KNEJJES / CHURCHES
Church of St Anne, Fort St Angelo
Close to the Grand Master’s Palace, in Fort St Angelo, is the church dedicated to St Anne. The original dedication of this church was to St Angelo, and the change in the dedication occurred after the arrival of the Order of St John in 1530. Soon afterwards, the church was extended, with the addition of an entrance lobby, the deepening of the apse, and the building of a side chapel. The architecture of this church is interesting as it shows the typical medieval style then in use. The column used as a central support to the roof leading to the side chapel is believed to have been salvaged from the ruins of a Roman temple which could have been in the area. It is believed that the works were carried out by the architect Fra Diego Perez de Malfreire, a member of the Order of St John. Four Grand Masters were buried in the crypt of this church, and later, their mortal remains were transferred to the crypt of St John’s Co-Cathedral in Valletta.
Church of the Nativity of the Virgin, Fort St Angelo
The first documented evidence of churches in Fort St Angelo dates to 1274, and one of these was the small rock hewn church dedicated to the Nativity of the Virgin. This church functioned as a parish for the garrison of the Fort and for the nearby Borgo. The church was smaller than its present size. Eventually the rock face was covered with masonry and a façade was also built to provide the small church with the present façade. Two side altars were also added. Every year a mass is held in this church on the 8th September, the liturgical feast day of the Nativity of the Virgin, in commemoration of those who died during the Great Siege of 1565.
Church of the Annunciation
The original church dedicated to the Annunciation dates to the 15th century. In 1527 the small church was handed over to the Dominican Order. After having established themselves, the Dominican community enlarged the church when it was reconstructed between 1636 and 1660. The foundation stone of the new church was laid by the Inquisitor Mons. Fabio Chigi, who was later to become Pope Alexander VII. It also had a number of small chapels on the side of the nave (Fsadni, 1974). Following a number of air-raids on 19 January 1941, the church was severely damaged. The Dominicans lost their church and convent but continued to offer their religious services to the community. Eventually a new church and convent was built to the designs of England Sant Fournier (1908-1969).
Church of Our Lady of Damascus
When the Knights of the Order of St John arrived in Malta in 1530 a number of Rhodiots, who had accompanied the Knights after the loss of Rhodes, settled in Birgu. They also set up four churches, one of them dedicated to Our Lady of Damascus. The Greek community had a great devotion towards this icon. The former church was located where the Oratory of St Joseph was eventually built. A small side chapel still survives, and it was integrated with the Oratory. Some architectural features from the old church still survive. The hat and sword of Grand Master de Valette, the hero of the Great Siege, was also left in front of the Holy Image of Our Lady of Damascus as a thanksgiving. The present monument, holding the hat and the sword, was set up during the magistracy of Grand Master de Rohan. Today, this small church forms part of the Oratory of St Joseph.
Church of Our Lady of the Angels
One of the larger churches that is found in Vittoriosa is dedicated to Our Lady of the Angels, popularly known as that of St Philip. The first church dates to the 15th century and in 1624 the church was rebuilt. Yet the present church dates to the 18th century. It was passed on to the religious order known as the Oratorians of St Philip in 1652. The present church was built between 1737 and 1739; it was bigger, and it had a cruciform plan. Some years later a sacristy and a bell tower were added to the church. The interior is typical of the baroque scenography of the 18th century. The church was still in use up to the Second World War, but presently the church is not used for religious services.
Church of the Blessed Trinity
The present church dedicated to the Holy Trinity was built on the site of a medieval church dedicated to Our Lady of Monserrat, another Catalan influence. The original church dates back to the second half of the 15th century. When the church was visited by Mons Dusina in 1575, he reported that it needed to be better taken care of, as it had some structural damages. From the report of this visit it is known that the church used to face the Birgu Marina. It was in 1658 that the church was re-dedicated to the Holy Trinity. Up until the eve of the Second World War, the church was still in use and frequented by the locals. Unfortunately, it was destroyed during the war and eventually rebuilt.
The present church was designed by Lorenzo Gafà (1639-1703), a prolific Maltese architect born in Vittoriosa. Before starting to plan churches, Lorenzo was working as a sculptor and an assistant to other architects. By time he was able to design churches, which are considered amongst the best that were built during this period. The façade of the church is plain, with a central doorway set between pilasters. There are a number of defaced coat-of-arms on the façade. Above the pediment is a later addition, concurrent with the use of the church by a cloistered community of nuns. The titular painting of the church is by Mattia Preti (1613-1699) and it is considered as one of the masterpieces by the artist. The church is still in use and a small cloistered community of nuns lives within the monastery.
St Lawrence Collegiate Church
The origin of the main church of Vittoriosa is probably dated to medieval times, and it is believed that the devotion towards St Lawrence would have been introduced during the Aragonese period. With the arrival of the Order of St John, the church was taken over by the Order. In 1532 the church was accidently burned down and was immediately rebuilt. In 1681 Lorenzo Gafà, the architect born and living in Vittoriosa, was commissioned to design a new and larger church. A few years later the façade was enhanced with the addition of two extra bays and a bell tower, to the design of Romano Carapecchia. A second bell tower was added in 1913. The church’s interior is richly decorated, with statues and works of art. The titular painting is the largest canvas ever executed by Mattia Preti, and it shows the Martyrdom of St Lawrence. The church suffered damages during World War Two but was restored immediately after.
Oratory of the Holy Crucifix
Close to the parish church of Birgu there is an Oratory, belonging to the Confraternity of the Holy Crucifix. The oratory was built through the efforts of the members of the confraternity. The first stone was laid in 1720 and construction was completed in 1724. The confraternity’s main aim was to increase the devotion towards the Mysteries of the Passion of Our Lord. Similar to other oratories, religious meetings would be held for their members, and one of the most important activities was the annual religious procession during Holy Friday. The Confraternity was given permission to hold such a procession in 1718. Throughout the year, the statues that are taken out for the annual procession, are kept in the Oratory. These statues are the only ones in Malta that are dressed up with velvet and real cloth.
St Joseph Oratory
Next to the parish church of Vittoriosa was a cemetery where a number of prominent Knights were buried before Valletta had been built. Eventually part of the area was built over, and a number of religious buildings were erected. A small church that had been built by the Greek community was taken over by the Confraternity of St Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters. This saint was very popular in Vittoriosa for the fact that there used to be a lot of carpenters working for the Order’s navy and later for the British. In 1832 the Confraternity of St Joseph decided to rebuild the old structure and a new oratory was built, incorporating the smaller church. Today the Oratory of St Joseph has been turned into the parish museum. On display are mementoes of different periods, church vestments and processional statues, besides many other exhibits.