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A biography and an oratorio - Petra Caruana Dingli

Peter Serracino Inglott, priest and philosopher, wrote and published numerous articles and short pieces in journals and books – including as a columnist in this newspaper in the last five years of his life. Yet considering his prolific and wide-ranging intellectual output and influence, he did not publish many full-length books.

  One reason for this was that he was typically reluctant to ever consider his writings as complete. Unless his scripts were prised out of his hands to meet unavoidable deadlines, he would continue adding and changing phrases, paragraphs and pages, with no end in sight.

For around 10 years, he worked intermittently on a biography of Maria Adeodata Pisani (1806-55), who was beatified by Pope John Paul II during his visit to Malta in 2001. Fr Peter was intrigued and inspired by Adeodata’s life and writings.

After growing up in Naples, she came to Malta aged 19. She first lived with relatives in Rabat for two years and then spent most of her adult life as a cloistered Benedictine nun at St Peter’s Monastery in Mdina.     

Unfortunately, Fr Peter never quite managed to finish this work before he passed away in 2012. What started off as a pamphlet had gradually grown into a much longer piece as his thoughts on the subject developed, and it remained unpublished.

Over this last year, a renewed initiative was taken to publish this work, in a 200-page volume entitled Adeodata Pisani: A Mystic Nun in Mdina. I edited the unfinished script and the book is enriched with contributions and analysis by the Bishop of Gibraltar Carmel Zammit, by Hector Scerri and Ranier Fsadni, and with photographs by Daniel Cilia.

Finally, this week the abbess of the monastery, Maria Adeodata Testaferrata de Noto, was able to make this outstanding work by Fr Peter accessible to a wider audience, six years after his demise.

An erudite and complex text by one of Malta’s finest intellects of his generation

The volume also includes an oratorio text in Maltese written by Fr Peter in 2001, which provides a complementary imaginative and artistic treatment of the same subject. His intention was for his old friend, the late composer Charles Camilleri (1931-2009), to set this to music.

Fr Peter described his narrative about Adeodata as a reconstruction of episodes of her life and her reflections on them, noting that her full-scale biography has yet to be written. He based his research on a close reading of testimonies by people who remembered Adeodata, gathered in the 1890s some 40 years after her death in the formal process leading to her beatification.

In his exploration of Adeodata’s life, Fr Peter weaves in his own reflections on philosophy, theology, history, language, literature and theatre. At times, he writes in a novelistic style, introducing dialogue and imagining situations and people as they might have been. He devotes many pages to a detailed analysis of Adeodata’s work, known as The Mystical Garden of the Soul, which he considered to be a “micro masterpiece of spiritual writing”.

The result is not a straightforward biography of Adeodata Pisani, nor a regular hagiography. It is an erudite and complex text by one of Malta’s finest intellects of his generation.

What a rotten excuse

The powers that be want to put a stop to the spontaneous memorial to Daphne Caruana Galizia at the Great Siege monument in Valletta. This is well known. Numerous attempts to clear the site have been made since she was murdered last October.

If there are strong views for and against candles, posters and flowers, then let’s hear them. But to use government resources to eradicate the memorial, by erecting large boards and barricades around the site on the flimsy pretext of restoration, is both cowardly and heavy-handed. The bronze monument by Antonio Sciortino underwent professional conservation works in 2010, in a project coordinated by Din l-Art Ħelwa, and it is not in any imminent danger. The stone base may indeed require a clean, but this does not justify such large unsightly hoarding in the centre of the city.

In 2010, efforts were made to ensure that the temporary cover around the conservation project was as attractive as possible, exhibiting a large photograph of the monument, together with information about Sciortino and the ongoing initiative.

The conservation works were conducted with respect for the surroundings and visitors to Valletta, also in view of the prominence of the site opposite the law courts. In contrast, the way that the monument was boarded off last week, allegedly to restore the stone base, was appalling.

The trumped-up pretext of an urgent need to restore these stones without delay, as though their condition warrants some kind of emergency, is not credible. Surely only those blinkered by partisan loyalties or personal animosity will not doubt it.

In any case, such forceful methods are unlikely to succeed. Similarly, the rough handling of protestors at the Planning Authority last week is unlikely to deter public anger at the deluge of ODZ petrol stations. On the contrary, harsh actions and feeble excuses tend to intensify the determination of activists.

petracdingli@gmail.com

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