The beautiful Żebbuġ parish church, dedicated to St Philip of Agira, is not the first church to stand on the site which it occupies today. The present church was completed in the seventeenth century, when baroque architecture was at its height all over Europe - but the original church was much smaller, and built much earlier.
The early church was built on a tract of land belonging to a certain Filippo de Catania, a Sicilian entrepreneur. The land was in an area between the little, ancient villages of Ħal Muxi, Ħal Dwin and Ħal Mula. These three eventually merged to give rise to Ħaż-Żebbuġ. Filippo de Catania did not only offer his land for the building of the early church, which was completed in 1412, he also financed the building of the church himself. A few years later, by 1436, this church had been given the status of parish church, and Ħaż-Żebbuġ had become a parish - one of the oldest in Malta.
A few years after the Great Siege, the people of Żebbuġ thought that the time was ripe to build a larger church - no doubt because the population of the village was increasing. The present church was erected between 1599 and 1632, and was enlarged by the architect Tommaso Dingli in 1660. Tommaso Dingli was one of the best architects in Malta at the time, and he was responsible for designing and over-seeing work on many of Malta's most important buildings of the time. These include the Wignacourt Acquaduct, the old (second) gate to Valletta known as the Porta San Giorgio, and quite a few parish churches. One notable parish church for which Dingli is responsible is the Attard Parish Church, where he is buried.
Apart from working as an architect, Dingli also worked as a sculptor in many of the buildings he had designed himself. In Żebbuġ he is said to have worked on the carving of the apsidal choir.
Of course the church of St Philip of Agira is full of wonderful and unique treasures, which the people of Zebbug are very proud of. Foremost among these is the titular statue of St Philip of Agira, which is most exquisite and which is made of silver. In 1860, the people of Żebbuġ started collecting money which would enable them to order the titular statue which they wanted. So much money was collected that they decided that the statue be made of silver, instead of the more usual wood. The statue was completed in 1864, by Luigi Fontana. When it was completed it was taken to the Vatican, where it was blessed by Pope Pius IX.
Obviously the church is also home to a whole collection of beautiful paintings.The titular painting, which is truly magnificent, is by Luca Garnier. There are also two beautiful murals by Francesco Zahra, who was an 18th century artist of the Favray school. It is said that these two murals represent the best work by Zahra. Other treasures include works of art by Guido Reni and Antonio Sciortino, who hailed from the village.
The feast of St Philip of Agira is held on the second Sunday in June. The parish also celebrates the feast of St Joseph.
The church was most recently modified in 1913, when the side aisles were added to the structure.
Author: Christine Tanti
Additional Information - Church
The construction of this church started in the first half of the seventeenth century. The façade was built around 1635 with some features reminiscent to the façade of St. John’s Conventual Church. It is built to a cruciform plan and the nave is roofed by a semicircular barrel vault. The church is attributed to Vittorio Cassar, son of Girolmu Cassar who designed the aforementioned Conventual Church.
Additional Information - Choir Area
Pietro Paolo Troisi (1686-1750), was commissioned by the procurators of the parish church, the design of the choir stalls in 1721, over which the lateral canvases hang. Troisi was the official sculptor, designer and founder of the Order of St. John. The sidewalls of the choir area are slightly projected inwards to give the choir a greater depth.
Additional Information - Titular Painting
The titular painting at the parish church of Zebbug is flanked by three Corinthian columns on each side and is the work of the French painter and member of the Order of St. John, Lucas Garnier. This painting depicts the patron saint of Zebbug, St Philip of Aggira performing a miracle while holding a cross towards a possessed man who is brought before him. For the titular painting and a small sopra quadro of The Holy Spirit, the artist received the sum of 160 scudi.
Author: Melanie Farrugia