Devotional representations of souls in purgatory from a niche in Ħal Għaxaq.Devotional representations of souls in purgatory from a niche in Ħal Għaxaq.

If you are too old for trick-or-treating this Halloween, you might be up for a night in a 17th-century prison cell at the Inquisitor’s Palace.

But before heading to bed, you can feast on toast, kawlata (vegetable soup with pork) and a roasted pig, which years ago would have first been let loose on the streets with a bell hanging around its neck.

This unfortunate ħanżira tal-erwieħ (pig of souls) would have only enjoyed its freedom for a few days, roaming the streets while parishioners fed it, until they cooked it on All Souls Day to feed the poor.

Another traditional Maltese dish, also dubbed tal-erwieħ, was a large pot of vegetable soup that was prepared around the same day.

Guido Lanfranco has documented the tradition of helping the poor, through the distribution of food, as a means of offering prayers for the dead.

Photos provided by curator Kenneth CassarPhotos provided by curator Kenneth Cassar

In the run-up to All Souls’ Day, neighbours would fill up a cauldron with vegetables, beans and sometimes pasta. The minestra, or kawlata in some cases, would be distributed among the poor, who turned up with a can or a small pot.

On November 4, these two dishes will be served at the Inquisitor’s Palace in Vittoriosa during a Heritage Malta thematic supper topped with a glass of maħluta, the bittersweet drink recalling the ups and downs of life.

For the event, called L-Għid tal-Erwieħ, there will also be ftieti tal-għaża (toasted bread with garlic and parsley), reminiscent of the days when mourners would feed only on bread and meals prepared by their neighbours. The supper will also include għadam tal-mejtin – a bone shaped, almond-based sweet.

A child’s funeral. Illustrations: Guido LanfrancoA child’s funeral. Illustrations: Guido Lanfranco

Hired mourners will set the tone of the meal. Apart from following coffins in funeral processions, the newwieħa used to go into mourners’ houses and break some pottery items or turn pots upside down, because people were not meant to cook following the death of a relative.

A literary work written by Immanuel Mifsud will be read out before the diners call it a night.

Those with a more adventurous streak can sleep in one of the palace’s prison cells, but they will need to take with them their own sleeping bags and torches.

For more information, call 2166 3731 or visit or the Inquisitor’s Palace Facebook page.

Newwieħa, or weepers commissioned for household mourningNewwieħa, or weepers commissioned for household mourning

Hearse and priest’s carriage in funeral procession.Hearse and priest’s carriage in funeral procession.

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