Dr Joseph F. Grima's "Christmastide at Qormi" (The Sunday Times, December 18) makes reference to my grandfather, Antonio Muscat Fenech, and the mechanical crib he built in the 1870s, which attracted great interest as it was the first of its kind. My mother frequently spoke about it and remembered the many personalities who went to see it.

My grandfather also built another large crib, and made all the figurines and scenery. People paid to see these cribs and the proceeds were donated to charities or other worthy causes of the village, of which he was a benefactor. He donated the crib to St Joseph's Institute at Hamrun so they could display it and raise funds. They stored it in a cellar and when they went to retrieve it they found it had been eaten by rats.

Muscat Fenech was a man of many parts - he was one of the first photographers to have his own darkroom, skilled with his hands so that he made many of the objects carried in the Good Friday procession, also organising the purchase of some of the statues, and his home was more of a club where several Qormin gathered, frequently playing the mandolin and guitar which he enjoyed.

He was an excellent painter, too. I have some of his letters - he wrote to the family in Maltese, which was rare at the time, when people wrote in Italian.

My grandfather's greatest achievement was to be the first person to encourage the use of a standard orthography of Maltese. He was editor of the Maltese language newspaper Il-Zabbar, and deplored the fact that people were writing Maltese as they fancied.

In March 1894 he got together various writers and formed a committee "to study a method of writing Maltese". The full story can be gleaned from Il-Zabbar and makes a fascinating account. He himself wrote various stories and translated various novels in Maltese at a time when not many people could read, especially Maltese.

Muscat Fenech relinquished the editorship of the newspaper on his appointment as vice-consul for Austria-Hungary, was soon appointed consul and knighted by Emperor Francis Joseph.

When recently a biographical publication was published, the photograph reproduced with the text was of someone I did not know and this listed his books as being published in the 1920s when he had been dead over 10 years, the books having been printed in his lifetime.

There are many references and photographs of him in the church museum at the parish of St George in Qormi.

Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.

Support Us