Tag Archives: Rabat

Death at the Wignacourt: Part II – Cosmana Navarra’s Death Mask

The New Year represents a time for renewal, but we should never forget those whose journey has ended.

Cosmana Navarra, born in in Rabat in the 17th century, was the fourth child of Dr Giovanni Cumbo and Cornelia Navarra, and one of the most important benefactors of the Rabat parish church. Her benevolence can still be felt and seen all around the town of Rabat, particularly at St Paul’s church and in the Wignacourt Museum’s collection.

Well esteemed during her life, this wealthy and business-savvy woman lived to the ripe age of 87 and died on 30 January 1687. She was buried in the small chapel within the Rabat parish church, dedicated to San Anton, but her death mask, created to immortalise her image, remains at the Wignacourt.

image (8) (2)

 Death masks were used in the Christian culture in the West from the 1400s onwards, and the process to create them was as interesting, and maybe as macabre, as the item itself. Plaster was applied to the deceased person’s face and, once dried, this said plaster would be used as a cast on which the actual death mask would be moulded. Navarra’s death mask is made from bronze and is on display on the first floor of the museum underneath her portrait and adjacent to the mould used to create it.

Death masks were signs of respect and were made to remind future generations – both of how the person had looked, as well as that they had lead an extraordinary life. Amongst the world’s collection of death masks there is one of Napoleon Bonaparte, for example, and while Cosmana Navarra’s story might have not been as intricate or influential in world politics, she has left an ever-lasting mark on the parish of 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 Pellegrini Petit Chapels

Nostalgia and Patrimony: These are George Pellegrini Petit’s models of wayside chapels and the story of how they came to be.

George Pellegrini Petit

George Pellegrini Petit

When George Pellegrini Petit (1924-2012) drove past St Peter’s chapel, located between Zejtun and Marsaxlokk, he was so overcome by a feeling of nostalgia that he decided to create a model of it. This model would not be architecturally accurate, as he worked on images taken with a camera, but using a miscellany of cork, cardboard, wood and slivers of tin – with many long hours and much dedication – he manipulated and formed the chapels into shape.

Pellegrini Petit believed that the 300-or-so chapels peppered across the islands of Malta and Gozo are a testimony to Maltese patrimony and heritage and, over the years, he would go on to create a grand total of 50 models of wayside chapels from various localities, including Naxxar, Qormi and Haz-Zebbug. Each of these 50 chapels has a history of its own, and tells a story of reverence and sacrifice.

One of the models is that of the chapel of Il-Madonna ta’ Loreto which is situated very close to the airport in Gudja. It was built in 1548 by Knight Imbert de Morines, Prior of Alverna, in thanksgiving for a victory against the Ottomans. Due to its connotations with triumph over evil and God’s benevolence, the chapel soon became a centre for devotion, to the extent that two loggias were erected to shelter the visiting pilgrims.

This, to Pellegrini Petit, was an important part of our legacy as a nation and sought to safeguard it, if only in a model of the actual place. He also strived to show off Malta’s architectural legacy, and was often heard saying that the building industry in Malta had become ‘grotesque asphalt junk’.

In 2000, the Wignacourt Museum exhibited all 50 of these chapels, with around 30 of them being donated to form part of the museum’s permanent collection.  Now, 13 years later, George Pellegrini Petit’s portrait by Luciano Micallef has been gifted to the museum by his daughter, and it is currently in the same room as the wayside chapels.

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

Did You Like the Wignacourt Museum?

We spent a day touring the Wignacourt and mingling with visitors. We asked them what they liked, what surprised them and whether they’d come again. Here are our three favourites. 

photo (4)

“It was the World War II shelters that did it for us, because you don’t quite realise what the Maltese had to go through to protect their families. Also, together with the artefacts, the paintings, and the chapel, we think the Wignacourt gives you a good overview of the island’s history in a nutshell! We’ll definitely come again.” – Tony and Sue Sheen, England.

photo (5)

“We had never been anywhere like the catacombs! They offer fascinating insight into the lives of yesteryear’s people. We have to admit that we were very pleasantly surprised and we can’t wait to see what the rest of the museum has to offer!” – Stuart and Emma McDonald, England.

photo (3)

“We love it!” – A group of Swiss visiting with one of the local tour providers.

Have you been to the Wignacourt? What did you think of it? Please leave a comment on our Facebook page!

For more information on the Wignacourt Museum, its adjoining complexes 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

The Wignacourt’s Shelters of War

Deep beneath the Roman catacombs lies a war shelter from World War II, and each inch of its pickaxed walls tells a story of survival. 

When World War II broke out, numerous war shelters were dug all over Malta, providing safety and protection to thousands of civilians. One of these shelters is located just below the Wignacourt’s adjoining catacombs, and consists of around 50 rooms.

What visitors will notice is that each of the 50 rooms found in the shelters is unique and numbered. This is because the government at the time was only responsible for providing the main corridors of the shelters in Rabat, and families had to then pay to have their own room dug within them.

The Wignacourt's War Shelters

Because the shelters are located right beneath the catacombs, the rubble that was removed from the shelters while they were being excavated was purposely put into the catacombs to provide cushioning from dropping bombs. This was crucial to ensure that the hollow catacombs did not give way and bury the people who had sought protection in the shelters below.

Families tried hard to adapt to their new living conditions, in fact, and those who could afford to laid down tiles, installed doors, and even had electricity connected. Nevertheless, money and supplies were very scarce and many rooms were relatively bare and basic, with oil lamps being the most popular way to illuminate and add warmth.

Thankfully, Rabat and Mdina were not heavily bombarded during the war and, although sirens would still go off periodically forcing the populace of the area to take refuge, these usually turned out to be an act of precaution. What the shelters prove, however, is that apart from physical protection, this series of underground tunnels also offered a sense of security and homeliness that must have heartened people during those trying times.

For more information on the Wignacourt Museum and the adjoining war shelters, you can contact us on +356 2749 4905 or at info@wignacourtmuseum.com