Archbishop Charles Scicluna is shown the Papal document he is helping to restore. Photo: Mark Zammit CordinaArchbishop Charles Scicluna is shown the Papal document he is helping to restore. Photo: Mark Zammit Cordina

Neglecting our cultural and historical heritage would be suicidal, Archbishop Charles Scicluna said yesterday after ‘adopting’ a 1608 document issued by Pope Paul V.

The document, which will cost about €250 to restore, is a brief by Pope Paul V to the Inquisitor, Evangelista Carbonesius, conferring the benefice of the church of St Nicholas at Mdina to Bernardus Fasanus of Aversa following the death of its previous holder, Michael Vimercatus.

It also orders the installation of procurators to collect the income due ever since the death of the previous holder and to hand over, within six months, the proceeds after all debt was settled.

The notification is written on very fine parchment (vellum) and comes complete with the Vatican’s seal.

Mgr Scicluna, who is funding the restoration as a personal initiative, was given a tour of the archives and was shown other restored documents, including Malta’s oldest poem, Il-Kantilena.

We are enjoying the tree’s fruit and shade. However, if we forget the roots, don’t take care of them or cut them, we would be committing a cultural suicide

He urged fellow Maltese to help restore the documents at the archives, which he called “monumental heritage”.

“It’s the duty of every Maltese to cherish our historical and cultural heritage and it would be a good idea if, with some sacrifice, we would make a donation to restore our heritage.

“I encourage people to contact the Notarial Archives Resources Council so we can pass on to future generations the heritage of documents that bear witness to our culture and traditions,” he said.

With the oldest document, that of notary Angelo Demanuele, dating back to 1431, every document at the archives sheds light on the lives of people from every strata of society, including those at the margin, such as slaves.

Asked about the relevance of the documents nowadays, Mgr Scicluna said a tree without roots would die. “We are enjoying the tree’s fruit and shade. However, if we forget the roots, don’t take care of them or cut them, we would be committing a cultural suicide,” he added.

During the tour, the Archbishop hinted, to the delight of historian Joan Abela, who founded the council, that he would be adopting a document every year.

There are several curious items stacked at the archives. Among them is the will of Grazia Cassar from Mqabba who, on January 11, 1693, was in the company of eight people, including the notary, when an earthquake rocked Malta and Sicily, causing structural damage, especially in Mdina.

The document gives a detailed, also poetic description of the earthquake, which those present felt “approaching from afar”.

It describes how they swayed as if they were out at sea or on a float and prayed to St Anthony of Padua.

Benefactors can help preserve thousands of historic documents by adopting centuries-old manuscripts and sponsoring their conservation by donating anything from €100 to €50,000.

More information on joanchabela@gmail.com.

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