearse originally used for the funerals of prominent people during the time of the Order of St John. In 1793 a local by the name of Frangisku Demajo sponsored its redecoration with silver a martello.

Ganutell on top of the hearse decorated with hammered silver

Vittoriosa is one of the places one must visit during holy week. Buses number 01 and 04 from Valletta Gate take approximately 20 minutes to arrive in Birgu/Vittoriosa. Otherwise take a water taxi from Customs House.

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