The Virgin Mary has been given many titles over the years and, yet, the Filfla Madonna might still sound somewhat strange to many.
Lying about five kilometres off the south coast of Malta, the isle of Filfla, with a surface area of about 2.5 hectares, used to be much bigger than it is now. Heavy bombing practice by the British and other naval and air forces has left its scars, apart from a much-reduced land mass.
Way back in 1343, a chapel was built there, dedicated to the Assumption of Our Lady and Sunday Mass used to be said for fishermen out at sea close to Filfla. The chapel was destroyed in 1856 following an earthquake.
The titular painting bearing the date 1604 had been removed from the chapel and is now preserved in the parish church of St Catherine, in Zurrieq. In the painting, the Madonna is accompanied by saints Peter and Leonard.
The church of St Catherine contains a gold mine of paintings and antique silver artefacts not to mention the works by Mattia Preti who is perhaps best known for the frescoes he painted at St John's Co-Cathedral, in Valletta.
A photographic record of all these works of art is included in volume six, the latest tome in the 18-volume series Tezori fil-Knejjes Maltin - Treasures In Maltese Churches, published by PIN. This volume focuses on churches and chapels in Kirkop, Mqabba, Qrendi, Safi and Zurrieq.
In an introduction, art critic Emmanuel Fiorentino highlights several fascinating landmarks found in the geographical area covered by the publication. Among them is the church of St Basil in Mqabba, built in 1486 and which is one of the most intriguing medieval structures still standing on the island.
Another chapel is that of St Matthew at il-Maqluba, in Qrendi, which actually consists of two chapels, the smaller one probably dating back to the 11th century. The larger chapel was built between 1674 and 1683.
An incredible feat by any standard is that accomplished by Fr Guzepp Barbara who was parish priest for 55 years in Kirkop after 1876.
The publication's script is in Maltese with a parallel translation in English.
Tony Terribile, the author of the series is an authority on ecclesiastical history.
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