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Oratory of the Sacred Heart

Very early in the life of the parish church of St.Cajetan, that is in the last decade of the 19th century, adjacent to the church was a piece of land given by the government to the church. In 1893, this found its way in the ownership of Enrico Nuzzo, but since it was donated with the specific purpose of building an oratory there, the Confraternity of the Holy Sacrament wanted it back. The year after, they collected 800 signatures and petitioned to Archbishop Mons Pietro Pace asking for the contract to be annulled on this basis. Nuzzo, a kindhearted person that he was, tore up the contract on condition that the oratory would be built on the lot.

The real necessity for this building was that the confraternity members lacked space where to change and keep their vestments, also the church needed a repository for the Holy Sacrament during Good Friday and a space for the catechizing of children. After this appeal was granted, the Archbishop formed a committee of two members and a procurator so the financing would go smoothly and the pastor gave permission for the door-to-door collection of funds from all over Hamrun. The building started in 1895 on the plan of architect Andrea Grima.

This oratory which was dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, had one altar and above it a painting by Chev Nerik Zarb. It had wall to ceiling cupboards on each side as storage for the confraternity and the church and has access to the church from the sanctuary. Its first director was Fr.George Farrugia and for a while afterwards Saint George Preca M.U.S.E.U.M. movement also utilized it until his group started renting a house and then building its own premises.

The Hamrun Choir under Fr.Joseph Cachia too started using it in 1949 for rehearsals until the members built their own premises above one of the church side aisles.

Times change and so do needs. Pastor Joseph Pace had the idea to transform it into a parish centre after a few decades of neglect. So in September 1980, the altar and the painting above it were removed and the walls scraped and cleaned. The new parish centre on the design of Chev.EmVin Cremona took shape in this manner.

Our Lady of Atocia

During the time of the Order of the Knights of St.John around the 16th century, on the hill on the southeast and when Hamrun was not even a dream, there existed a small church dedicated to St.Nicholas. This was already in ruins in the early 17th century.

At this time, Giuseppi Casauri, a merchant who traveled all over the Mediterranean on business, acquired an icon of Our Lady of Antiochia (or Atocia as it came to be known), one of a number of copies of an icon venerated in Madrid. Bringing it to Malta, he sold his business and in 1631 built a chapel on the ruins of St.Nicholas church. Since he and his wife were devotees of this icon whose feast they used to celebrate in Madrid, they dedicated the church to The Assumption of Our Lady and deposited the icon of Atocia in it. After a while after, even the hill and locality began to be called by the same name, in fact there is still an Atocia Street on the hill nowadays. Actually the more common nickname for both the church and the hill now is tas-Samra because of the dark complexion of Mary in the icon.

At the back of the church, Giuseppi built a few rooms for himself and his wife and they lived a celibate life with the permission of their confessor. The house, which used to have access to the church, now forms part of Nuzzo Institute.

The church played a role in the general history of Malta during the blockading of the French in Valletta at the end of the 18th century. Its roof in a position on high ground overlooking the main gate of Valletta, gave Maltese sharp shooters an advantage over anyone daring to exit the city. Even just as a lookout post it would have shown its worth. At the height of the battle, the Maltese wanted to show the French in Valletta that it was a fight till the end. They borrowed a crucifix from this church and stuck it on top of a black standard for the enemy to see.

The lack of devotees around the turn of the 20th century caused the church to be closed down, only to be used once a year on the feast of the patron. Since it was deconsecrated a while later, it started to serve as a store for hay and animal feed. It was only in the late 1920s when Blessed George Preca revived devotions on the 15th of each month that it was spruced up and opened again.

It is now open every day up to 10.00pm for devotees from all over with regular liturgy being held Sundays. Its procurator in 2006, was Fr.Joseph Pace who was Pastor of St.Cajetan in the 1980's.

Up to 1935 the icon was not over the main altar as nowadays, but below the painting of St.Lawrence. The titular, which is now in the sacristy shows Our Lady with Baby Jesus in her lap. This is the work of Antoine de Favray and bears the date of 1791. The scope of placing the much-venerated icon over the main altar was that before, many ignored the Holy Sacrament to pray in front of it.

The main altar, which was of limestone, was rebuilt in marble in the 1950s. The sanctuary too was covered in marble and the whole floor of the church paved. The icon from the very beginning seemed to attract many devotees from all over the island some of whom claiming miraculous graces and leaving votive paintings in the church. A number of these, one of which showed a carriage being attacked by a horde of Arab pirates, are in the sacristy. In this church one can find a main altar, and four others, two on each side, and above these are paintings of the Sacred Family, St.Charles Borromeo, St.Lawrence and the titular that used to be in the previous church St.Nicholas. There is also a painting of the Holy Face of Jesus. In the sacristy, apart from the titular moved there in the 1930s, there is a deteriorating but beautiful canvas worth restoring, depicting St.John in the desert. The church also has a statue of Mary made by Glormu Dingli of Rabat and which was used for the first time for the feast of 1967. Above the regular schedule of Masses celebrated, there are also special ones left in perpetuity by the wife of Guzeppi.

In 1981, as part of the first centenary celebrations of the parish of St.Cajetan, the icon of Atocia was brought in procession from this church down to St Cajetan parish church for the feast of the Presentation of Our Lady.

Our Lady of Porto Salvo:

Before the early years of Hamrun, this church served the sparse population of the area. It was in Birkirkara jurisdiction just where its territory met that of Qormi on the main road from Valletta. Stonemason Pankrazju Briffa built the first church in 1645.

Though dedicated to Our Lady of Porto Salvo it was known as ta’Äô Tonnuccio, later degenerated to Santunnuzzu, a nickname still used nowadays. Tonnuccio Agius a cleric was married to Margerita Grech, and they rebuilt the church in 1750. It served as the main church until that of St.Cajetan was built. For a long time after that, it served as vice parish.

The church is Baroque in style and square in shape, with its sides rising into arches, which support the base of the dome. There is also a small belfry at the back, which nowadays is hidden from view by the dome because of the narrowness of the street. The facade is made up of two tall pillars with a decorated plinth on top. On top of this up to the 60s, it used to boast of a special double Episcopal cross though it is not known if it ever had any special privileges.

Above the ornamental doorframe is pierced with a small round opening giving light to the tiny choir loft. The whole facade was given a restoration in the 50s. The coat of arms of the bishop and those of the Grandmaster on the facade, were defaced during French occupation.

It has one altar and on the left side there is a narrow hall from which one can access the church itself, the sacristy at the back and a few small rooms above the hall and sacristy by means of a very narrow circular staircase. From the small apartments above, one can look down into the church from a small ornamental window or outside from a tiny closed in wooden balcony.

The titular picture shows the Assumption of Mary even though the church is dedicated to Our Lady of Porto Salvo! In the sacristy there is an altar and above it a canvas of Our Lady of Carmel and another one recently restored in 1954, showing the foundress Margherita Grech. In the church itself there are also pictures of St.Nicholas, St.Roque, The Flagellation of Christ, Our Lady of Sorrows and St.Helen (the latter showing it used to be in Birkirkara territory before it became Hamrun). All these paintings seem to come from an anonymous though master painter with an eye for detail.

In the middle of 1941 the Discalced Carmelite monks took refuge in the tiny apartment adjacent to the church, but after so much work to acquire it and make it a Vicariate, they left it for better premises they built in Bormla. Nowadays only special and infrequent Masses are celebrated there but it is mostly open every day and evening for perpetual exposition and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.

*A special note about Our Lady of Porto Salvo church: I have this tiny church close to my heart because of the memories of my youth when I served there for years as an altar server at pre-Vatican II liturgy and special functions and benedictions. Again later when I grew up to choose my state in life, my wife and I took our marriage vows in that same little church as did my older sisters. All the time from the 1940s to the 1980s my uncle served there as a sacristan too. The Painting I did myself in acrylics in my retirement.

St Francis church and Convent.

Just after WWII, Hamrun welcomed the Order of Franciscans Minor to help with the spiritual welfare of the ever-increasing population. On the 16th August 1947 their first small temporary chapel and convent were opened on Lord Byron Street but these already proved small from the onset.

¬İA permanent church and convent would be needed for the area so they started looking for a suitable plot of land in the vicinity. They acquired an excellent location on the corner of Villambrosa and Parish Priest Mifsud street after five years of searching. This land cost them the sum of $16500.

On The 13th April 1952 their superior Fr.Tarcisju Xerri OFM laid the corner stone after a procession from the old chapel. After the ceremony, which included placing some relics and parchment beneath the stone and the singing of hymns, they proceeded back to the small chapel where an antiphon and Te Deum were sung and benediction given.

In a short time of two years, the church was up and was opened for the public on the 30th October 1954 with a solemn blessing ceremony. Chev.Guze DAmato who just a few years before had supervised the building of the St.Cajetan dome drew up its plan. The style is Roman, simple and befitting a Franciscan temple. It is 43 meters long by 17 wide in the main nave and 21 wide including the side aisles. It can accommodate a congregation of 2000. Archbishop Michael Gonzi consecrated it on the 25th May 1955.

This church is built in local limestone while inside and the dome are concrete. The side aisles have a long balcony along them with access to the convent. The tall bell tower is topped by a huge statue of St.Francis with open arms made by Marku Montebello of Qormi and raised in place on the 21st February 1960. At the base of the tower, which is adjacent to the front of the church, there is the main door leading into the three-storey convent with access to the church from the hall behind it.

An octagonal dome in three layers completely of concrete has 36 windows and rises 12 meters above the sanctuary. There is the main altar and two others one at each end of the transept while the chapel of Our Lady of Perpetual Help is in the left transept in line with the left side aisle. A small exit door beside it gives access to the street behind the church. In this chapel, a copy of the well-known icon of Our Lady done by Marcello Liberati of Rome was commissioned by the Maltese emigrant family Zammit of California and blessed on the 2nd February 1954. It was placed in the right aisle as soon as the church opened and the beautiful chapel built for it in the late 1960s.

All the altars and the chapel are decorated with black and white marble and there are bronze figures on the altars. The titular is a colossal statue of St.Francis accepting his Stigmata in white marble, made by Wistin Camilleri of Gozo. There are two other statues in marble on the side altars, namely St.Anthony of Padova and the Immaculate Conception. The company of Andriani of Lucca Italy made both these. Both the old style pulpit on the side and the 14 Stations of the Cross were made in white marble and gold mosaic to match the rest of the decor. They were brought from Italy and blessed in 1956.

In the Summer of 1966, a set of electrically controlled carillon bells were installed in the belfry and blessed by Bishop Emmanuel Galea. The company of Petit & Fritson made this Carillon in Holland. In the 1970s, the friars had a wedge of their garden beside their convent expropriated by the government for the widening and lining up of Parish Priest Mifsud Street.

Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal

The history of the site of this chapel which includes the Headquarters of the Saint Gorg Preca society, goes back more than 200 years.

At the beginning of the 19th century a cemetery was built on this Blata l-Bajda corner spot where the road from Porte des Bombes splits into two. The purpose of this cemetery was to take the victims of the plague, which during that century visited Malta, a number of times. A balustrade of local limestone circled the cemetery with access through an iron gate on St.Joseph road. In the middle stood a stele raised on three steps and which had a limestone cross on top of it. When the Blata l-Bajda underpass was constructed in the early 1950s, part of the cemetery was dismantled and all the bones were exhumed, to be reburied at the Addolorata cemetery.

The plot was given in perpetual lease to Saint George Preca's society M.U.S.E.U.M. and work on the foundations started in August of 1954. On the 2nd October of that year, the corner stone was laid and blessed by Archbishop Mons Mikiel Gonzi in the presence of local priests, dignitaries, and members of the society including the future Saint himself.

The plan is by Chev.Guze DAmato with Architect Guzeppi Farrugia overseeing the work. In his plan, Chev.DAmato had the foresight to include an underground car park with 12 spaces for cars. This can be accessed from St.Joseph road and was something quite unique in a project for that time. Behind the chapel is an auditorium that can fit 2000 people. Many volunteer members of the society gave their time in the raising of this complex backed by generous donors who financed the project. When the headquarters were ready, work on the chapel itself started. Archbishop Gonzi laid its corner stone on The 23rd February 1958.

This round chapel is separated from the auditorium at the back by glass partitions, making for more congregation space if needed. A statue of St.Peter and another one of St.Paul face the auditorium. Above the door on the outside is a niche housing a seated statue of Our Lady with open arms greeting people in. This was fashioned in limestone by Marku Montebello on a design by Mr.Schembri. A bronze statue of Christ Redeemer was raised on top of the dome on the 6th July 1963 and a year later the finished chapel opened and blessed by Archbishop Gonzi on the 13th May.

The society, though losing its founder in 1962 started him on the road to Sainthood very soon after burying his body in the crypt of this chapel. After being declared Venerable and the next year a miracle attributed to his intercession, his body was exhumed on the 7th July 2000 and found incorrupt. On the 9th March of 2001 Pope John Paul II made a visit to Malta to Beatify Dun Gorg and two others. A second miracle attributed to him and confirmed by Pope Benedict XVI, made him the first Maltese Saint in June 2007.

After they had re-decorated and re-arranged the inside of the chapel on the design of Prof.Richard England, the members of the society had the chapel ready to house the remains of their founder permanently. The body now lies in the chapel in a glass urn just beneath a wax effigy of him lying down in the same position as the body and dressed in priestly garb. After the Beatification ceremonies on the Floriana granaries, Pope J.P.II went to this chapel to visit the remains. The Canonization ceremony was held at St Peter Basilica in the Vatican.

Our Lady of Sorrows

A centre for the teaching of catechism was opened on the 20th January 1951 by members of the Legion of Mary in a house given to the parish by Farsons Ltd. Brewery in Farsons str. At first this building, previously used for storage space, was fitted with planks on empty beer boxes serving as benches and members of the M.U.S.E.U.M. there prepared children for the Sacrament of Reconciliation. A picture of Mary was hung and candles lit and vases of flowers placed before it. Pastor Cordina Perez soon ordered regular benches, and when an altar was finished, Fr.Joseph Saliba celebrated the first Mass there on the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows. On the 29th March the¬İHamrun Pastor consecrated this new chapel to the Hearts of Jesus and Mary.

The members of the Legion of Mary were always trying to make the place look better and add facilities. On the 15th September a new painting by the nephew of the late Pastor, J. Zammit Cordina, was solemnly inaugurated.

Other Masses were being celebrated on occasion with the permission of the pastor. The Archbishop even gave permission for the celebration of Mass on Sundays and holidays after a while. Devotions of the First Fridays also started in this chapel, and in time it was fitted with everything one could need in a Catholic church including the Way of the Cross, which was inaugurated and blessed on the 3rd May 1951.

Its first procurator was Karm Zammit and in 1969 Fr.Salv Vella took over as first Rector. On a Pastoral Visit in 1971, Archbishop Gonzi noted the need for a proper church for the area and encouraged the pastor to look into this. On the 23rd April 1974 after volunteers had already done some excavation work on the foundations. Vassallo builders of Mosta finished the new church on the plan of architect Richard Aquilina, after several contractors were changed in the process of building.

The Holy Sacrament was moved from the old oratory to the newly built church on the 19th December 1982. Nowadays, even marriages may be celebrated in this new church that caters for the population of Rabbat as the area is called.