A culmination of piety
Charles Farrugia (Ed). Sicut Lilium: Devozzjoni u Ritwali tul is-Sekli, Soċjetà Mużikali Madonna tal-Ġilju, 2012, 552 pp. €20
Sicut Lilium, a voluminous book edited by Charles Farrugia, reveals a certain baseline view of devotional evolution of a typical Maltese village. Essentially, it is the collective devotional expression of the feast of Our Lady of the Lily as celebrated in the southern village of Mqabba.
The findings of such research puts the cult of Our Lady of the Lily in a locally recognised extension of piety. Such a general view of piety culminates in the organisation, manifestation and celebration of the village feast, that of Our Lady of the Lily.
This feast, or the feast of a patron saint, has been already considered as acentral ritual in Malta byvarious anthropologists.
Thus, there are strong reasons to suggest that the findings in the book Sicut Lilium: Devozzjoni u Ritwali tul is-Sekli, represent the historical evolution and the socio-political implications that surround the cult of Our Lady of the Lily, as it is celebrated today in Mqabba.
Jon Mitchell, in his short but strong theoretical analysis, puts the local parochial feasts of saints in a social framework of ‘need’ through communal life and/or personal religiosity.
Mitchell’s contribution on ‘festa-ritual’ was distinctive as it encompassed many aspects of Maltese society ).
In this collection consisting of 13 chapters, Farrugia has ably captured the ‘micro’ historical terrain of the cult and devotion to Our Lady of the Lily.
In his extensive four chapters, Farrugia enshrined Mqabba not only in a national context, but in an international religious imagination of the same cult.
Coverage of the field in local party-politics is thorough with Chapter 9.
This chapter is an evocative account of the role of individuals and confraternities in ascribing the cult of Our Lady of the Lily, in particular with the active role of the Circolo Pio X in Chapter 11.
Competition and power relations are widely represented in this chapter to provoke a new regime of devotion especially after the commissioning of the new statue (that is, il-vara tal-Madonna tal-Ġilju) and its arrival in Mqabba in 1876.
More historical insights about the evolution of the cult per se are presented by Joseph Bezzina in Chapter 1 and Horatio Vella in Chapter 6 – both chapters are a valuable resource.
In chapters seven and 10, Noel Buttigieg significantly explores the cultural patterns of the social life of the people of Mqabba.
His chapters contain interesting data about the social life and perceptions of a typical rural society: here the author projectshis interest to search forlocal identity.
In addition, the short chapter by Anthony Bonello interestingly elaborates on two old photographs by S.L. Cassar and his photographic technique.
The impact of photography is undoubtedly a realised way to picture the social life of the Mqabbin in the first years of 20th century Malta (Chapter 11).
From the typical peasant mentality, we move to the ‘elite class’ in Chapter 8, in the politicalfigure of Savona.
Therefore, in this chapter, George Cassar focuses meticulously on the life of sage-like pro-British figure of Sigismondo Savona (1837-1908).Cassar very intelligently relates the life of Savona with the village of Mqabba, both as a politi-cian and as an educator and asa strong motivator to the development of national politics.
From politics and devotion, we move into the world ofart and music in the lasttwo chapters.
In Chapter 12, Sandro Debono has a notable contribution in explaining the different artistic expressions and artefacts related to the cult of Our Lady of the Lily.
In adopting this comprehensive approach, Debono works also on the ‘phenomenological need of art’ in the localreligious culture.
To conclude, Sicut Lilium is certainly a timely and definitely a highly illuminating book, especially when one considers the recent exposure of the feast in the midst of media scrutiny and the exacerbating tension between the great number of dilettanti tal-festa (feast enthusiasts/aficionados) and the local Church authorities.