Foreign masters’ mark
It is odd how Thomas Zerafa’s letter (‘The French connection’, September 15) followed my contribution about the George Cross on Malta’s flag (September 6). However, for the sake of certain points raised by the contributor, readers might find the following revealing:
The French Republic’s coat of arms was placed in churches “instead of the grandmaster’s”, as quoted.
Before leaving Malta, Napoléon Bonaparte appointed a 10-man commission charged with civil governance. For the first time in Maltese modern history, this ‘cabinet’, enjoying a local majority (the next would be 123 years later), consisted of eight Maltese and two French members, one of whom was St Jean d’Angely, acting as commissioner. The rest were Bosredon Ransijat, president, Vincent Caruana, secretary to the bishop, Salvatore Astor and Paolo Ciantar, merchants, Jean-François Dorell, alderman, Paul Grungo, Gozo judge, Benedetto Schembri, magistrate, Canon Xavier Caruana, manufacturer, and Cristoforo Frendo, notary.
Citizens Matthias Poussielgue, Jean-André Caruson and Robert Roussel formed the commission in charge of the Order’s properties.
On July 26, 1798, Ignazio Bonavita was appointed general librarian to organise all archives. Earlier, Bonaparte had prevented the Order from taking documents abroad. These make up the unique collection we still enjoy exclusively at our Bibliotheca.
The republican government, pursuing its ideological call, did order the obliteration of nobility escutcheons but, due to its short period of nation-wide governance, it never finished the job. British governor Thomas Maitland, popularly known as King Tom, carried out the rest and replaced the Order’s crests with more than half a dozen oversize British royal insignia surrounding the palace to ensure Malta would be loyal to its new masters.
On one occasion, he took the strange decision to overlay the lion and the unicorn on top of the grandmaster’s baroque ensemble on the façade of the 1721-built Consolato di Mare (Admiralty), now housing the Economy Ministry in Merchants Street, Valletta.
These artistic feats are still evident in Valletta.