Oratory of the Blessed Sacrament

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Oratory of the Blessed Sacrament

The Oratory of the Blessed Sagrament is annexed to the Parish Church of Zejtun and it is a place where members of the Fraternity of the Blessed Sacrament meet to pray together and to spread devotion to the Holy Eucharist.

The Fraternity was instituted in Zejtun in the church of St. Mary of Bisqallin by Mons. Pietro Dusina, the Apostolic Inquisitor and Legate of the Holy See. When the new Parish Church was erected the Fraternity used to meet there. The Oratory was built as the Seat of this Fraternity which was enriched with a rich history amongst which was its involvement in the transportation of the Blessed Sacrament to the new Parish Church in 1707. In the middle of the century the Fraternity quarrelled with the parish priest Fr Francesco Maria Xuereb. But the Fraternity won the argument and as a result bishop Alferan Dibusan rewrote the statute of this Fraternity, and it became the best one written in Malta.

The first rectors were Aloisio and Dominic Cassar, among other rectors following them, there were Gregory Salviati (1754-1760) Inquisitor and Papal Legate, Mons. Paolo Cachia Abela who served in the Diplomatic Corp of the Vatican and Rector Emeritus Dr Alexander Cachia Zammit who served as Malta’s Ambassador at the Vatican. The present rector is Joseph Mercieca.

This Fraternity organizes the feasts of Corpus Christi, the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the 40 Hours Devotion at Christmastime, the Viaticum at Easter and holds meetings and organizes prayers for the spread of devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. It takes part in the transportation of the Relic of St. Catherine V.M. for the feast in June and in November.

The Oratory owes its beginning to the religious Maria Bianco who left a bequest of 125 scudi to the Fraternity towards the building of the Oratory. In a general meeting the members decided to start work and drew up a list of donors to collect funds. The first one to contribute was Giacomo Bianco, Maria’s brother, who offered 50 scudi. Among those who contributed were both rich and poor villagers. The Oratory was built between the years 1743 and 1746.

The Oratory is rich in Baroque architecture. Its beautiful façade is enhanced with a window above two columns on either side of the main door. Above the window there is a stone medallion held aloft by stone angels holding an emblem of the Holy Eucharist. Above the medallion there is a round window above which there is a belfry decorated with flames of fire made of stone on either side. On one side of the façade there are 5 small windows which give light to the spiral staircase leading to the roof of the oratory and to the beautiful crypt enriched with a stone artal where members of the Fraternity and priests of the parish used to be buried.

This façade has lately been restored, with the help of benefactress Maria Caruana, in 2008, the work was carried out by Heritage Malta under the guidance of Architect Ruben Abela.

The Oratory is as beautiful in its interior as it is in its Façade. On entering one’s attention is drawn to the Apse, above the artal, adorned with sculpture in Maltese stone, there is a stone medallion held aloft by stone angels holding emblems and the words referring to the Holy Eucharist “Hoc est enim corpus meum” “This is my Body”.

The marble artal was made during the time of Don Felice Micallef Grimaud in 1901. The titular altarpiece featuring the Institution of the Last Supper and dated 1759, is the work of a maltese artist and it replaced another one painted by Salvatore Morales which had been donated to the Fraternity by parish priest Fr Andrea Xuereb. Underneath the altar painting there is a small picture of the Virgin Mary. On either side of the altarpiece there are two paintings by Toussaints Busuttil representing St Thomas Aquinas and St Catherine V.M. On both lateral sides of the Oratory there are 6 paintings by Francesco Zahra painted in the 1766 relating to the Holy Eucharist in the Old Testament namely: “Elijah and the Angel”, “King David before the Ark of the Covenant”, “Gideon and the Angel”, “Moses and Aaron”, “The Sacrifice of Melchizedek” and “The Sacrifice of Noah”.

On either side of the Oratory there are lockers where members of the Fraternity store sacred vestments and on which they sit to recite their prayers. There is also a small pulpit from where the priest addresses the members. There are two doors at the back one leading to the parish church and one leading to the crypt underneath the Oratory. The two doors on either side of the altar lead to the vestry of the Oratory and to the vestry of the parish church. Above the main door there is a small choristers’ balcony.

Nowadays the Oratory is used both by the Fraternity of the Blessed Sacrament and by members of other groups in the parish. It is used for religious exhibitions for example during the Olive Oil and during “The Parish Invites You”Festivals. The most important event held in the Oratory is during Holy Week when there is the Altar of Repose on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.

Author: Paul Zammit

Translation: Angela Spiteri

Reference:
‘The Parish of Zejtun through the Ages’ by Rev Joe Abela
‘L-Oratorju tas-Sagrament’ by Rev Joe Abela from the brochure ‘L-Armar: Festa Santa Katerina V.M.’
‘Francesco Zahra His Life and Art in mid-18th century Malta 1710-1773’ by Keith Sciberras