This year, 2021, is a special year for Senglea as it marks the centenary from the solemn coronation of the titular statue of Maria Bambina.
This effigy, which was recorded to be in the Senglea parish in 1618, has been a source of devotion ever since. The act of love and devotion, manifested in the first years of the 18th century, when the Sengleans placed a silver crown on the Bambina’s head, anticipated the cherished expectation for the arrival of that day on which the statue would be solemnly crowned by a pontifical decree.
On March 1, 1920, Canon Joseph Adami, archpriest of Senglea, on behalf of the Chapter and the people of Senglea, formally presented to archbishop Mauro Caruana, OSB, the supplication to have the statue crowned. The archbishop, for his part, submitted the said request to Pope Benedict XV on March 31, 1920.
The positive decision was taken by the Vatican Chapter on April 25, 1920, and the rescript for the coronation was issued. The response, which came from Rome in such a short time, was felt as a sign of appreciation by the Blessed Virgin who wanted to reward the people of Senglea for the love they showed her.
The day set for the coronation was September 4, 1921. The Vatican Chapter delegated archbishop Caruana to place, on behalf of the same Chapter, the gold crown on the head of the statue of the Bambina. He was assisted in carrying out this rite by Mgr Giovanni Maria Camilleri, OESA, bishop of Gozo, and by Mgr Angelo Portelli, OP, titular bishop of Salimonte and auxiliary bishop.
On that day, since the early afternoon, crowds of people, from all over Malta and Gozo, gathered at the Senglea marina where the ceremony was to take place. Multitudes of people on land, at sea, on rooftops, in galleries, in windows, on the ramparts of Cottonera and Valletta... everyone eagerly waited to witness this extraordinary coronation.
The statue of the Bambina was brought to the marina surrounded by the devout and joyful crowd. During the singing of the Ave Maris Stella, with music composed for the occasion by Paolino Vassallo, it was placed under the baldacchino, normally set up in Lija for the feast of Jesus the Saviour, but offered to the people of Senglea for such a special ceremony.
Archbishop Caruana, accompanied by the assistant bishops and other ministers, took the stage specially prepared, and placed the gold crown studded with precious stones on the head of the statue of the Bambina, a testimony to the love that the Maltese and, above all, the Sengleans, had towards her, and with a promise to continue to recognise her forever as their ‘Queen’.
After the coronation, the archbishop intoned the antiphon Regina Coeli, which continued to be sung by the choir accompanied by a large orchestra conducted by Vassallo.
Then, the statue, after being lowered from under the baldacchino, was solemnly transported back to the basilica amid the pealing of bells, the bursting of petards, showers of roses and flowers and the scent of incense.
At the end of the procession, the Te Deum was sung and the archbishop imparted the Eucharistic blessing. Afterwards, the coronation hymn which, as befitted such a great occasion, was written by Rev. Carmelo Psaila, the national poet of Malta, and was composed by Giuseppe Caruana, was sung for the first time.
The extraordinary solemnity of the coronation of the Bambina was never forgotten. It is one of the few days that began and continued to be recounted through the past century.
Although Senglea constantly manifested and annually showed special affection for the beloved feast of the Bambina on September 8, the event that occurred a century ago on September 4, 1921, remained engraved in the hearts of all those born in this town.