Churches and Chapels

 

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In spite of the presumed limited population during the Medieval period, the Gharghar [sive` Arar] region was alrready well equiped to address the needs of the farming communities in the locality. The region originally housed the parochial church of St. Helena, situated possibly close to the Ta’ Cieda Tower. Abandoned during the 14th century, the remains of this church were still extant in 1575 when the Apostolic Visitor Mgr Petrus Dusina wrote his report. Dusina wrote “Sanctae Helenae – Visitavit aliam Ecclesiam ruralem sub vocabulo Sanctae Helenae constructam in pertinentia Bircalcariae in contrata nuncupata Arar, quae alias dicitur fuisse parrochialis Ecclesia, habet altare, caret rectore, introitibus, portis ligneis, et omnibus alijs necessarijs ex devotione Michael Borgiu in eadem die festivitatis celebrare facit missam tantum, non celebretur amplius, nisi postquam fuerint factae portae ligneae.” Other churches located in the Gharghar region mentioned by Dusina were those dedicated to Santa Margarita, Sant Andrea, San Bartholomew and San Leonardo. The latter cave-chapel, located in the Mensija suburb, is today known as the Chapel of the Annunciation [Lunziata Chapel] and is associated with a popular medieval legend. The locality during this period fell under the jurisdiction of the Birkirkara Parish. The ceding of the Maltese Islands in 1530 to the Order of St. John and the aftermath of the 1565 Great Siege brought a degree of safety from the recurrent Turkish raids that plagued the inhabitants of the San Gwann region in previous decades. This led to an augmentation in the population living in the locality as evidenced by the establishment of further chapels including that dedicated to San Gwann tal-Gharghar [c.1646] and that dedicated to Sts Philip and James [c.1730]. The Parish Church dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes was inaugurated in 1959.


 Our Lady of Lourdes Parish Church: The Maltese ecclesiastical authorities entrusted the locality of Msierah, today known as San Gwann, to the Franciscan Capuchin Fathers of the Malta province. The Second World War was getting harsher and the Island suffered continuous heavy bombardment. Thus, the Capuchin Fathers unfortunately could not take immediate responsibility of the spiritual welfare of the locality entrusted to them. The population then counted about three hundred people. When the 2nd World War was over, the Capuchin Fathers took responsibility of the Msierah locality, that is, on the 21st February 1947. The first friars were Fr. Felic Scicluna and Fr. Joseph Mary Spiteri. The friars took up temporary residence at 152, St. Julian Street, close to San Gwann ta’ l-Gharghar Chapel. They celebrated their first mass at the chapel in the presence of many local people. After mass, the Capuchin Fathers kept permanently the Blessed Sacrament in the chapel's tabernacle for the adoration of the local faithful. A month later Fr.Teophilus Ebejer joined the other two friars. On the 3rd November 1949 the foundation work to build a friary and a church commenced. Mr. Joseph Borg and his son Felic donated the land. By the 15th of September 1950, the ground floor building of the friary was complete. One side of the friary building served as temporary chapel, in which the Blessed Sacrament was solemnly transferred from San Gwann ta’ l-Gharghar Chapel. The friars established their residence in the remaining rooms of the newly built friary. The benefactors Mr. Joseph Borg and his son Felic also donated 992 square meters of land where now stands the St. Joseph Parish Centre with its play ground. On the 13th September 1953 the foundation stone of the parish church was laid and blessed by His Lordship Mgr. Emanuel Galea. The parish church was inaugurated on 20th December 1959 and consecrated on 12th May 1962 by His Grace Mgr. Michael Gonzi. The ever-increasing number of residents felt an urgent need for upgrading the status of their locality to that of a parish. The church authorities acceded to their plea on the 12th September 1965. In a pastoral letter, His Grace Mgr. Michael Gonzi announced that the Msierah locality, now called San Gwann, had become a new parish and was to have Our Lady of Lourdes as its titular patron. The parish was inaugurated on the 21st September 1965 and Rev. Fr. Leopold Tabone ofm. Cap. was hence appointed as its first parish priest. So far, the parish had four parish priests: Fr. Leopold Tabone 1965-1983. Fr. Donat Spiteri 1983-1991. Fr. William Axiaq 1991-1995 and Fr. Joe Mallia appointed in 1995 who gave place to Fr.Effie Mallia in 2004. At present, the parish has a population of 13,000 parishioners, coming from different localities on the island and from all walks of life. There are three processions in the parish every year. One commemorating Our Lady of Sorrows during Lent, a week before Good Friday, the other on the eve of the feast of Corpus Christi, the third on the first Sunday of August, the titular feast of Our Lady of Lourdes.



 Chapel of the Annunciation, Mensija: The Chapel at Mensija originally dedicated to St. Leonard has been in existance since at least the 16th century having been mentioned by
the Apostolic Visitor Mgr Petrus Dusina in 1575. Dusina wrote "Sancti Leonardi. Visitavit etiam aliam Ecclesiam sub Sancti Leonardi invocatione constructam Bircalcariae; habet altare, et portas ligneas, sed caret rectore, introitibus, et omnibus alijs necessarijs sed Joannes Michallef casalis Bircalcariae, qui dictam Ecclesiam aedificavit sunt anni tres incirca, obligavit dictae Ecclesiae clusam eidem coniunctam, et quam ipse Joannes possidet pro celebratione vesperarum, et missae, in die festivitatis in eadem." The chapel had been associated with a popolar medieval miraculous legend. According to this legend, during the early 15th century, the farmer owning the land of the locality noticed one evening a streak of light piercing an underground stone fissure. After digging to enlarge the entrance, he was shocked to find a three-wick oil lamp facing a sacred image within the cave. Removal of the sacred image only resulted in its miraculous return to the cave. In view of this, the cave was cleared and turned into a cave chapel. Following some unexplained vicissitudes, during which the chapel was closed down on two occasions, the chapel's legend was "rediscovered" in 1690. This rediscovery naturally led to the chapel's rehabilitation, though the cave chapel retained its original structure. It was only in late 19th Century, after some alleged miraculous cures that considerable adjustments were effected. An upsurge of popular devotions – as testified by the numerous ex-votos that once filled this chapel’s interior – took place. During the late 19th and early 20th century, the present enlargement took place and the forty-step stairway was constructed. This staircase was adorned in the early 1930’s by Luigi Micallef, a sculpturer from Balzan, with a set of twelve stone statues representing the twelve apostles. At the bottom of the steps is a statue of Christ the Redeemer. The original cave chapel adorned with an altar lies to the left of the staircase. Set in a deep niche to the right side of the altar stands the ancient wooden triptych of St. Leonard flanked by Archangel Gabriel and the Madonna – probably a 14th century painting with Byzantine overtones. The present titular of the main altar incorporating in one scene the Annunciation and St. Leonard, is a fine 17th Century painting akin to Francesco Zahra’s or Rocco Buhagiar’s school. Following recent restorations that have uncovered the rock texture of the cave, old rock cuttings came to light indicative of original walls, cave entrance and lamp holes. Facing the main altar to the extreme right, two baroque doorways lead to the sacristy upon which stands the organ loft. Coming out of the chapel one cannot fail to notice the big stone statue of Our Lady of the Auuniciantion which once  adorned the Parish Church at Balzan.

 

 Santa Margerita Chapel: This chapel is another medieval chapel mentioned by the Apostolic Visitor Mgr Petrus Dusina in 1575 who wrote "Sanctae Margaritae. Visitavit etiam alliam Ecclesiam ruralem sub vocabulo Sanctae Margaritae in pertinentia Bircalcariae, constructam in contrata Arar, quae habet altare, caret portis ligneis, rectore, introitibus, et omnibus alija necessarijs, sed Salvus Calleja ex devotione sua in die festivitatis in eadem celebrari facit missam rantum. Dominus mandavit non celebrari, nisi appositis portis ligneis, quibus Ecclesia decenter custodiatur." The chapel was allowed to deteriorate and was closed down in 1605. However, Giacomo Pullucino restored the chapel and set us a foundation for the regular celebration of Mass. In 1658, at the request of the Birkirkara Parish Priest, Bishop Balaguer gave his permission to allow the burial of Pullicino and his family within the chapel. In 1680, the chapel was visited by Bishop Giacomo Molina. During the Second World War, the chapel was completely destroyed. It has since been rebuilt in the original 17th century style and in 1990 opened for use by prayer groups and church associations. The chapel of Santa Margerita is now being used frequently as an adoration chapel.



 San Gwann tal-Gharghar Chapel: Situated on the road to Sliema, this chapel was originally build by a private family around 1546. In 1659, Bishop Balaguer profaned the chapel. The chapel was reopened in 1672, but during his pastoral visit in 1680, Bishop Molina commented on the deteriorated state of the chapel. When the Franciscan Capuchin Fathers, requested by Archbishop Mgr M. Gonzi, established themselves in the locality in 1947, they used the restored chapel for the community's religious functions until the completion of their frairy's in 1950. The chapel today is used by the organization MUSEUM for catechetical instruction. 



 Sts. Philip and James Chapel:  Situated on the road to Naxxar, this chapel was built in 1730 by the provost of the Birkirkara Chapter Fr. Gaspare Giuseppe Vassallo to service the spiritual needs of the farmers in the area. The altar was embelished by a titular painting showing the two saints on the style of the Maltese painter Gannikol Buhagiar. In year 2000, this chapel was restored and was embellished by a decent churchyard.