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The praying priests of Għarb

Horatio Caeser Roger Vella needs no introduction. With his translations of renowned works from Latin into Maltese or English, he has gradually become Malta and Gozo’s leading scholar of classics and classical literature.

However, the ancient European languages of culture are not his only area of interest. Maltese history in general is a field to which he is no beginner. Il-bolla tal-Kolleġġjata tal-Għarb, his latest publication, is living proof of this.

In the westernmost part of Gozo lies the ancient village of Għarb. Anyone familiar with Arabic or with some of the terms used by our forebears until say 100 years ago would tell you the word Għarb is another term for the Romance word ponente. In fact, it is a byword for the Maltese punent.

It was there that, in 1774, the controversial Pope Clement XIV, who became notorious for his suppression of the Jesuits, established a ‘collegiate’ or ‘college of canons’ within the ancient parish church of Our Lady of the Visitation. At the time, the erection of the new kolleġġjata made history because only the Matrice church within the castle walls of Gozo’s Ċittadella had a college of canons.

Għarb became the second church in Gozo with a number of priests promising to pray or sing the Liturgy of the Hours every Sunday and on feast days and, of course, solemnities.

The Bolla or Bull establishing the new college of canons for Għarb must have attracted Vella’s attention a long time ago because, back in 2005, he finished working on the cleaning and cataloguing of the archives of Għarb. Mgr Carmelo Gauci was archpriest of the parish at the time and his successor, Mgr Joseph Sultana, encouraged Vella to work on a new and fresh translation into Maltese of the collegial Bull.

The document had to wait until the time was ripe. With the support of the present archpriest, Mgr Trevor Sultana, Vella could see his dream come true and now the lover of history and Melitensia at large can enjoy reading a decent but attractive publication containing not only the Maltese rendition of the Bull but also an interesting introduction to it.

It contains ample genealogical and historical details together with photos in colour featuring the altars of the parish church together with those of Pope Clement himself and the various priests and prelates who were the mind behind the establishment of a college of canons for Għarb’s ancient parish community.

Vella traces the origins of the collegiate to its very roots, confirming it was the Axiaq family of priests who made it possible for Għarb to have its first canons.

Considering that famous places of worship, such as St Peter’s in Rome and the Collegiate church of St Peter in Westminster, or Westminster Abbey, are both collegiate churches, reading Il-Bolla tal-Kolleġġjata tal-Għarb becomes all the more interesting.

The book is, in fact, a statement that even Gozo, though tiny and possibly insignificant in the eyes of many, still had and continues to have a number of priests who, amid the hustle and bustle of contemporary age, find time to come together to pray and worship God through His own inspired Word, out of which the Psalms are perhaps the best and most perfect expression.

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