ASPECTS OF THE SOCIAL HISTORY OF MOSTA (1630-1650)
Dissertation submitted to the Department of History at the Royal University of Malta, Malta 1973
The digital version of this unpublished dissertation may have some differences from original introduced during the scanning process which due to the limited resources didn't have time to completely verify and is another reason why one has to seek the original version (located at UOM) when needs to quote references from it.
(p.1) Following his election in 1572, Grand Master Jean L’Avêque de La Cassière was faced with a number of serious problems. There was a growing indifference especially among the young knights to the preservation of the old monastic traditions and the discipline of the Convent was becoming very lax. This lawlessness was not helped by the influx of travellers and ‘adventurers’, who arrived into the Islands following Malta’s victory at the Great Siege. This influx increased the instability of the Convent and led to a marked increase in disreputable behaviour. La Cassière attempted to curb the excessive licentiousness and rowdy living within Valletta and ordered that all concubines were to be removed from the city. The promulgation of this edict raised many members of the Order to fury and La Cassiere was for a time arrested at Fort St. Angelo.1 A contemporary writer (p.2) commented that “the Grand Master loves Justice, for which he is rather feared, being more severe than mild”.2
To make matters worse La Cassiere had a serious quarrel with the Bishop, Fra Martino Royas, and this was to have serious and unfavourable repercussions for both of them. The Grand Master, on taking office, had requested from the Pope the right to impose a tax on the revenues of the Bishop of Malta, who had formerly been required to pay tribute to the Viceroy of Sicily. Royas refused to pay this tax, and in this Royas was victorious on the strength of a decree of Ferdinand II of Spain issued in 1514 and duly confirmed by the Holy See exempting the Bishop and clergy of Malta from the payment of royal taxes. Moreover, Royas received a Papal Brief dated 20th March, 1573 empowering him to inquire into all cases of heresy among members of all Religious Orders, including the Knights. The Grand Master reacted strongly by send his envoy Cosimo de Luna to obtain its revocation.
(p.3) The Pope did indeed comply with the wishes of La Cassiere, but whilst diplomatically suspending the local bishop from the exercise of the office of Inquisitor he invested with this power the Apostolic Delegate who, as Inquisitor immediately subject to the Apostolic See, was to be independent of the two existing authorities in the Island.3 This new office, however, soon proved to be a wedge between the Grand Master and the ecclesiastical authorities headed by the Bishop. Thus “there were three rivals in little Malta each trying to oust the other - the Grand Master, the Inquisitor and the Bishop”.4
On 1st August 1574, the first Inquisitor - General, Mgr. Peter Dusina, arrived in Malta. On 30th January, 1575, Mgr. Dusina ended his visit to the parish of Naxxar and proceeded to visit the churches of the neighbouring villages of Gharghur and Mosta. It is worthwhile remembering that the parish of Naxxar was set up as the mother-church matrice of Gharghur and Mosta by Mons, Senatore de Mello in 1436.5 As to civil (p.4) administration, Mosta formed part of the municipality of Mdina, being administered by the Capitano della Verga.
During his stay at Mosta,6 Dusina paid a visit to the church dedicated to the Assumption, which he called parrochialem and which he described as ampla and satis decens having an altar, a beaten floor and wooden doors. This church was administered by the parish-priest of Naxxar who was expected to celebrate Mass there on the day of the titular feast (August 15th). Moreover, the Apostolic Delegate visited the following small chapels or churches dedicated to: St. Michael, St. Anthony the Abbot, St. Leonard, St. James, St. Catherine, the Annunciation, St. Paul the Apostle, St. Nicholas, St. Margaret, the Assumption and St. James.7 Some of these chapels were not well-kept and had no rector or income caret rectore, oneribus, introitibus, et omnibus aliis necessariis. In fact Dusina, after visiting about 430 churches and chapels in Malta (p.5) and Gozo, deconsecrated fifty-nine, thirteen of them in Gozo. At Mosta, the Apostolic Delegate deconsecrated the chapel of St. Nicholas. 8
Dusina also stressed the importance of absolute cleanliness in all churches and chapels and ordered that floors should be swept clean at least once a week. Moreover, he also ordered that during Mass the officiating priest should not be bare-footed, that he should wear the dress down to the feet and that the upper and lower lips be carefully shaven.9
An important date for the Mostin is 16th September 1608, when, following a pastoral visit by the Bishop Thomas Gargallo (1578 - 1614), Mosta was created a parish, thus separating it from the mother-church of Naxxar after a period of one hundred and seventy-two years. The document entitled Dismembratie Casalis Musta Dioecesis Melivetane and dated 16th September 1608, mentions the (p.6) following reasons for creating Mosta a parish: (a) the inability of the parish-priest of Naxxar to cope with the administration of the sacraments; (b) the long distance separating the two villages, which was rendered worse by the bad state of the roads petrosa et mala; and (c) the increasing population of Mosta which consisted of about 900 inhabitants living in 180 households domorum centum et octoginta facientium nongentas animas. The Church of the Assumption, thus, became the parish church enjoying the customary rights, privileges, duties and revenue. Gargallo's actions were in full compliance with Chapter 4, session 21 of the Council of Trent De Reformatione, and Chapter Audientiae on the building of churches, and met with the approval of Pope Paul V and the Holy See.10
However, it was also stipulated that Mosta was to remain united with the matrice of Naxxar until the death of the then parish-priest Don Giuliano Borg, which occurred on 14th July 1610.11 Shortly after his death, (p.7) a letter was sent to the Bishop by Georgio Galia, Giacobo Xebras, Gerolamo Hibeier, Agostino Busuttil and tutto il populo di casal Musta, reminding him of his promise of 1608.12
Their expectations were fulfilled on 10th November 1610, when Bishop Gargallo appointed Don Giovanni Bezzina, who had served as vice-parish-priest of Naxxar for twenty years, the first parish-priest of Mosta. Besides the usual titles, the parish church was endowed with three plots of land - one in the region of Naxxar, the other near the church and the third called ‘tal-Carbuni’.13 Thus having seen their (p.8) hopes realised, the Mostin contributed generoualy towards the building of a new parish church which was completed in 1614.14 This church, dedicated to the Assumption was designed by the architect Tommaso Dingli, who was also responsible for the design of the Bishop's Palace at Valletta.15
- B. Blouet, The Story of Malta (London 1967), pp. 88-89.
- E.V. Schermerhorn, Malta of the Knights (London 1929) pp. 97-125.
- A.P. Vella, The Tribunal of the Inquisition in Malta (Malta 1964), pp. 16-17.
- A.V. Laferla, The Story of Man in Malta (Malta 1939), Vol. 1, p. 91.
- A. Ferris, Storia Ecclesiastica di Malta (Malta 1877), p. 138.
- Visitatio Apostolica, ff. 41v-44v. This MS copy is in the possession of Mr. Patrick Formosa. See also G.F. Abela, Descrittione di Malta (Malta 1647), p.382.
- A. Ferris, Descrizione storica delle Chiese di Malta e Gozo (Malta 1866), p. 622.
- Visitatio Apostolica, f. 44r and A. Ferris, Ibid., p. 640.
- J. Cassar Pullicine, “Malta in 1575: Social Aspects of an Apostolic Visit”, Melita Historica, 1956, Vol. II, No. 1, pp. 19-41.
- 8. A.A.M., Vis. Past. VI. f. 17r.
- 9. E.B. Vella, Storja tal-Mosta bil-Knisja Taghha (Malta 1930), p. 71. However, according to A. Ferris, op. cit., p. 462, Don Giuliano Borg died on 16th July 1610.
- In A.A.M., Vis. Past. VI, f. l8r-v, we find that the Mostin complained that "con gran difficulta et sconcio potevano andare nella chiesia parrochiale situata in detto casal Naxaro distante doi miglia dal detto loro casale a ricevere li Sacramenti et udire li divini officii; aggionto a questo che la strada intermedia di sua natura e cattiva, et nel inverno paludosa talmente che nelle giornate pluviose non si puo andare nella detta chiesia parrochiale; et accadette che una volta essendo buona parte del detto populo andati nella sudetto chiesa parrochiale ad udire l'officii divini in una solennita, furono constretti restare lungo tempo et quasi tutto il giorno indetto casal Naxaro per haver piovuto, et essersi paludosa la strada; avenue ancora che alcune volte il Parocho per la distantia del loco non arrive all'infermi vivi per potterli ministrare il Santissimo Sacramento dell’eucharistia, et darli la estrema untiones …” They also mentioned the fact that Mosta had 200 households “contiene duecento foghi”.
- G.F. Abela, op. cit., p. 382.
- A. Ferris, op. cit., p. 462, But according to E.B. Vella op. cit., p. 74, the church was completed in 1619.
- Generally on Tommaso Dingli, see J. Quentin Hughes, ‘The Building of Malta 1530-1795’ (London 1967), pp. 208-209, but Hughes does not ascribe the old parish church of Mosta to Dingli.