Jesus of Nazareth Parish Church

Sliema - Malta

 

Please click the images below,

for panoramic views of the interior of the church:

 

  

Altar View

 

 

Central View

 

 

The Panoramas were made with the kind permission of 

the Parish Priest, Fr Louis Sapiano OP

 

03/2009

www.maltapanoramas.com

 

Jesus of Nazareth Parish Church
Sliema, Malta

Friars of the Order of Preachers (Dominican)
Telephone: ++356 2133 1096

Mass:

Sundays and Feast Days:
7.00am
8.30am
10.00am
11.30.am
7.00pm

Weekdays incl. Saturdays
7.00am
8.00am
9.00am
6.30pm (winter)
7.00pm (summer)
 
 

The Sanctuary of Jesus of Nazareth

Sliema

A Historical Account

by Fr Dominic V Scerri O.P.

 

Reproduced from the Dominican Publication 1993

 

One can trace back the origins of the church of Jesus of Nazareth to the 2nd half of the 19th century, when three Valletta born brothers, who were priests, spent their summer vacations at a summer residence on the Strand in Sliema. Rev. Horatio, Rev. Andrew and Rev. Peter Paul Borg said mass and received confessions in a ground floor room of the house, no. 14 in Marina Tigne Street; which room they had converted into a private chapel. The three pious gentlemen noticing that the congregation was ever increasing, not only wished to fulfil better their duties, but also endeavoured to provide more space for the faithful. With the intent to build another church in the neighbourhood, in St. Anne’s square to be precise, they sought the required permission, from the Military Engineer as the surroundings had been ‘Military Clearance Area’; yet permission was refused.


The brothers were inherited by their niece Victoria Borg, born in Valletta and living in Sliema. Victoria was married to the noble Carlo Ermolao Zimmermann Barbaro of the Marquis of St. George, son of Gustaf, born in Tarxien and living at Rabat. The noble couple, aware of the sacred wish of the three priests, held unto the custom of having Masses said in the same private chapel and even obtained permission from Rome, for the faithful to fulfil their obligations on Sundays and Holy days by having Masses celebrated on such festas. The nobles also endeavoured to satisfy the other desire of the brothers. They resolved to build a church1 demolishing two houses on their own landed property.


The inscription on the foundation stone of the church reveals the noble Carlo Ermolao Zimmermann Barbaro of the Marquis of St. George, Cavalier of the Order of Jerusalem and his wife Victoria Borg, founding a temple dedicated to Jesus of Nazareth2 at the time and in memory of the 50th anniversary of the episcopate of Pope Leo XIII3. The writing goes on to state that archbishop Peter Pace, bishop of these islands, blessed and laid the foundation stone on the 5th of April 1893 assisted by Canons John Buhagiar and Aloysius Farrugia in the presence of the architect Frances Wettinger, the stone mason Charles Dingli, the clerics, and the people. On the 20th of April 1909, the noble Carlo Ermolao Zimmermann Barbaro donated the church of Jesus of Nazareth, together with other immovable property to the religious community of the Dominican Brothers. Father Antoninus Gatt, as Provincial of the Maltese Dominicans, was present on the formal agreement to receive the endowment while binding himself, on behalf of his convent to fulfil the spiritual and religious obligations, conditioned to the donation4.


The legal agreement, bears of events of deep and interesting historical value.


On the 27th December 1893, the Marquis Zimmermann and his wife the noble Victoria, founded a church – with rights of a lay patronate – dedicated to Jesus of Nazareth5. The founding of the church was formally approved by decree of the 15th December 1899 of Archbishop Peter Pace6. The Marquis and his wife bore all costs of the works and built the church on their landed property in Marina and Tigne Street (as the road was then known) in Sliema; they furnished it with all necessary objects and had it open for use of the faithful. The church cost £16,000, or 40,000 Francs7. The noble couple reserved the right, jointly or separately after the demise of either of them to give or offer the same church to some religious order or congregation.


The church was consecrated on the 2nd of July 18958 and was affiliated with the Lateran Basilica in Rome, the following year. A formal certificate of the 5th of July 1896, decreed on the 17th August of the same year, states this fact and adds that the Sanctuary of Jesus of Nazareth thus enjoys the same spiritual benefits and indulgences of the Roman Temple; that whoever visits the church in Sliema, and receives the Sacrament of Confession, will enjoy and benefit the same graces9.


A letter of the Cardinal Secretary of State of the Vatican also declares the church a Sanctuary by the Pope. Moreover, another certificate of the 12th December 1900 shows the church’s affiliation to the Vatican Bassilica10.


The noble Victoria Borg annexed other property to the church by a legal deed of 13th April 1902. This is listed as nos. 14, 15,16,17,18 in Marina Tigne Street, and nos. 1,2,3,4 in St. Padova Street11. This decreed in case the church was passed on to some congregation or other religious order. The clerics could use the premises no. 14 in Marina Tigne for their personal use, as this was the largest house. The rented income from the other property was to serve as a means of living for the religious brethren, who were to care for and administer the church.


Victoria Zimmermann Barbaro died on the 26th July 1904. The spiritual legates, which she bequeathed, were legally recognized by the deed of the 22nd September1905, drawn by Notary Francis Caruana Dingli.


A few years later, the noble Carlo Ermolao Zimmermann Barbaro passed on the church and its immovable property to the religious community of the Dominican Fathers of the Maltese Province, who, on their part, accepted the donation12; the legal contract was drawn on the 20th of April 1908 and confirmed by the diocesan church authorities on the 6th of October 1908. The same contract re-lists the immovables attached to the church; all the spiritual burdens, mass legates, and celebration of feasts to be held in the church are also stated:


• 2 masses to be said daily;
• Eleven anniversary sung masses
• A sung mass on the feast of St. Joseph;
• The celebration of the feast of the Consecration of the Church on the 2nd July;
• The exposition of the Sacrament on the 20th September;
• Lenten sermons for both males and females;
• The celebration of the last three days of Holy Week;
• The seven Wednesday of the Audiences with the recitation of the Rosary;
• Triduum and feast of Jesus of Nazareth13.


The legal deed also includes a sort of guarantee which Victoria Borg had declared in her Will of the 7th March 1901. The noble lady had asserted that in the event of insurmountable problems which hindered the fulfilment of the spiritual burdens, the religious order would be released of its obligations as listed in the will.


Together with the Contract of the 20th April 1909, one notes a written agreement of the Dominican Provincial Father Antoninus Gatt, who accepts all duties and obligations attached to the donations of the church and at the same time, grants the sum of £1000 to Marquis Zimmermann Barbaro as a sign of gratitude14.


The church, its furnishings and the adjoining property were estimated at £30,000. The legal document of the endowment was drawn at number 10, Xahara House, Saint Paul Street, Rabat. The two Rabat born witnesses, were Joseph Caruana Mamo, a doctor of laws, son of the late Angelo, and Joseph Attard, a valet, son of the late Alexander.


The quoted document reveals how the sanctuary and Basilica church of Jesus of Nazareth was passed on to the Maltese Dominicans and thus shows that our religious brethren could commence their mission and service in Sliema in the Spring of 1909.


It did not take long for the fathers and for the faithful to realise that the temple was too small to accommodate the considerable number of people who flocked to our church, especially on Sundays, feast days and special occasions. In a printed supplement of the ‘Ruzarju Mqaddes’ (Holy Rosary) number 7 of 1909, we read that new roads were laid in the neighbourhood of the church and that the area was built and inhabited in no time. Anyone could note that the more the church was frequented, the more it grew smaller and it was necessary to enlarge it in a big way15.


It is worthwhile noting that Sliema grew larger in no small way, and the buildings around the Strand, developed more rapidly than in other areas. In the first 10 years of this century, the population in Sliema increased by more than 2,600; by some 25% more than it was in the 19th century.

Fr. Hyacinth Grech Ellul, the Vicar Superior of the Dominican community, thought of easing the situation. He called for funds intending to enlarge the existing church or simply building a larger one. Fr. Hyacinth embarked on a door to door collection in Sliema; his first round is recorded as that on Sunday 9th June 191216.

After a five year effort to fund raise, Fr. Hyacinth felt the stress of responsibility too much of a burden to carry. Moreover, the Sliema Dominican community was undecided whether to enlarge the existing church or build a completely new and larger one. The Vicar Superior left the final decision to the Provincial who convened his Council on Thursday 23rd January 1913, at the Rabat Priory. Fr. Grech Ellul put forward two building plans, one relating to the enlargement of the church, the other showing a new temple and a convent adjoining the church which the Marquis had erected.

 

Drawing showing how the church was to be enlarged:

Area A: shows the original church as built by the Marquis and his wife

Area B: is the extension as planned by Benjamin Cordwell

Area C: is Mr D'Amato's addition


The Council had decided on the new church17. Fr. Grech Ellul, then set up what he termed a “Committee of Directors” to care for the building and fundraising activities. Besides Fr. Hyacinth, its other members were Fr. Dominic Azzopardi O.P., Ignatius Abela, Alfred Lupi, Edward L. Galea, Alfons M. Caruana, Carmel Agius, Joseph Lupi, Carmel Azzopardi and John Cassar who gladly assumed the mentioned responsibilities. On the 22nd August 1917 at 10:00 a.m., the committee met in Fr. Hyacinth’s private rom. The reverend gentlemen declared that, for the past five years, he had toiled very hard to raise funds for a new church. He added that with the help of the Executive Council of Government and by means of monies collected, he had acquired more than half the land needed for the building of the church, and he had already succeeded to have this area cleared of all rubble with the valuable and voluntary help of the ‘Royal Engineers’. Yet, there was much more to be done and, as the project demanded great sums of money, the work involved could not be shouldered by one man. Fr. Grech Ellul expressed his confidence and trust in the committee’s experienced members and stated that he was sure of their support to carry out what he and his religious brethren had long wished to achieve.


All present agreed that the officials on the committee were to be Fr. Grech Ellul as president; Fr. Dominic Azzopardi, secretary; Joseph Lupi, treasurer; John Cassar, assistant treasurer while Alfons M. Caruana was to act as director of works.


It was also decided to thank the Colonel of the ‘Royal Engineers’ for the work done by his labourers and to request his help for further cleaning the building site. At the committee meeting of the 6th September 1917, we notice the mention of architect Benjamin Cordwell who offered his free professional advice for the building of the new church and convent. Cordwell was invited to sit on the committee as a co-opted member and his presence is recorded at the sitting of the 30th September.

Six months later, on the 7th April 1918, Cordwell put forward an architectural plan for the proposed church and convent to be constructed, and this met with the approval of all concerned. The Provincial Council, also confirmed the plan and this was communicated to the community at the sitting of the 12th May.


In order to build up the necessary funds for the building of the church, Father Hyacinth informed the committee, at the meeting of the `5th August 1918 that the block of flats in St. Anthony Lane bought in April of the preceding year, had been sold to Mr. Carm Agius for £900; that part of the lodgings needed for the construction of this church was obviously kept. The funds were further accumulated by having fairs organized on a regular basis and through specific appeals for donations. It is worthwhile to mention Rossini’s opera ‘the barber of Seville’ held at the Royal Opera House as a fund raising event.

 

Mgr Angelo Portelli O.P. blesses and lays the foundation

stone of the new church on the 15th August 1921


Although money collecting was a slow process, the committee was not discouraged. At the sitting of the 20th July 1921, the members decided that the foundation of the new church as to be laid on the 15th August of that year: the feast of the Assumption of Our Lady. The Dominican Auxiliary Bishop Mgr Angelo Portelli was to officiate at the ceremony; the two sponsors were to be the President of the Courts Mr Justice M Refalo and Marquis Schicluna18. The church was to be dedicated to Our Lady of the Rosary of Pompei.


A letter of the 10th August 1922, return by Benjamin Cordwell to the Chief Engineer of the ‘Malta Command’, shows that the work on the new church was started on Monday 6th August of the same year19 as authorized by the building permit R.E. 1471/153G which Fr. Hyacinth Grech possessed.

Unfortunately, the work on the building had to stopped due to the large of expenses involved and a lack of funds. Yet, the Dominican community, still pondered of having a larger church; they believed that the Sanctuary which the Marquis had built was too small to see the spiritual needs of all who frequented the place.


Although the idea of a larger temple was far from abandoned, it was only on the 2nd May 1938 that the matter was again given attention. The Dominican Provincial Fr. Cajetan Xerri sought permission from the Diocesan Bishpop Dom Maurus Caruana O.S.B. to have the sanctuary basilica of Jesus of Nazareth enlarged as shown on the architectural plan he was enclosing with the request. Permission was granted on the 30th July of that year.

 

Bro Valentin Grima O.P. is seen together with the workmen cutting rocks for the enlargement of the church in 1939


The Vicar Superior of that community, Fr. Peter Paul Bajada O.P. appealed for funds after the commencement of rock cutting and the building of some 10 feet of stone around the church20. The building works based on the design of Cordwell were going on at a remarkable rate when the Englishman was called by the ‘Military Command’ on other Services projects and so could not go on with the construction of the church. The Dominicans had to turn to architect Mr. Louis Borg and to Mr. Joesph Damato to take care of the enlargement of the church. Borg and Damato effected some changes to the Cordwell plans in order to enlarge further the building. Mr. Joseph Damato thought of having a higher roof for the church and a cupola, not only to make the place look nicer, but also to allow in more light; two corridors by the side of the church with doors leading to the main road, were planned to provide the church with three entrances. Mr. Demato’s redesigned plan was approved in December 1938 and the works could thus be commenced.


It was not so easy to go on with the constructions and, at the same time, think of the outcome of the grey clouds and dark shadows gathering over Europe which could only mean war. In spite of ail, the Dominican fathers did not lose heart, and endeavoured to amass the ‘Church Building Fund’. They had long wished to see their dreams of a larger church fulfilled. The Conventual Council decided that the financial capital of £2,233 which had been saved for the specific reason of the works needed, was to be withdrawn from the banks and deposited in the Bank of Taglia Ferro to accrue a higher interest. One must admit that both the moneys saved and the financial collections were very encouraging and managed to get the building works going at a faster pace. The Dominican Provincial Fr. Louis Nolan, who showed a special care for the church, would not suffer the works to come to an end as in the case of the originally planned new church. He helped tremendously by agreeing to financial loans from other Dominican convents, besides securing moneys from elsewhere.


As time passed and the war between the Allies and Germany spread over the Continent, laws and norms to control building works were passed and enacted. The first order of the ‘Building Control Board’ based on Regulation no. 50 of the Malta Defence Regulations, specified that any process of building could be suspended or workmen restricted as both building materials and labourers could be needed by the civil of military authorities21. Yet, the Dominican brethren were fortunate enough not to be effected by these laws and, at the same time, managed to secure the necessary building materials.


Although air attacks on Malta increased, and became tougher when, in June 1940 Italy went to war with Axis construction works still progressed. The cupola was not yet built and much of the sculpture works were still to be effected when, on the 27th December 1941, Fr. Provincial Louis Nolan O.P. blessed the enlarged church which then began to be used by the faithful.

 

Part of the damage caused by the bombings in 1942 - the

damaged side is where the statue of St Paul stood


On the 17th March 1942, the church was directly hit during an air raid and parts of the ceiling, sections of the pillars and the main altar were severely damaged. The statue of St. Paul, and the titular picture of Jesus of Nazareth, the work of Attilio Palombi, were completely destroyed. For some reason or other, the needed repairs took some time to commence and it was only on the 5hth February 1945 that the works of reconstruction could be started with high hopes that the War Damage Commission would reimburse all expenses involved22; which hopes were actually fulfilled some years later.


In May 1942, when Fr. Dominic Borg O.P was nominated Vicar Superior of the Sliema community, he readily undertook to see that church refurbishments and other maintenance works be accomplished or completed. There were the wooden choir stalls a job already commenced by a certain John Mary Pirotta of Naxxar that was to be finished. The destroyed titular picture of Jesus of Nazareth had not yet been replaced. Fr. Dominic entrusted the painting to the artist Guido Cali; this was completed in the first months of 1944 and was placed in the central niche of the choir. Later on, Professor Oscar Testa was asked to portray the effigy of Jesus of Nazareth as a copy of the one at the Roman parish church of St. Mary in Montichelli. Today this painting can be seen at the sanctuary in the chapel of the Blessed Sacrament.


When sculptor Chevalier Vincent Apap was asked to work on the series of figures depicting the patriarchs and prophets to be placed in the niches around the church, that of Jesus of Nazareth was set in the central recess of the choir replacing Cali’s painting; which can now be found near the parish priest’s office at the entrance to the priory.


Lack of funds, more seriously needed projects plus the urgent necessity of building a new priory hindered the continuation of the statues. It was some 40 years later that these were continued. The set of six to be found in the choir niches were executed between 1980 and 1983; that of the Nazarene and 4 others also in the choir were completed in the next three years. By 1988 Chevalier Apap finished six other statues for both the side naves while another four were worked out by 1993 together with those of Our Lady and of St. Dominic which were placed in the centre of the naves. Our fore brethrens dream of a chain of effigies as symbols of and with the Nazarene as the central figure was finally realized.


Chevalier Apap also sculpted the statue of St. Paul to replace the one destroyed during the war, and worked out two others of St. Joseph and of St. John the Baptist to complete the series in the isle niches.


The Sanctuary Basilica was further embellished by the main altar designed to comply with the liturgical reform manufactured in 1968 by the Italian Ceccotti firm of Lucca, by the construction of the dome which was completed in 1970 by Carmel Grech of Balzan and by the building of the upper facade of the church in 1973.


During these last years, the sculpture works still missing on the isle ceiling arches and their vertical walls were continued. We also intend to go on with similar ornaments in the side naves and choir. This work is being carried out by the Gozitan sculptor Emmanuel Cini who had already done other artistic works in the older part of the aisle. When these last embellishments are finally completed, we would have accomplished what our older brethren had wished for but were unfortunate not to have achieved.


It is worthwhile to conclude by stating that the population in Sliema, including the neighbourhood around the church was ever on the increase especially after the end of the Second World War. This induced the Archbishop of Malta Sir Michael Gonzi to decree, on the 1st September 1973, that the parts of Sliema known as Tigne and Qui-Si-Sana were to be knit together as a Parish on their own, and entrusted to the care of our Dominican community with the Sanctuary Basilica of Jesus of Nazareth as the Parish church.

 

 

References:

 

 

 

This section is still under construction

 
   

 

Acknowledgements:

 

Sincere thanks go to the following, without whose kind help the production of this site would not have been possible:

 

Fr Louis Sapiano O.P.

Fr Dominic V. Scerri O.P.

Fr Marius Zerafa O.P. S.TH.L & LIC., DR.SC.SOC., B.A. HONS. (LOND.), A.R.HIST.S. (LOND.)

Mr Michael Micallef

Mr John Testa BA, Dip Prob Serv

LU06/04/2009

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