The origins of Valletta’s popular church date back 450 years

Noel Muscat, OFM, details how the Franciscan Friars Minor received land in Valletta on May 18, 1571 on which they built the Church of Santa Maria di Gesù, better known as Ta’ Ġieżu

The crucifix during restoration work carried out by Father Charles Vella in 2019.

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 land near the Porta del Monte (present-day Victoria Gate), in Valletta. , the where they were to build 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 plots of 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 plot of land located in the area between Via Del Monte (rue Saint-Jean), Via San Pietro (rue Sainte-Ursule) and Via Santa Maria della Vittoria (rue Sainte-Lucie).

First stone laid four years later

A view of the ceiling and the choir.A view of the ceiling and the choir.

The contract was drawn up on May 18, 1571 before the notary Placido Abela. During 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 (Franciscan Friars Archives, Valletta, Atti Originali, VII, docs. 3 and 4).

The church is best known for its 'miraculous' crucifix.The church is best known for its “miraculous” crucifix.

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 to advance. 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 Gesù (abbreviated di Giesu in Sicilian), a title common to many churches of the Observant Franciscans in Sicily.

This initial 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 for the church and the convent, which are among the architectural gems of Valletta.

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

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Martha J. Finley