Monthly Archives: November 2013

The Treasurer’s Room

Deep within the Wignacourt there is a room built with the purpose of holding a treasure. And, hundreds of years later, it still retains its original features. 

The Treasurer's Room

The Wignacourt Museum in Rabat is a maze of rooms and vaults that have been used for various things over the centuries, including as a place of residence for the Order of the Chaplains, as well as a school. But one particular room is still the same now as it was when it was first built. This is the Treasurer’s Room, located next to the chapel that now houses the reliquary collection.

When the collegiate was turned into a school after World War II, many of the rooms were renovated to accommodate students, but both the Treasurer’s Room and the Chapel of Reliquaries were left untouched. Coincidentally, both of these rooms are rather similar in structure, but the Treasurer’s Room, due to the function it was built for, is slightly different.

Just like the Chapel of Reliquaries, this room opens up to the study area and is divided into three sections, but the arched entrance that leads to the bed in the Treasurer’s Room is much narrower than that in the Reliquary Chapel. This was done with the intent of both warding off thieves as well as forcing them to pass over the bed if they wanted to get to the valuables.

The original wooden treasure chest, which used to encase both silverware and money, is still stored in its original location – on a loft above the bed, set in an alcove. The room also boasts an early example of an en-suite, with an adjoining washroom that allowed the treasurer to keep an eye on the treasure chest at all times.

True to its original purpose, this is the only room at the Wignacourt Museum that has been set up as a bedroom. It also boasts a beautifully-restored 18th century headboard hanging, right where the treasurer’s bed would have been placed hundreds of years ago. This elaborate bedstead, crafted out of wood, holds an image of the Immaculate Conception painted in oils and is surmounted by a crown and enhanced by festoons, scrolls and other decorative details. This image of Immaculate Conception, depicted as standing over a crescent moon crushing a snake, was a common image to have in bedrooms during the period.

Today, the room also plays host to part of the Wignacourt Museum’s collection, with the most important item being the copper bath in the en-suite. This bath is one of the oldest of its kind in Malta, dating back to the 18th century, and it is a faithful representation of the bath the treasurer of the Chaplaincy would have used. On top of that, there are also a number of ex-voto paintings from the filial churches of St Cathaldus and Ta’ Duna, which are both located in Rabat. 

For more information on the Wignacourt Museum and its artefacts you can contact us on +356 2749 4905 or at info@wignacourtmuseum.com.

The Rabat Shroud

The Wignacourt Museum’s authentic replica of the Shroud of Turin.

The Rabat Shroud

To all and every person living at present or in the future We attest and in truth declare that on the fifteenth day of last May, when the Most Sacred Shroud in which the Most Sacred Body of Christ had been placed by Joseph of Arimathea (which without any doubt is kept in our Metropolitan Church in the Royal Chapel) was being shown to the large number of people frequenting the church in the presence of the King of the State of Savoy, the above drawn image herewith attached, was moved near the original Most Sacred Shroud and we made it touch it (i.e. the original) and We guarded it”.                                                                       -       Archbishop of Turin, Michael Beyamus, 1663.

As attested by the Archbishop of Turin in 1663, the Rabat Shroud is an original replica of the Shroud of Turin. Now in language that might be an oxymoron, but in Catholicism it’s a completely different story.

The Rabat Shroud, along with many others, was drawn or painted in painstaking detail to the original Shroud found in the royal chapel of the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist in Turin and then put against the said original.

The Shroud of Turin is special and unique because it shows the silhouette of a bearded man, which many believe to be Jesus Christ. As legend, or history, has it, Joseph of Arimathea enveloped the dead body of Christ in this shroud when He was taken off the cross.

Over the years, many have tried to dispute the Shroud of Turin’s authenticity, saying that it was a medieval forgery created to bring in pilgrims and their money; nevertheless, countless scientists and tests have proven that the shroud is indeed from ancient times, dating to around Jesus’s times. Whether the image is of Christ or not is mostly down to faith, however.

Authentic replicas of the Shroud of Turin are very popular with pilgrims, and there are tens of them all over the world, including one in Belgium and Argentina, two in France and Portugal, 13 in Spain, 19 in Italy and obviously one in Malta. Our very own authentic replica probably made its way to Malta and the Wignacourt Museum thanks to the great relations between the Knights of St John and the Savoy Royal Family, who were incredibly powerful at the time.

Measuring 293.5cm (115.6”) by 101cm (39.8”) in a frame that’s 7cm (2.8”) wide, the Shroud is not awe-inspiring due to its dimensions but because of what it represents. For centuries, its original has beckoned millions of pilgrims to go see it and bask in its holiness, and authentic replicas bring this closer to the people – which is why it’s held as one of the Wignacourt Museum’s most important treasures.

For more information on the Wignacourt Museum and its artefacts you can contact us on +356 2749 4905 or at info@wignacourtmuseum.com.

St Publius’s Sanctuary

Camouflaged for centuries, St Publius’s Sanctuary honours Malta’s first bishop.St Publius's Sanctuary

Since 60AD, St Paul’s shipwreck has had a lasting effect, and from the episode being mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles to Roman Catholicism being included in Malta’s constitution, that one shipwreck changed not only Malta’s destiny but also its skyline.

As the story goes, St Paul performed several miracles while in Malta, with one of the most well known being the healing of the then-Roman governor’s father. That same governor would go on to become a follower of St Paul’s, Malta’s first bishop (consecrated by St Paul himself) and a saint in his own right; and disguised behind the façade of the Rabat parish church, is a second edifice paying tribute him.

The Sanctuary of St Publius was added to Rabat’s parish church in 1617, and was under the care of the Knights of the Order of St John. Evidence of the Order’s role in this sanctuary’s care can be found everywhere, particularly on the sides of the sanctuary decorated by eight-pointed crosses.

The current adjoining and connecting parish dates to the 17th century and was built thanks to the generosity of Comana Navarra, whose portrait can be seen at the Wignacourt Museum. The church, which is dedicated to St Paul, shares a façade with the sanctuary and some believe that architect Francesco Buonamici did this to alleviate the rivalry between the Church and the Order by giving both buildings’ entrances the same importance. This, however, often leads many to believe that there is only one church behind the baroque façade.

St Publius’s Sanctuary is richly decorated and hosts numerous works by some of the best artists creating under the Order’s rule. These include a titular painting by Mattia Preti, showing the Virgin and Child with St John the Baptist and St Publius. This painting is particularly interesting as Baby Jesus can be seen holding an eight-pointed cross, inferring that the Order was under God’s divine protection.

A further two lateral paintings in the main apse show St Publius preaching and the saint’s martyrdom during the persecution of Emperor Hadrian. In the main aisle there are also four canvases reflecting the sanctuary’s dedication and history. Two of these four canvases depict the baptism of Publius and his consecration as bishop of Malta; while the other two are portraits of Alof de Wignacourt and Pope Paul V.

The Last Supper of Christ, by Francesco Zahra, is also worthy of mention and can be found in the small chapel dedicated to the Blessed Sacrament to the right of the main altar built in 1753. This chapel’s rich stonework is also an artwork in itself and, along with that of the Sanctuary as a whole, surely deserves a visit.

For more information on the Wignacourt Museum and the St Publius’s Sanctuary, you can contact us on +356 2749 4905 or at info@wignacourtmuseum.com.

Pope Paul V’s Chasuble and Girdle

Among the Wignacourt’s priceless treasures are liturgical vestments belonging to the infamous Pope Paul V.

Camillo Borghese, who went on to become Pope Paul V, was born into a life of privilege and wealth. His family, the Borghesi of Siena, were a powerful, noble lineage that had close ties with the Vatican and, today, their direct descendants are still the Princes of Sulmona, Rossano, Nettuno and many other regions.

As the head of the Holy Roman Empire, Pope Paul V was relatively controversial, particularly with the English. After the Gunpowder Treason Plot of 1605, which was an attempted assassination on King James I of England and VI of Scotland and his parliament, many believed Pope Paul V had had a part in it. In fact, to this very day, the effigy of Pope Paul V is set on fire every Bonfire Night (5th November) at the Lewes Bonfire celebrations.

The strange thing about Pope Paul V’s vestments being at the Wignacourt Museum is that he never physically visited Malta, yet the reason is behind it is relatively obvious. The Spanish hermit Fra Juan Beneguas de Cordova, who had settled on the island to promote St Paul’s Grotto as a central place for pilgrimage and the Pauline cult, was an intimate friend of the Pope’s and an avid collector of relics, reliquaries and liturgical items.

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For this reason, Fra Juan was sent Pope Paul V’s chasuble (1) bearing his personal coat-of-arms, a taffeta stole (2) and maniple (3), and a three-tassled girdle (4) showing symbols from the Passion of Christ, such as the cross, ladder, scourge and nails, as a sign of their friendship.

All these items can now be viewed at the Wignacourt Museum in Rabat, in a room dedicated to silver and vestments. Along with Pope Paul V’s vestments you can also see many beautifully embroidered liturgical vestments carrying the coat-of-arms of the Grand Masters, among others.

For more information on the Wignacourt Museum and its artefacts you can contact us on +356 2749 4905 or at info@wignacourtmuseum.com.

1: an ornate, sleeveless outer vestment

2: a scarf-like vestment worn over the shoulders and hanging down to the knee

3: a vestment formally worn by priests, which hung from the left arm

4: usually a rope-like belt worn around the waist, but can also be a silk sash.