450 years since the beginning of the history of the Church of Santa Maria di Gesù in Valletta

Photo: Church of Santa Maria di Gesu, Valletta

On May 18, 1571, the Franciscan Friars Minor, then known as the Friars Minor of the Regular Observance, received from the Grand Master Pietro Del Monte a plot of land near the Porta del Monte (today the Porte Victoria) in Valletta, on which they were building their second church and convent in Malta after the church and convent of Santa Maria di Gesù in Rabat, where they settled in 1500 after long preparations dating back to 1482. All mendicant orders of clerics were given land in Valletta on which to build their respective convent churches and convents.

The Franciscans had presented their request to Grand Master Del Monte some time before April 19, 1571. On the same day, the Grand Master accepted their request and published the decree by which he donated to them, gratuitously as he did to all other religious , a land located in the area between Via Del Monte (St. John Street), Via San Pietro (St. Ursola Street) and Via Santa Maria della Vittoria (St. Lucia Street).

The contract was drawn up on May 18, 1571 before the notary Placido Abela. At the drafting of the contract were present, on the part of the commissioners entrusted by the Grand Master and the Council, the knights Fra’ Raimondo Fortuyn and Fra’ Giorgio Cacherano, and the Maltese engineer and architect Girolamo Cassar, who was to be the architect of the new church. On behalf of the Franciscan religious community from Rabat, the contract mentions Fra’ Nicola di Calabria as Vicar of the Sicilian Provincial, Fra’ Baptista di Malta, Fra’ Michele di Malta, Fra’ Domenico di Malta, Fra’ Benedetto di Malta , Fra’ Antonio di Tapani and Fra’ Salvo di Malta.

Although the contract was finalized on May 18, 1571, the actual official laying of the first stone took place four years later, on September 21, 1575, even though construction was already in progress. This is why the year 1575 is normally indicated as the year of the construction of the Ta’ Ġieżu Church. The title given by ordinary people to the church and convent, namely “Ta’ Ġieżu”, already existed in the case of the old church and convent in Rabat, dedicated to Santa Maria di Gesu (abbreviated as di Giesu in Sicilian), a title common to many churches of the Franciscan Observants in Sicily.

This first date in the long history of this popular church, known above all for the Crucifix of Fra’ Innocenzo da Petralia Sottana and for the devotion to the Addolorata (Duluri), is commemorated within the framework of the restoration plans of the Church and de la Friary, which is one of Valletta’s architectural gems.

(This historical information is taken from the late P. Ġorġ Aquilina OFM, Il-Franġiskani Maltin (Ta’ Ġieżu) 1482c-1965c, Malta 2011, pp. 307-311).

This content was provided by the OFM.

Martha J. Finley