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Gozo as a place of punishment

As part of its fifth anniversary celebrations, Il-Ħaġar – Heart of Gozo Museum in Victoria hosted Judge Giovanni Bonello, who gave a lecture on how Gozo was used as a place of punishment by the Order of St John for its members during the 16th century. 

The island often served as a place for internal exile or where one was detained until debts were paid.

Numerous important personalities had to taste the extreme experience of being ordered to stay confined within a ‘well’ for months or even years with the only way to pass the long hours creating graffitti. Even Grand Master Jean de Valette spent some time there for his ‘violent’ character.

The list also includes a saint – David Gonson (variously shown as Gunston). Years later he was captured in England, accused of being loyal to the Pope instead to King Henry VIII. He was condenmed to be hung, drawn and quartered (the most extreme punishment there) in 1541. Gonson was beatified in 1929.

Although the exact location of the place of punishment remains unknown, there are reasons to believe that this place was at the Castello (the Citadel) where ‘normal’ prisons for less serious crimes existed. Only one prisoner is known to have succeeded to escape. Dr Bonello said new prisons were opened at the Citadel after a battle between French and Spanish Knights in Vittoriosa.

At the end of the lecture Museum founder Mgr Joseph Farrugia presented a copy of Fondazzjoni Belt Victoria’s two-volume edition of ‘Gozo’ by De Soldanis in Maltese to Dr Bonello, followed by the inauguration of a photo exhibition by Salvatore Iozzi.

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