Beginning of an intense Devotion
The Devotion towards the Immaculate Conception of the Holy Virgin in Mqabba, dates back even before the erection of the Parish in 1598. In fact, during his Pastoral visit in 1615, Archbishop Cagliares mentions the Altar dedicated to the Immaculate Conception. As in present day, this Altar, known also as the Altar of Our Lady of Perpetual Help (Tas-Sokkors) was situated on the right hand side of the Main Altar. At that time, this Altar already drew a great deal of devotion and it was kept in a very good condition and enjoyed as well several legates.
In the course of centuries, the Devotion toward Mary's Immaculate Conception concretised itself. This led the Mqabba Community conducted by several Priests namely Dun Salvatore Zammit, Dun Michelangelo Magri, Dun Lorenzo Barbara and Dun Giacomo Michele Tortella, a Cospicuan Priest who did his utmost to widespread this Devotion in Mqabba, to present a plea for the erection of a new Confraternity. After the consense of Parish Priest Giacomo Michele Tortella and the favourable relations of Dun Francesco Uzzino, who was appointed by the Archbishop to examine and evaluate the statutes of this Congregation, with a decree of the 29th January 1772, Mons. Fra Giovanni Carmine Pellerano, Archbishop of Malta, Canonically erected the Confraternity under the Holy Patronage of Our Lady conceived without sin.
Three years later, in the Jubilee of 1775, following another plea presented by Abbot Rev. Giovanni Battista Raimondo Marchesi, this Congregation was aggregated and united to the Confraternity of the Immaculate Conception of San Lorenzo in Damaso in Rome, thus enjoying the same privileges as the latter does, especially the Indulgences granted by Pope Paul IV in a decree of the 5th July 1607. The decree of the aggregation was published inside the Mqabba Parish Church on the 24th September 1775. In order to mark this event, our forefathers commissioned a statue of the Immaculate Conception and a stone Cross to be placed on the site known as Tal-Mentna. This statue is still existent, enjoying a prominent position at the end of the Village. The members of the Confraternity of the Immaculate Conception are very much fond of this landmark, and is a symbol of great devotional stimulation.
The Confraternity of the Immaculate Conception has always been active inside our Parish since its erection in 1772. Following is list of individuals who served as Procurators from 1911 till present:-
PAOLO XUEREB 1911 - 1922
INDRI MAGRO 1922 - 1923
KARMENU CARUANA 1923 - 1930
BASKAL XUEREB 1930 - 1939
DUN GUZEPP XUEREB 1939 - 1970
JOSEPH FARRUGIA 1970 - 1979
DUN ANTON VELLA 1979 - 1980
DUN EMMANUEL WILLIE VELLA 1980 - 1991
DUN GUZEPP BARTOLO 1991 - 2004
DUN NAZZAREN CARUANA 2004 -
Among the obliges held by the Confraternity, one finds that each member had to own a white pleated cassock (Konfratija) together with a blue shoulder piece (Mazzetta). In case of a memberï¿½s demise, fellow members were to attend and participate during the funeral. Rosary recitation had to be carried out daily. Moreover, the Confraternityï¿½s most important tasks were to organise each year the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on the 8th December and the Feast in Honour of Our Lady of Lilies on the second week of May. These are two appointments on the Confraternityï¿½s agenda which have been duly respected and actuated through the centuries, till present day.
The people of Mqabba should consider themselves lucky to have such a Confraternity like that of the Immaculate Conception, that although so many years have passed from its erection, it is still very active and alive. Besides organisng the Feast of Our Lady of Lilies and the Immaculate Conception, it holds the right to participate during several events organized by the Parish. Among these, one finds the Feast of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary in October, Corpus Christi in June, The Easter (Kwaranturi) Procession, and the Titular Feast of the Assumption in August. The amount of confreres taking part in each event consolidates even more the fact that the Confraternity of the Immaculate Conception is truly active, bearing a youthful element. The confreres walk in front of the statue in the procession in twos and holding a candle.
A fact worth mentioning regards a privilege that the Confraternity formerly enjoyed. Till the beginning of the 60ï¿½s, members of the Confraternity of the Immaculate Conception had the right to be among the carriers of the Statue of the Assumption each year on the 15th August. The Confraternity holds also the right to take its sacred decoration out for the Titular Feast, decorating its own Altar as well as the major one.
In 1997, the Confraternity commemorated the 225th anniversary from its foundation. For this occasion, on Tuesday 4th December a Musical-Literary Soireeï¿½ was held inside the Mqabba Parish Church. During this event, a new Cantata by the Our Lady of Lilies Band Director was inaugurated. This activity was organised in conjunction between the Confraternity of the Immaculate Conception and the Mqabba Parish Church Clergy who invited the Our Lady of Lilies Band in order to perform inside the Mqabba Parish Church. By means of this activity, the Our Lady of Lilies Band became the first Musical formation in Mqabba to perform inside the Church. Also, Pope John Paul II officially sent his Blessings to the Rector and confreres within the Confraternity of the Immaculate Conception exclusively on this special occasion (see below).
Possessions of Artistic Value
Notwithstanding the fact that the Confraternity lost much of its treasures during the collapse of the Church on April 9 1942, such as all the gilded frontals for all twelve altars, all ornate silver candle holders (lampieri) and all altar carpets, it is still to be considered as a rich one. Amongst the artistic and valuable decorations which are used to decorate the church, one finds the unique gold gilded frontal of the Altar of the Immaculate Conception, which is a wonderful work of baroque style, and the elaborately gold embroidered altar cloth. Most are of the opinion that these two items are the finest of their kind to be found inside the Mqabba Parish Church. The embroidered cloth for the Altar of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary is another beautiful work that can be admired inside our Church during the Feast of Our Lady of Lilies. The cloth for the main Altar is also of considerable interest. The Confraternity possesses also a number of silver lanterns, crosses, gilded candlesticks and a precious silver medallion with a bass relieve of the Immaculate Conception, ganutell flower arrangements for the Main Altar, that of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary and the Altar of the Crowning of Our Lady, Glory Papers, lace undercloths and silver items such as calices and plates of different sizes, besides other decorations. The embroidered cloth for the Altar of the choir was also done on the initiative of the Confraternity of the Immaculate Conception. Other hand made lama arrangements decorate the rest of the altars during the Feast of Our Lady of Lilies. The banner, inaugurated in 1972 on the occasion of the bicentenary of the Confraternity is also another exquisite work of art bearing an elaborate design ably embroidered on royal blue damask. It was decided that the design of the old banner, made by the end of the 19th century, was to be retained and local artisan Emmanuela Galea Mangion ably transported it from the old banner to the new damask. A majestic and exquisitely carved gold gilt canopy, is hung over the main during the Parish's main feasts. This canopy carries the emblem of the Confraternity of the Immaculate Conception being a carved Nome di Maria and an elegant ebroidered design with lilies on each of its pendants. The Main Altar is enhanced by two beautiful delicate design crystal wall-chandeliers, complimenting four other larger crystal chandeliers, hanging next to the Church's main pillars.
The Bradella is also regarded as one of the finest of its kind all over the islands. This masterpiece features four niches with figures of women from the Old Testament namely Ester, Judith, Deborah and Ruth. Manuel Buhagiar of Tarxien designed and executed the Bradella in solid mahogany and other valuable woods. The Bradella was inaugurated in 1954 on the occasion of the first centenary from the definition and proclamation of the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception by Pope Pius IX on the 8th December 1854. This Bradella replaced a previous precious and inlaid one which was inaugurated in 1914, but unfortunately lost during the collapse of the Church in World War II. In addition to the new Bradella in 1954, the Confraternity also inaugurated several other precious items for its perusal. These included the gold and diamond diadem and sandal for the Statue of Our Lady of Lilies, the solid silver pots and ganutell arrangements for the Statue (4) and the Altar (8), the mahogany and silver Cross and silver lanterns complete with a magnificently hand carved mahogany stand. Dun Guzepp Xuereb, an Mqabba Priest and Confraternity Procurator was the one to coordinated all works so that all these treasures could be materialised. He was the one who supervised all fund raising, and works. The fact that Dun Guzepp Xuereb at that time enjoyed a high rank position in Maltese Curia and was also the first Priest of Archbishop Gonzi, might have turned out into an advantage so that the necessary permits from Curia could be issued, taking into account the fact that this was no joke since the Feasts celebrated by the Confraternity are Non-Titular, and at that time Non-Titular Feasts were still sufferring both internally and externally from the harsh restrictions imposed by the Regional Council of 1935.
The Paintings for the Altar of the Immaculate Conception
The old painting for the Altar of the Immaculate Conception is a beautiful work of art (oil on canvas) from the 17th century. It features the Immaculate Conception, with the souls of purgatory. An unusual detail which distinguishes this painting among others is the sitting figure of Saint Anne, holding a book in her hand. Her hand's gesture seems to be announcing Mary. This painting is of unknown artist but it is attributed to the school of celebre Mattia Preti. It is a pity that such a high calibre work of art is presently found in such a great state of neglect, in great need of restoration inside the Church attic.
The new painting for the Altar of the Immaculate Conception, replacing the old one is a work by Sicilian Artist Cleto Luzzi in 1949. The reason for the making of the new painting was that the old one did not fit well in the newly constructed perspective of the new Altar. Luzzi was a great friend of Dun Guzepp and made his utmost to satisfy Dun Guzepp with his job. In fact, Luzzi used his only daughter Serenella as a model for the figure of the Holy Virgin. The painting which bears light colours features Mary standing on the typical globe with the moon under her feet. She is crushing the serpents head clamping an apple with his jaws. The Virgin is enflanked by two rows of angels on each side fading into light. This feature adds to the aura of mysticism abundant in this painting. As far as it is known, this is the only work of art by Luzzi in Malta. The small painting on the arzella of the same Altar shows the Parents of Mary, Saint Anne and Saint Joachim.
The Painting above the Church's main door
The painting just above the main entrance is the only fresco found inside the Mqabba Parish Church, and also the largest painting. This work of art comprises the whole facade of the church from inside, opposite the Main Altar. It features the Immaculate Conception surrounded by a number of cherubs holding roses and lilies. In the lower part of the painting one can see the scene of the dismissal of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, taken from the Genesis. Venuti, a Roman artist, made this painting in the second half of the 19th century. Other works of art by Venuti in our Church include the painting of the Assumption of the choir, the four Evangelists of the pennaks and the painting which used to adorn internally the old dome. The last two were also lost during World War II. The Confraternity of the Immaculate Conception feels itself privileged that the main painting inside the Mqabba Parish Church is dedicated to its Patron.
The Statue of Our Lady of Lilies
Undoubtedly, the thing that the Confraternity of the Immaculate Conception has most at heart is the Holy Statue of Our Lady of Lilies. The 21st May 1876 was certainly a great day for the Confraternity. On this day, the Artistic Statue of Our Lady of Lilies a masterpiece of the very well known artist Giovanni Darmanin, came for the first time into the community that has venerated her since time immemorial. A Statue of high artistic value, it is noted particularly for its benign and captivating glance. The Statue of Our Lady of Lilies symbolises the pride of the Confraternity of the Immaculate Conception and holds the privilege to be one of the very few statues in Malta carried out processionally twice a year.
Presently, under the leadership of Joe Gauci, Confraternity Rector, assisted by Marvin Sciberras, the Confraternity of the Immaculate Conception of Mqabba never ceases to update itself to modern times, whilst preserving the aim for which it was established, to widespread the Marian charisma inside our community, completely and fully dedicated to the Holy Virgin , Mother of Humanity.
Outside Community Activities
The Confraternity of the Immaculate Conception of Mqabba is a reckoned congregation lead by a Rector officially approved by the Archbishopï¿½s Curia. Besides organising to the least detail its two principal Feasts, it does all the possible to keep in touch with its numerous members. The Confraternity is regularly invited to participate in events held by other communities. The largest amount of invitations came about in 2004, on the occasion of the 150th anniversary from the proclamation of the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception. This anniversary was commemorated throughout the world by great celebrations.
Malta was no exception. Following, are activities during which the Confraternity of the Immaculate Conception participated:-
29th May 2004
Pilgrimage organised by the Franciscan Community of Victoria, Gozo.
27th July 2004
Members of the Confraternity went to Gozo to participate in the celebrations held in Qala to commemorate the 50th anniversary from the crowning of the Titular Painting of the Immaculate Conception. These Solemn Functions were conducted by two Cardinals, His Eminence Cardinal Joseï¿½ Saraiva Martins and His Eminence Cardinal Agostino Cacciavillan. This occasion was with the participation of the Our Lady of Lilies Band.
7th December 2004
The Confraternity continued its activities at Valletta, where it was chosen by the cityï¿½s Franciscan Community to lead the Solemn Transition of the Reliquary of Our Lady from the Taï¿½ Giezu Church to the Church of Saint Francis. A Solemn High Mass followed. This activity was organised by the two Franciscan Orders of Malta.
8th December 2004
On this day, the Confraternity took part for the second time in the procession an accompanied the Statue of the Immaculate Conception for the Centinary celebrations inside Victoria, Gozo. These festivities were lead by Cardinal Edmund Casimir Szoka, President of the Governorate of the Vatican City State. By means of this participation, we reciprocated the participation of the Confraternity during the Procession of the Feast of Our Lady of Lilies in Mqabba in June.
25th June 2005
Another activity on a national basis that the Confraternity of the Immaculate Conception of Mqabba was invited to take part in was a national Pilgrimage with the Titular painting of the Immaculate Conception of the Cospicua Collegiate, on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of its crowning. The Our Lady of Lilies Band also offered its service.
Other Confraternities around Malta in Honour of the Immaculate Conception were invited to participate in the above mentioned activities. This confirms that the Mqabba Confraternity is an officially reckoned congregation. Our Confraternity distinguished itself with its banner and other sacred apparel everywhere it was invited.
During the Feast of Our Lady of Lilies and the Immaculate Conception of the year 2004, several other Confraternities participated during the processions of the Feast of Our Lady of Lilies and the Immaculate Conception in Mqabba. Among these, we hosted the Confraternities of the Immaculate Conception of Valletta, Victoria and Qala, and that in Honour of the B.V.M. of Lourdes, hailing from neighbouring Qrendi.
Certainly, the Mariological Seminar was the Confraternityï¿½s most demanding activity. Held on Sunday 21st March 2004, at the CAK Hall in Birkirkara, it featured several experts in Theology who skilfully explained the several Virtues owned by Our Lady, especially the Virtue of Her Purity. This occasion saw also the launching of the official poster by Gozitan artist Paul Camilleri Cauchi commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Dogma and the official logo of the celebrations, by John Barbara. The Seminar was under the Distinguished Patronage of Dun Nikol G Cauchi, Archbishop of Gozo.
On separate occasions, representatives of the Confraternity met with local civil authorities and presented them with the official poster.
Meeting with Pope John Paul II
In December 2000, the Rector and othere representants of the Confraternity of the Immaculate Conception of Mqabba went to Rome to visit His Holiness Pope John Paul II. This event marked the beginning of the celebrations that took place during 2001 commemorating the 125th anniversary from the arrival of the Statue of Our Lady of Lilies in Mqabba. Pope John Paul II was presented with an Image of Our Lady of Lilies who in turn blessed some Confraternity apparel. The Confraternity representants also visited the Church of San Lorenzo in Damaso to whom our Confraternity was aggregated in 1775. They also paid a visit to the grave of immortal Pius IX, who proclaimed the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception in 1854.
Other Regular Activities
The Confraternity itself regularly organises activities for the benefice of its members. Of special mention are prayer and formation meetings, internal organisation sessions and visits to places around Malta and Gozo in relation with the Devotion towards Our Lady, in particular the Immaculate Conception.
The Confraternity also promotes with great priority the daily recitation of the most Holy Rosary.
As a Congregation aiming to increasing the Marian Cult among the population of Mqabba, the Confraternity of the Immaculate Conception is looking out to two anniversaries. In 2007, the Confraternity will commemorate the 235th anniversary from its Canonical erection (1772 ï¿½ 2007) and the year after will mark the 50th anniversary from the confirmation of the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception by Mary Herself in Lourdes (1858 ï¿½ 2008). Four years after the definition of the Dogma, Mary appeared 18 times to a girl named Bernadette Subirous at the Massabielle Grotto. On the apparition of Thursday 25th March 1858, Bernadette asked the ï¿½Ladyï¿½ who She was, and the Ladyï¿½s answer was ï¿½Que Soy Era Immaculada Conceptiouï¿½ ï¿½ ï¿½I Am the Immaculate Conception.ï¿½
The Confraternity of the Immaculate Conception of Mqabba would like to thank the Mqabba Parish Priest and Clergy together with those who give a helping hand in the Church decoration for the Feasts it celebrates. Moreover, it would like to show its appreciation towards the members of the other Mqabba Confraternities, that of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary and the Sacred Sacrament for participating during the Feasts it organises.
The Direction of the Confraternity of the Immaculate Conception of Mqabba would like to thank all Sections within The Our Lady of Lilies Musical Society for their incessant collaboration and also for having offered us space in their website.