For the past 50 years, several human remains have been beckoning from the silent end of a secret passage in the old church of St Gregory in Żejtun, in order to reveal their story. 

Ten years after their accidental discovery in 1969, palaeopathological and anthropological studies were done but no more scientific research followed, leaving several unanswered questions and debates. 

After being granted funds from the Small Initiatives Scheme of the Malta Council for the Voluntary Sector, NGO Wirt iż-Żejtun, with the collaboration of Heritage Malta and the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage, has set up the project 5KOPERTA to study the human skeletal remains and other related finds.

Grezzju Vella – involved in the original find. The main altar of the church of St Gregory in Żejtun.Grezzju Vella – involved in the original find. The main altar of the church of St Gregory in Żejtun.

Today, on the eve of the feast of St Gregory, Wirt iż-Żejtun will be launching this project through a discussion about the intriguing 1969 discovery. 

This event will include the participation of Grezzju Vella and Charles Debono, who were involved in the original find, scientist Matthew Grima (Heritage Malta), archaeologist and osteologist Bernardette Mercieca Spiteri (Superintendence of Cultural Heritage), architect Ruben Abela (founder and president of Wirt iż-Żejtun), and journalist Fiona Vella who have been thoroughly researching this find for many years.  

In the past, the elders of Żejtun often narrated that there were people buried around the dome of the church of St Gregory. 

No one knows when or how this gossip started but up to 1969, many believed that this story was only a myth, since these passages were never found. 

The accidental find, on March 12, 1969, proved the presence of human remains buried in the church but these were actually situated around the roof. 

Moreover, graffiti on the walls of the secret passages dating to 1896 and 1909 showed that this location had already been known to some people. 

Who were the persons who ventured into these secret passages and what did they find? Also, why did they keep silent about the discovery?

This object was found with the human remains in 1969.This object was found with the human remains in 1969.

The palaeopathological and anthropological studies, which were done in 1979 and in 1980 by Seshadri Ramaswamy and Joseph Leslie Pace, provided some information about these mysterious human remains. 

Due to the evidence of soil inside some of the vertebrae, they suggested that these bones could have been buried somewhere else before they were transported to the area where they were eventually found, implying that the secret passages might have been used as an ossuary. 

Yet, many still question this theory, since it is highly impractical to carry bones up to the roof of the church in order to place them in the secret passages.

The discussion which is being organised by Wirt iż-Żejtun will revolve around this discovery and its unresolved issues, the scientific findings of the past studies on the human bones and the new scientific research which will be taking place on the remains, including carbon dating.

The public is invited to attend today’s discussion at the old church of St Gregory in Żejtun, starting at 7pm. 

Entrance is free. For more information, contact wirtizzejtun@gmail.com.

The five narrow loopholes showing at the upper sides of the church reveal the location of the secret passages. Photos: Fiona VellaThe five narrow loopholes showing at the upper sides of the church reveal the location of the secret passages. Photos: Fiona Vella

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