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Sarria church, Floriana

One of the very first buildings in Floriana, well before the building of the fortifications by Pietro Floriani, was a chapel built by Martin Sarria Navarra a knight of St John, which to this day is known by his name, that of Sarria. The chapel was built in 1585. Eventually, following the plague of 1675 which had a devastating effect on the population of Malta, the Order of St John built in its place another church dedicated to the Immaculate Conception.

Due to a solemn vow, each year a votive procession used to leave St John’s Co-Cathedral for Sarria church where prayers of thanksgiving were recited. The last time the procession was held was in 1995. I am not aware of the reason for this but even if it were due to traffic, this votive procession could still be reinstated on a Sunday, when traffic in the area would be minimal, especially if the procession passes through The Mall.

In the many years that I used to live in Floriana I have many recollections of the church which is circular, a mini rotunda. When the parish church suffered great damage due to enemy actions, Sarria served as an interim parish. Eventually, when Malta was declared safe, a pilgrimage had left Naxxar with the famous and devout Crucifix which is venerated in the Ta’ Ġieżu Church, St John Street, Valletta. It is interesting that when the Crucifix arrived in front of Sarria, there was a unique experience for these islands, as there was a light snowfall.

Recently a certain amount of restoration work had been carried out, but the church is crying for some embellishment and extensive restoration to the stonework. Therefore I make a public plea to two authorities. The first is to the government to find the necessary funds for a complete facelift and embellishment. The second is to the Archbishop to re-enact the annual pilgrimage. Malta might not be suffering from the pestilence of the bubonic plague but is suffering from a spiritual and moral plague.

I would venture even further, to do like Nineveh when the prophet Jonah had entreated the inhabitants to dress in sackcloth and make a 40-day fast and penance to save their city from the wrath of God. Thus people, including the clergy, could be encouraged to likewise don simple sackcloths during the reenacted pilgrimage.

Some readers might laugh at my suggestion but I hope it will be taken seriously through a joint effort of the many religious associations including those made up of secular persons. I am hardly a religious fanatic, in fact I consider myself to be very open-minded. Malta in general and the Maltese in particular need to pray to God for forgiveness and deliverance. From the very beginning, humanity needed to pray for deliverance from evil and to do penance, both through fasting and also through external demonstration of atonement.

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