Thursday 23 April 2015

St Mary, Birkirkara

The old parish church of St Mary Birkirkara was begun in the early 1600's by Vittorio Cassar and completed in 1617 by Tommaso Dingli. The tower and the interior are designed by Cassar and the facade by Dingli.

St Mary  has some of the finest carved stone decoration in Malta, on the facade and especially in the interior. There is a tradition that the craftsman was a Sicilian criminal who had sought refuge in the church. this is unlikely as the carving at Tommaso Dingli's earlier church at Attard seems to have been by the same hand. The beautiful church fell into disrepair and is now undergoing restoration.


Friday 17 April 2015

La Couvertoirade

La Couvertoirade had belonged to the Knights Templar since the area was given to them by the Viscount of Millau in the 12th century. The Templars built the fortress in the course of the 12th and 13th centuries and the village that grew up around it.  La Couvertoirade formed part of the extensive estates administered from the Commandery of Sainte-Eulalie de Cernon. The Templars  chose the site because of the dome of exposed limestone that meant good foundations and a ready supply of  material for building a castle. Also for the Lavognes, the natural drinking pools in this arid region that provided a reliable source of water for their sheep on the trails connecting the summer and winter pastures; the transhumance routes.

Following the Dissolution of the Knights Templar in 1312 La Couvertoirade passed into the hands of the Order of St John who built the church. The village became an important staging post for pilgrims making their way south to Santiago da Compostella, Rome and the Holy Land. In 1328 there were 135 "fires" in the village and between 540 and 600 inhabitants.

Between 1439 and 1442 the Knights of St John built the high curtain wall and the five square and round towers around the village.

La Couvertoirade in particular and the Larzac in general prospered in the peace following the end of the 100 Years War in 1453. Many of the houses in La Couvertoirade date from this period. The characteristic houses have sheep folds on the ground floor and a flight of stone steps that leads to the accommodation above.

The walls protected the village again during the Wars of Religion. La Couvertoirade was besieged by the Huguenots and the siege  was only lifted when the bishop of Lodeve rode to its rescue in 1562.

Along with all of the Hospitaller's properties in the Larzac, La Couvertoirade was able to prosper during the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries, as some of the beautiful houses in the village show. 

 The last commander of Sainte-Eulalie and of La Couvertoirade was Fra' Riquetti Mirabeau. During the Revolution religious orders of the Church were abolished and the long ownership of  La Couvertoirade by the Order of St John was over

Sunday 12 April 2015

St Philip, Zebbug (Citta Rohan)

The original parish church of Zebbug dedicated to St Philip of Agira was built in 1380. It was replaced in the late 17th century by the present church designed by Tommaso Dingli. Under the Knights of St John, Zebbug was one of the principal towns on the island and in 1777 was bestowed with the title Citta Rohan, by Grand Master Emmanuel Rohan-Polduc. The magnificence of the church is due in large part to the number of leading corsairs who lived in the parish and endowed St Phillip in gratitude for their good fortune.

The magnificent titular painting is by Luca Garnier. There are also two murals by Fransceco Zahra, an 18th Maltese painter of the school of  Favray and a Guido Reni. During the French Revolutionary regime (1798-1800) the Maltese churches were plundered to finance Napoleon's campaign, however the people of Zabbar when they heard that the French were coming opened the church doors and hid all the church gold and silver. When the French saw that the church doors were open they passed by, leaving St Philip with its treasure intact.

Friday 10 April 2015

Yeaveley (Stydd) Commandery

In the Doomsday Book Yeaveley was made up of two manors, Yeaveley and Stydd. During the reign of King Richard I (the Lion Heart) (1189-1199), in 1190, Ralph le Fun of Yeaveley gave the Order of St John a house at Stydd, together with lands, woods and mills. These together formed the nucleus of the commandery of Yeaveley. The commandery was to receive a substantial increase in its revenues when in 1268, Sir William Meynell gave the Order significant property in the nearby town of Ashbourne.

In 1338 when Prior de Thame inquired into the state of the Order in England the Commander of Yeaveley was Fra' Henry de Bakewell who was both commander and chaplain. He was born of 'gentle' parents and was professed priest who before joining the Order. The other fully professed member of the Order living at Yeavely was Fra' Thomas de Batheley, a serving brother who had served for five years in the Convent at Rhodes before being appointed to his post at the commandery. both brothers received an annual allowance of £1 for their robes, 6s 8d for their mantles and 8s for other expenses.

The others living at the commandery included John Bray who was a donat. a layman who had given his property to the Order iin return for living at the commandery and being supported bythe Order. he was given 22s 8d for his robe and other expenses, was allowed to wear the white six-pointed cross of the Order but was excused compulsory attendence at chapel because he was not a poroffessed member of the Ordr. Then there were two corrodaries William Warde and William Pistori and two pensioners William of Impyngton and Robert Brex.

The Tudor mansion was erected on the site of the former commandery after the Dissolution.

Wednesday 8 April 2015

Annunciation of Our Lady, Balzan

The small village of Balzan was elevated to the status of a parish in the 17th century. The village was named  after Maximillian Balzan a Spanish merchant who settled in Malta in 1567. He was granted the land where the village now stands for services to the Order of St John.

The parish church dedicated to the Annunciation of Our Lady dates from the mid 17th century in the form of a Latin cross, with one belfry and an elegant dome. The foundation stone was laid in 1669 and the church was completed in 1693. The facade is rather unusual with elongated pilasters and rich lace-like decoration that give it a Spanish feel.

Tuesday 7 April 2015

St Lawrence, Vittoriosa

The Church of St Lawrence on the waterfront of Birgu is one of the oldest churches in Malta having been founded in 1090, soon after the Arabs were driven out of the island by the Normans.  Originally a small chapel, it was rebuilt in 1508. With the arrival of the Order of St John in 1530 St Lawrence became the Conventual Church and remained so until 1571 when the Order moved their seat from Vittoriosa to  Valletta.

In 1681 the Church of St Lawrence was rebuilt to the design of Maltese architect Lorenzo Gafa.  The foundation stone was laid in May 1681 and it was consecrated on 10th August that year in the presence of the newly elected Grand Master Roccaful y Perellos; the Apostolic Delegate and Inquisitor, Monseigneur Tommas Ruffo and the Bishop of Malta, Monseigneur Davide Cocco Palmieri with several members of the Council of the Order of St John

St Lawrence is a magnificent building consisting of a  principal nave and two side naves, a choir and  two large side chapels surmounted by a beautiful cupola.

After the Inquistion came to Malta and the Inquisitor took up residence in his Palace in Main Gate in Vittoriosa, the church of St Lawrence became known as the church of the Inquisitors. His seat in the church was even provided with plump velvet cushions.

Annexed to the church is the Chapter Hall and the Treasury. Among the treasures are some church  vestments brought from Rhodes, a green apparel donated by Grand Master Cardinal D'Aubusson in 1476 to the Church of St john in Rhodes, which include two dalmatics, a chasuble and a cope. There are also two other chasubles presented by Grand Inquisitors, Ruffo (1694-1698), later created Cardinal, and Chigi (1634-1639) who was elected Pope Alexander VII.