Spir­i­tu­al­ity, Devo­tions & Tra­di­tions of the Au­gus­tinian Fri­ars in Gozo

The Malta Independent on Sunday - - BOOKS - Fr Ge­of­frey G. At­tard

Author: Peter Paul Cachia OSA Pub­lisher: Au­gus­tinian Prov­ince Malta Pages: 399

The name of the Au­gus­tinian monk Fr Peter Paul Cachia of Vic­to­ria, Gozo is grad­u­ally be­com­ing syn­ony­mous with the his­tory of the Au­gus­tinian Or­der in the Mal­tese is­lands. The Au­gus­tini­ans ar­rived in Malta in 1413 but be­fore 1453 they al­ready had a pri­ory on the is­land of Gozo. Af­ter pub­lish­ing a book about the his­tory of the pri­ory and Au­gus­tinian church of Ra­bat, Gozo, Cachia has now delved deeper into the his­tory of the same pri­ory and pro­vided us with a de­tailed sketch of the var­i­ous spir­i­tu­al­ties, devo­tions and tra­di­tions of the Goz­i­tan Au­gus­tini­ans.

The first part of the book fo­cuses on the dif­fer­ent char­ac­ter­is­tics of the Au­gus­tinian spir­i­tu­al­ity as they evolved in time on the is­land of three hills. The ar­rival of the monks in the mid­dle of the 15th cen­tury must have been quite an event for the Chris­tian com­mu­nity of the is­land. Gozo, suf­fer­ing from the phe­nom­e­non of what has now been coined as dou­ble-in­su­lar­ity, al­ways played a sec­ondary role in the his­tory of the ar­chi­pel­ago.

How­ever, there were ex­cep­tions to this rule; the dis­cov­ery of the an­cient poem Tris­tia ex Meli­to­gaudo and its trans­la­tion into English and even­tual pub­li­ca­tion is a proof of this. Gozo must have main­tained the Chris­tian faith even dur­ing the Arab rule. Now, in the mid-15th cen­tury, Gozo was em­brac­ing the first Catholic re­li­gious or­der ever to ar­rive on the is­lands. Be­ing part of the King­dom of Aragon through their con­nec­tion with Aragonese Si­cily, at this point in time the Mal­tese is­lands had been con­sol­i­dated once again in their Chris­tian in­her­i­tance. The com­ing of the Au­gus­tini­ans served to en­rich the Chris­tian her­itage of the tiny is­land of Gozo, an is­land which was very much a back­wa­ter and was to re­main so un­der the Knights of St John.

Within this his­tor­i­cal mi­lieu, the Chris­tian com­mu­nity of Gozo must have been over­joyed to wit­ness the ar­rival of a re­li­gious or­der with such an en­rich­ing his­tory. The Au­gus­tini­ans came from Si­cily since Malta formed part of the Si­cil­ian prov­ince. The very fact that these monks en­vis­aged a liv­ing on the small is­land is a proof in it­self of a vi­brant re­li­gious com­mu­nity on Gozo. Hav­ing men­tioned the Or­der of St John, it is vi­tal to men­tion at this point that Fra Bar­tolomeo Bon­avia was the Au­gus­tinian monk who served as an in­ter­me­di­ary be­tween the Knights and the Ot­toman Pasha when the Turks at­tacked Gozo in what is now known as the Great Siege of Gozo of 1551.

The se­cond part of the book stud­ies the char­ac­ter­is­tics of the Au­gus­tinian devo­tions and their tra­di­tions. Devo­tion to the Blessed Vir­gin Mary, the Mother of God un­der the ti­tle of Our Mother of Con­so­la­tion, known in Latin as Mater Boni Con­silii can be con­sid­ered as one of the ma­jor char­ac­ter­is­tics of the Au­gus­tinian pres­ence on the is­land. Var­i­ous paint­ings, stat­ues and arte­facts car­ry­ing this par­tic­u­lar Mar­ian ti­tle are stud­ied in de- tail in Cachia’s book. One can­not be far from the truth if he were to say that in the same man­ner that the Fran­cis­cans pro­moted devo­tion to the Im­mac­u­late Con­cep­tion and the Carmelites brought for­ward the devo­tion to Our Lady of Carmel, the Au­gus­tini­ans fo­cused on Mary as the foun­tain of con­so­la­tion and con­sid­ered her their right­ful pro­tec­tor.

Cachia pro­vides am­ple in­for­ma­tion about the var­i­ous stat­ues that adorn the church and pri­ory of St Augustine of Vic­to­ria. Among these I would like to men­tion the statue of St Mon­ica sculpted by Agostino Camil­leri in 1924, the statue of Augustine also made in pa­pier-mâché by the same Camil­leri to­gether with the stat­ues of St Ni­cholas of To­len­tine made in wood by an un­known artist that goes back to 1738 and another statue of St Ni­cholas of To­len­tine made in pa­pier-mâché by Agostino Camil­leri in 1913. Since devo­tion to St Rita of Cas­cia is the pre­rog­a­tive of the Au­gus­tini­ans, I can­not fail to men­tion the statue of St Rita that Agostino Camil­leri sculpted in 1916 and which still at­tracts many devo­tees es­pe­cially on her feast day in May.

The third and last part of the book fo­cuses on other Au­gus­tinian tra­di­tions that were not tack­led in the pre­vi­ous two chap­ters; this part takes into con­sid­er­a­tion the exvoto that are to be found in the pri­ory.

Fr Peter Paul Cachia’s lat­est pub­li­ca­tion is the ideal source-book for all those who want to be­come friendly with the Au­gus­tinian pres­ence in Gozo. The book is en­riched by the beau­ti­ful pho­tographs taken by young Goz­i­tan pho­tog­ra­pher Anthony Grech; the pho­tographs bring to life the artis­tic trea­sures by which the pri­ory is en­dowed. Young art critic and re­searcher Paul Cas­sar gave his in­put from the artis­tic point-of-view; it was he who dis­cov­ered doc­u­men­ta­tion stat­ing that Mat­tia Preti was the pain­ter of the main al­tar­piece de­pict­ing the saintly bishop of Hippo. The last sec­tion of the book features the var­i­ous ob­jets d’art, paint­ings and stat­ues that past pri­ors, monks and bene­fac­tors com­mis­sioned through­out the ages.

Spir­i­tu­al­ity, Devo­tions & Tra­di­tions of the Au­gus­tinian Fri­ars in Gozo, which I con­sider as the mag­num opus of Fr Peter Paul Cachia OSA, is a cel­e­bra­tion of the Au­gus­tinian’s cul­tural, artis­tic and re­li­gious her­itage on the is­land of Gozo, a her­itage which is to be en­joyed and ap­pre­ci­ated by one and all.

The book can be bought from St Augustine’s Pri­ory, St Augustine’s Square (Pjazza Tomba) in Vic­to­ria.

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