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Italian townsfolk look for lost ancestors... in Zejtun

The visitors from Celano about to enter the Zejtun parish church.

The visitors from Celano about to enter the Zejtun parish church.

The search for one's roots can make a lot of people take all sorts of ingenious detours.

One of these quests has brought to Malta a 100-strong group of students from Celano, in Italy and officials from the Celano municipality.

The citizens of Celano are trying to look through the mists of history, all the way back to 1223.

Although there is no written evidence, the Celano folk have a strong feeling, based on traditional word of mouth, that when their ancestors were exiled from their home town and were forced to sail to Sicily and Malta, some of them could possibly have settled in Zejtun.

In 1223, Celano was ransacked by Fredrick II because the townspeople had sided with the Pope in the struggle between the two princes.

"All men at arms were killed and the rest were exiled to Sicily and Malta, the remote part of Fredrick's kingdom. The Malta connection is not clearly recorded except for a report, which again is not first-hand, by Count Gilberto Abbate, who governed Malta on behalf of Frederick II.

"Various surnames common in Celano are common also in Malta," Zejtun mayor Joe Attard said yesterday.

Asked why Zejtun of all places, Mr Attard said the Celano townsfolk believe that their ancestors were exiled to the area most distant from Mdina, which in those days was the area known as Terra Santa Caterina that included Zejtun.

The mayor added that Anthony Luttrel refers to this episode in his book The Making Of Christian Malta.

In order to steer ahead on this mission the municipality has established a Federico II Forum and cemented connections with the Zejtun council.

Celano lies 65 kilometres from L'Aquila and has about 10,000 inhabitants. The ancient part of Celano embraces a tower where the powerful counts of Celano used to live.

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