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Flowers are caressed by the breeze and nourished by the rain

Vincenzo Mercieca's statue of St Publius, carved in wood to a design by Artistide Bonnici. Publio Magro was later entrusted with its restoration. Photo: Jason Borg.

Vincenzo Mercieca's statue of St Publius, carved in wood to a design by Artistide Bonnici. Publio Magro was later entrusted with its restoration. Photo: Jason Borg.

Flores mulcent aurae et educat imber meaning flowers are caressed by the breeze and nourished by the rain.

That's Floriana's motto, a town known for its gardens and flowers, tomorrow celebrating the feast of its patron saint.

The town is named after Pietro Paolo Floriani, architect of the fortifications enclosing the town, and remembered with respect among its residents.

Legend has it that a chapel dedicated to St Publius used to stand close to a windmill. But documents confirm that a church dedicated to the same saint was constructed in 1733 with a burial site added to it later. Buried there were patriots executed during the uprising against the French.

Several extensions were made to the church but the present façade was constructed to a design of Nicola Zammit, architect and medical doctor, in 1902, replacing that by Tumas Dingli, another architect.

The church was bombed in 1942, damaging the dome and causing the temple's paving to collapse into the war shelter beneath. Sixteen people, including a priest, died. Following repairs, Emvin Cremona was commissioned to paint the ceiling and the dome but he died before he completed the latter.

The parish then decided to commission Paul Camilleri Cauchi to complete the work. His brother, Alfred, added the finishing touches.

On the altar is a cross made of silver, gilded and finished with precious stones, a gift from Vincenza Zammit, thanking the Lord for the elevation of the church from a vice parish to a parish in 1844.

The host monstrance is also made of silver, gilded and adorned with precious stones.

The baldachin above the altar was made by Vincenzo Mercieca, a master craftsman, to a design by Artistide Bonnici. The church is said to be the only parish church in Malta in possession of a complete set of velvet vestments, altar cloths and copes embroidered in gold.

But the jewel in the crown, the parish church's most precious possession and the pride of the locals, is the statue of St Publius, Vincenzo Dimech's masterpiece. Mr Dimech carved the statue in wood in a workshop adjacent to the church.

A number of modifications were made to the statue but the face was left untouched. Between 1990 and 1991, a restoration of the statue was entrusted to Publio Magro, gilder and sculptor. A number of volunteers gave a helping hand.

According to the Acts of the Apostles, Publius was the governor of the island when both St Paul and St Luke were washed ashore. Following his conversion, Publius was made bishop of the island. He later travelled to Athens, in Greece, where he was executed. In fact, the lion depicted on the statue represents the lions' den where he was thrown.

Fr Richard Borg, archpriest, will this morning be welcoming those interested in participating in a tour of the church. Simon A. Bonello will be conducting the tour in English for both tourists and locals, starting at 11 a.m. Of particular interest is the marble altar replacing the previous wooden one consecrated but a week ago.

The public is further invited to assist in the translation of the relic of St Publius from the convent of the Sisters of the Sacred Heart to the church, this evening, at six. The Vilhena band will present a musical programme opposite the church at nine followed by the national mechanised ground fireworks competition opposite the church at 10.30.

Gozo Bishop Mario Grech will preside over the concelebrated pontifical high Mass tomorrow morning, at 9.15. In the evening, at 6.45, the statute of St Publius will be carried during a procession through the town's main streets, ending at about 10.15.

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