The set up which make up the ways of life of the people of the Maltese islands is so different from that of other nations. A stroll along our streets will enable us to meet lots of things which are the result of the heritage left to us by our forefathers. Among them one can mention the small churches and chapels; large and elegant houses and myriads of niches and statues in the streets and squares of our cities, towns and villages.
Senglea, a city rich in history, is full of these icons. Since our city is almost surround by the sea many rich and seafaring people lived here. All these people left their mark on our city. Among these historical and beautiful buildings one can mention the house of the Panzavecchia family in Victory Street. We can also add the images of saints put up for our veneration in various parts of Senglea.
The niches and statues have an important part in the religious and social tradition of the people of Malta and Gozo. We can see them where least expected, in every city, town and village of our islands. Unfortunately nowadays we have so many distractions that we are no longer paying the same attention due to them and for which they were put there.
All through the ages men used statues to give a more humane aspect to the local environment. In our Maltese society, our religion gave us the statues and our streets provided us with the space where to put them, that is in the corner of building blocks and other similar locations. Many hold that this tradition of showing devotion to saints represented by means of statues and niches go back at least to the times of the Romans. The Romans used to erect niches and put up statue of their false gods in the villages and the countryside as a sign of protection. Later on the Christian missionaries saw it fit to keep these traditions but change the images to those pertaining to our Religion. Initially they started replacing the statues and images of the Romans’ false gods by al frescos and later on with statues representing Our Lord, Our Lady and our saints.
We can now see that in Senglea there are many statues and niches dedicated to Our Lady and the saints. It is difficult to pinpoint who put them up or why because these were put up by local citizens of Senglea on their own initiative. Nonetheless these individuals took care to ask permission from the local Church authorities so that the people who prayed in front of these religious icons could benefit from indulgences. Notwithstanding the great damage Senglea suffered during World War II these are many cases where these icons are still in place and have the declaration of the indulgences and some of them date back to the eighteenth century. We have statues made of marble or stone and some niches are made of wood.
As already mentioned there indulgences connected to these niches, but what are ‘indulgences’? In paragraph 1471 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church we have the following text:
“An indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven, which the faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains under certain prescribed conditions through the action of the Church which, as the minister of redemption, dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfactions of Christ and the saints.”
“An indulgence is partial or plenary according as it removes either part or all of the temporal punishment due to sin.” The faithful can gain indulgences for themselves or apply them to the dead.
This means that we are talking about sins which have been pardoned. Still we are taught that even though our sins have been pardoned we still have traces of the bad things which we have committed and which need to be eradicated. It is the same as when one cuts his finger, bleeds and even though the wound heals and closes up yet one still has a mark showing on the body of where the cut took place. Now the indulgences remove all the marks which our pardoned sins left on our souls. Apart from saying the prayer as asked for as recommended on the inscription, one must also observe certain rules to be able to receive the indulgence. The person needs to confess; receive Holy Communion and pray according to the intentions of the Pope.
This book is nothing but a good example and clear proof of how much the people of Malta and Gozo always felt the need for God’s and the Saints’ intercession during our lives. It also proves that the people of Senglea always had these niches and statues which decorate our streets and squares, close to our hearts. Personally speaking I hope that this book will help very citizen of Senglea to revisit these niches and statues which are spread out throughout our city; take a good look at them; read the inscriptions and discover the heritage left by our forefathers and above relive the religious culture which these images are meant to instil in us.
To make up this book if found lots of help. Most of the material used in this book are taken from a series of articles which were printed in the leaflets ‘L-Isla – Lehen il-Parocca’ (Senglea – The Voice of the Parish) which were published between March 2001 and September 2005. So I would also like to show my appreciation and thanks to the two Arch Priests of that period, namely Canon Vincent Cachia and Canon Joe Grech who gave me their go ahead to take the necessary information published in these leaflets and use them to make up this book and thus we can all share this historical information with the people of Senglea. I was also provided with a lot of information from residents (especially old ones) of Senglea. I was also lent old photos and was given permission to use in this publication. I would like to thank them for all their help and co-operation. Last but not least I would like to thank Professor Stanley Fiorini, a Mathematician, who is also a native of Senglea but who is also renowned for his studies on the history of our islands. Professor Fiorini agreed to vet my original manuscript and gave me his advice on how to give this publication a good presentation.