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Augustinian heritage in Gozo

Fr Peter Paul Cachia, of Victoria is gradually becoming synonymous with the history of the Augustinian Order in the Maltese islands.

The Augustinians arrived in Malta in 1413 and before 1453 they already had a priory in Gozo. After publishing a book about the history of the priory and Augustinian church of Victoria, Fr Cachia now delves deeper into the history of the same priory and provides us with a detailed sketch of the various spiritualties, devotions and traditions of the Gozitan Augustinians.

The first part of the book focuses on the different characteristics of the Augustinian spirituality as they evolved in time on the island of the three hills.

The arrival of the monks in the middle of the 15th century must have been quite an event for the Christian community of the island. Gozo, suffering from the phenomenon of what has now been coined as double-insularity, always played a secondary role in the history of the archipelago. However, there were exceptions to the rule and the discovery of the ancient poem Tristia ex Melitogaudo is proof of this.

Gozo must have maintained the Christian faith even during the Arab rule. Now, in the mid-15th century, Gozo was embracing the first Catholic religious order ever to arrive on the islands. Being part of the Kingdom of Aragon through their connection with Aragonese Sicily, at this point in time the Maltese Islands had been consolidated once again in their Christian inheritance.

The coming of the Augustinians served to enrich the Christian heritage of Gozo, an island that was very much a backwater and was to remain so under the Knights of St John.

Within this historical milieu, the Christian community of Gozo must have been overjoyed to witness the arrival of a religious order with such an enriching history. The Augustinians came from Sicily since Malta formed part of the Sicilian province. The very fact that these monks envisaged a living on the small island is proof of a vibrant religious community on Gozo.

Having mentioned the Order of St John, it is vital to note that Fra Bartolomeo Bonavia was the Augustinian monk who served as an intermediary between the Knights and the Ottoman Pasha when the Turks attacked Gozo in what is now known as the Great Siege of Gozo of 1551.

The second part of the book studies the characteristics of the Augustinian devotions and their traditions.

Devotion to the Virgin Mary can be considered as one of the major characteristics of the Augustinian presence on the island. Paintings, statues and artefacts are studied in detail in the book.

The author provides ample information on the various statues that adorn the church and priory of St Augustine of Victoria.

The third and final part focuses on other Augustinian traditions that were not tackled in the previous two chapters. It takes into consideration the ex-voto be found in the priory.

Fr Cachia’s latest publication is the ideal source book for all those who want to become friendly with the Augustinian presence in Gozo. It is enriched by beautiful photographs taken by Anthony Grech, bringing to life the artistic treasures by which the priory is endowed.

Young art critic and researcher Paul Cassar gave his input from an artistic point of view. It was he who discovered documentation stating that Mattia Preti was the painter of the main altarpiece depicting the saintly bishop of Hippo.

The last section of the book features the various objets d’art, paintings and statues that past priors, monks and benefactors commissioned throughout the ages.

Spirituality, devotions & traditions of the Augustinian friars in Gozo (Augustinian Province Malta, 399 pages), which I consider as Fr Cachia’s magnum opus, is a celebration of the Augustinian’s cultural, artistic and religious heritage on the island of Gozo, a heritage that is to be enjoyed and appreciated by one and all.

The book can be bought from St Augustine’s Priory, St Augustine’s Square, Victoria.

Material on new books can be sent to ray.bugeja@timesofmalta.com. A copy of the publication should also be delivered to the offices of the Times of Malta in Mrieħel. Book reviews will be carried at the discretion of this newspaper, in which case two copies of the publication should also be submitted.

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