Tucked away, behind the imposing church of St Lawrence at Vittoriosa, and in mid stairways, one can find the small Church Museum of Vittoriosa. The site is one of the most picturesque sites at Birgu, showing all the character of the old city of Vittoriosa.
The museum is hosted in a building owning a long history of transformations and purposes, originally serving as the church of St Catherine. The building was later given to the Greeks on condition that the Saint’s feast continues to be celebrated on the 25th of November.
In the 1830s, the building was rebuilt into a bigger complex and served as the Oratory of St Joseph. After the Second World War, the building was unfortunately reduced to the state of a workshop and store for feast ornaments.
In 1990, the then German Ambassador, Dr. Gottfried Pagenstert heard the pleas of the Vittoriosa residents who had the preservation of the historical artefacts at heart. He offered to pay for the afore-mentioned space to be transformed into a museum. The artefacts finally have an appropriate museum space.
Unfortunately in time, the museum became too small for all the artefacts it has to showcase, but the volunteer curators have done a great job at presenting the artefacts as best as the location allows and they are all eager to recount the story of each artefact present at the premises to any interested visitor.
The treasures are various including, relics from the Great Siege like ‘measurement cups’ for gunpowder used during the Siege, a coin collection, many church vestments and ornaments like candle holders and chalices, relics of various Saints, rare books and three incunabula 1 (Incunabula are books or pamphlets that were printed—not handwritten—before the year 1501 in Europe.); including a Geography book published by the Fratelli Calignan (AD 1598), various books which were in use at the Vittoriosa Infermeria, a 17th century book which belonged to Dun Mikiel Xerri and a number of Antiphonaries. There are also medals from various confraternities in Vittoriosa, a 17th century sedan chair prominently displayed at the centre of the museum and the hat of Bishop Gargallo who was the first bishop to bring the Jesuits to Malta to set up their college on the island.
Other treasures include a statue from the oldest Church in Vittoriosa, from the time of the arrival of the knights who had made Vittoriosa their first residence where they built their first Auberges on the island. There are also numerous artefacts which survive from the previous church of St Lawrence which suffered direct hits during the Second World War.
Also important to mention are various historical documents. Some examples worth mentioning are a certificate of a German doctor who was applying to come to work to Malta dated 1722, a Bill of Lading for shipping cargo to Malta, dated August 1777 and the first newspaper in Malta, published in Italian – L’Argo, dated 1804.
However, one particular artefact, which unfortunately few Maltese know about, is the sword of Grand Master Jean Parisot de La Valette. The sword is stored in a showcase in the small room annexed to the museum’s main area. Pity that many of the Maltese people show the same ‘Great Siege’ urge for fighting to get back the ceremonial sword of La Valette, which is exhibited at the Louvre in Paris, when they have the real sword, which our beloved Grand Master probably handled daily and during the real fights, situated right under their nose, and very few know about it!
I thank museum volunteers Lawrence Zahra and Joe Ciantar for all their help and information.
The museum is open daily 10:00 – 12:00. Free entrance.
Author: Melanie Farrugia