Tag Archives: Knights of Saint John

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.

The Pictures of Alof de Wignacourt

We discover the power, prestige and opulence of the man who gave the Wignacourt Museum its name.

Alof de Wignacourt’s reputation as a protector of the faith, which stemmed from his deeds during the Great Siege of Malta, paved the way towards his becoming a Grand Master of the Order in 1601; and his popularity would indeed prove pivotal when, in 1617, the Spanish hermit Juan Beneguas Da Cardova handed over St Paul’s Grotto to the Order.

Wignacourt quickly saw the opportunity in having such an important location and used it to show off the Order’s, as well as his own, prestige and power. Within a few months he built a college for the Chaplains of the Order, whose sole job was to promote and look after the Grotto day and night. In fact, to this day, Alof de Wignacourt is still hailed as having been a central player in the promotion of the Pauline cult in Malta, and like many of his contemporaries’, his standing was translated onto canvas.

His most important portrait hangs at the Louvre in Paris and was painted by the most famous painter in Rome and Naples at the time, Caravaggio. Nevertheless the Wignacourt hosts two of Alof de Wignacourt’s most iconic pictures: one by Cassarino (1582-1637) and another by an unknown artist.

Alof de Wignacourt by Cassarino

The Cassarino, which is part of the Catania collection, is particularly interesting because of the three inscriptions that are found on it. The first is an anagram that reads ‘G NF DC’, which has also been found on several other paintings around the island and which most probably indicate the artist rather the collector. The second inscription reveals the age of the sitter – who was 70 at the time of creation – and the third records the commissioner of the piece, who was Fr Ludovicus Perrin Dubus.

It should be noted, however, that the Cassarino is not the official portrait commissioned by the first collegiate members of the Wignacourt Foundation. The official one is the piece by the unknown artist and is much larger in size.  This portrait still hangs majestically in the Chapter Hall at the Wignacourt together with the pictures of many other Grand Masters.

Alof de Wignacourt by Unknown

As a side note, when entering the Chapter Hall, one should also note the large, 17th-century portrait of Cosmana Navarra, the benefactress who constructed the present Rabat Parish church, holding the plan of the said church in her hand.

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

Reverence & Politics: St Paul’s Grotto

Close to the Wignacourt lies St Paul’s Grotto, one of Christianity’s most sacred locations.

St Paul's Grotto

As legend has it, when St Paul was travelling from Crete to Rome to be put on trial in front of Julius Ceasar, his ship wrecked just off the Maltese coast, and the series of events that followed his famous shipwreck have been hailed as probably the most crucial and altering to the island’s destiny.

Although St Paul was offered luxurious lodgings by the governor of Malta after he had healed the latter’s father, St Paul refused and chose to make this grotto his lodgings. From here he preached the word of God and gave Malta its Catholic religion. So strong was St Paul’s influence that governor Publius would later become Malta’s first bishop and a saint himself.

For this reason, the Grotto has become a sacred location to which many pilgrims and influential people venture. Amongst the most important, it visitors have included Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict, Fabio Chigi (who would later become Pope Alexander VII) and Admiral Lord Nelson.

There was one visitor in particular, however, who turned the grotto into an international place of pilgrimage. In 1600, hermit Juan Beneguas Da Cardova moved to Malta from Spain and acquired the land just above the grotto. He used it as the base from where he promoted his devotion for St Paul, resulting in the establishment of the cult of St Paul. A mere 10 years later, the Rabat Parish Church officially handed over the Grotto to him, but by 1617 he passed it over into the care of Order of the Knights of St John who had had their eye on it, both for its religious significance as well as for its political implications.

The Grandmaster at the time, Alof De Wignacourt, saw it of vital importance to build a college on the land above for the Chapter of Canons of the Collegiate of the Grotto of St Paul, also known as the Chaplains of the Order. These Chaplains’ mission was to promote devotion towards St Paul and to take care of the Grotto day and night. This was pivotal to showcase the importance of the site and the power the Order commanded.

Apart from its intricate history and religious significance, the Grotto boasts a statue donated by Grand Master Pinto in 1748 and a silver vessel donated by the Order in 1960 to commemorate 1900 years since St Paul’s shipwreck.

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

Reunited: Art Expert Prof Sciberras Talks Preti, His Legacy, and the Importance of the Exhibition in Turin.

The recent homecoming of a number of Mattia and Gregorio Preti’s paintings has landmarked the return of the Wignacourt’s enviable Preti collection in its entirety.

The paintings, which were in Turin for five months, formed part of the remarkable exhibition, Il Cavalier Calabrese Mattia Preti tra Caravaggio e Luca Giordano, which was set up to commemorate Mattia Preti’s 400th birthday.

Oriental Man by Gregorio Preti

 We caught up with Professor Keith Sciberras to ask him about the importance of Preti’s legacy to Malta and Maltese art, what makes the Wignacourt’s Pretis special, and just how momentous it was to have a number of the paintings from the Wignacourt’s collection exhibited in Turin.

Mattia Preti plunged Malta directly into the spirit of Baroque art. His manner was triumphant and monumental, and was particularly suited to the imagery required by the knights of Malta,” Professor Sciberras tells us. “The artist gathered around him a large bottega and dominated artistic production in Malta for four decades.  His style imprinted itself on the Maltese baroque tradition.

Mattia Preti

Preti’s pictures of St Peter in Tears and St Peter Blessing at the Wignacourt are wonderful examples of his mid-Maltese period easel works. The artist produced a number of single-figure saints in a close-up rendition typical of the Neapolitan tradition for both the religious and private market,” he continues.

 

Madonna of Sorrows by Mattia Preti

A small Mater Dolorosa, also by the artist and also found at the Wignacourt, is a rare example of his late period small-scale works. The Wignacourt Museum also houses two paintings, representing the Baptism of Christ and St Publius, on temporary loan display from private collections. They are recent additions to Preti’s oeuvre and were discovered in 2012.

The exhibition in Turin, held at the Reggia La Venaria, showcased 50 paintings by Preti and other major artists of the period. The inclusion of the paintings of the Baptism of Christ and St Publius served to introduce these works to art critics and to the general public. Their participation in the show reflects the Wignacourt Museum’s outreach,” he concludes.

Mattia Preti’s work, along with the work of many other artists and artisans, can be enjoyed at the museum and we invite all art enthusiasts, tourists and anyone else who might be interested to visit the Wignacourt.

For more information on the artworks or the museum you can contact us on +356 2749 4905 or at info@wignacourtmuseum.com

A One Of A Kind Portable Altar

When one thinks of treasures, the first things that usually come to mind are items that are valuable in themselves, like gold or precious stones; but one of the Wignacourt’s most prized possessions is a modest portable altar many would probably walk past.

Found on the first floor of the museum, the portable altar is neither adorned with gold nor was it particularly valuable in its heyday. But centuries later, as the rest of its kin have been lost to time, it has become a truly unique object.

This kind of altar was a staple on any galley bearing the flag of the Sovereign Military Order of the Knights of St John, and were highly practical since they allowed the knights to hear Mass whenever and wherever they needed to.

Portable Altar

The altar, although quite compact when set up, has storage space on either side where candles, Hosts and anything else needed to celebrate Mass can be stowed away. It also has two lamps which illuminate the altar while being used; a small crucifix in its centre made out of ivory; and is decorated with prayers in Latin which would have been recited by the knights – although these have mostly faded away.

In its simplicity, however, the altar is also impressive, particularly in the way it was built with the motion of the rough seas in mind. The chalices used on such altars were suspended right underneath the ivory crucifix, and they could balance themselves out depending on the movement of the waves and the tilting of the vessel. The altar found at the Wignacourt is even more special than all the other alters of its kind, because it is the only known portable altar of the sort to survive the test of time.