Spin of spin
Author: Mark Camilleri Publisher: Sensiela Kotba Socjalisti Year: 2013 Extent: 40pp
The title of this slim book is rather misleading, for, as the author himself admits, its aim is not to prove that the Melita of the Acts of the Apostles is indeed Malta or Mljet (part of Croatia in the Adriatic).
Rather its aim is to refresh the arguments that say that there is no continuity of Christianity in Malta from the early Christian centuries and today and those that hold the opposite view.
The author is the National Book Council’s executive chairman who has been in the news for a book that defied censorship, and for a book urging a materialist revision of Maltese history.
In essence, what this means is to divide Maltese historians between those who favour the continuity of Christianity and those who argue that at some point during the Muslim domination of Malta, the Maltese stopped being Christians and what remained of them became Muslims.
The book ends with a viva voce interview with the late Professor Godfrey Wettinger who right up till his death a year ago remained steadfast in his assertion that the Maltese became Muslims but changed back when the Normans invaded Malta and kicked the Muslims out.
In this rather uninhibited interview and also in an article by Professor Yosanne Vella on MaltaToday in July last year, as well as in the rest of Mark Camilleri’s book we find evidence of the war to death between the continuity believers and the discontinuity ones.
For centuries, aided and abetted by the Church and the Order, belief in the continuity of Maltese Christianity through the centuries was strong and universal. Gian Francisco Abela himself said Christianity in Malta can be traced back directly to St Paul.
Then in the 1970s, medieval historian Prof. Wettinger came out arguing there is nothing to indicate the continuity of Christianity in Malta but rather in all probability Christianity died out during the Arab times and the Maltese integrated with the Arab overlords and became Muslims.
The continuity contingent came back in 1990 with the publication of Tristia ex Melitogaudio, a poem by an exiled poet in Malta (or perhaps Gozo leading some to claim that while Malta became Muslim, Gozo remained Christian) in the 12th century, written in Greek, that showed that there were Christians in Malta in the 12th century.
The book by ‘continuity’ professors Stanley Fiorini, Horatio Vella and Joseph Brincat was billed as evidence of Christian continuity during Arab times. It speaks of a bishop who led the believers and kicked out the sheiks from the island. But questions at the repeated presentations of this book elicited the information that the Roger the poem was speaking about was not Count Roger who came to Malta in 1091 but his son King Roger II who came to Malta some 30 years later. One interpretation is that Count Roger led a raid, a razzia, which did not intend to conquer Malta, and freed the Christian slaves in the Maltese prisons. It was Roger II who came to Malta to conquer it and who began forcing the Muslims out. In 1990 (I am following Professor Vella here), Prof. Wettinger gave a conference in Castille in which he said he had been wrong. He had made a mistake to say the Maltese had become Muslims for the simple reason there were no Maltese left. The Maltese had all been exterminated − ethnic cleansing. Then we come to the baleful days of May 2015. On 20 May, Jeremy Jones gave a lecture at the Aula Magna in Valletta. He is an archaeologist at Oxford University and I was present at the lecture (though I admit my account is not the best one there is). Basically he said the translation of the poem in the Melitogaudio book had many mistakes and the conclusions based on the incorrect translation were consequently wrong. In the new translation the bishop and his selected followers had come from Sicily and did not consist of people who had been living in Malta.
Mr Jones had barely time to visit Prof. Wettinger and tell him his theory had been vindicated. Prof. Wettinger died on 24 May 2015.
I have extrapolated from the Mark Camilleri book but the above shows there is no love lost between the Continuity and NonContinuity clans.
The author asserts that the Continuity group got all support from the Church and the State under PN rule. He proved this by mentioning the award given to Mgr John Azzopardi by the Malta Historical Society and the decidedly over-the-top effusion of welcome by President George Abela to Pope Benedict XVI in April 2010 all reinforcing the Continuity theory.
Another target for Camilleri’s scepticism is the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage who he alleges is hiding various finds from the Muslim period such as what was found when Mdina was repaved recently.
As recently as April 2013 he asked, under the Freedom of Information Act, to be allowed access to the minutes of the Superintendency but was refused.