St Cajetan - Church.html
St.Cajetan Parish Church.

Any increase in the population of a town or village starts demanding larger facilities. The Maltese being staunchly Catholic and churchgoing in the latter part of the 1800s, started to feel the need for a larger place of worship in the Hamrun area to accommodate the increase in numbers. The two churches existing at the time, that is the tiny church of Porto Salvo on the main road and that of Atocia on the hill, could not cope.

There were a few who took these things to heart so much so that they decided to form a committee for the purpose of building a new church. Heading this group was a merchant Manwel Imbroll, with Fr.Fortunat Valletta (who later became the first pastor), Mikielang Scerri as secretary and Giuseppe Sammut, Gio Batta Muscat, Gaetano Lagresti, Giuseppe Muscat and Francesco Ellul as members. Fr.Valletta, though from Birkirkara, was already, since 1859, administering the chapel of Porto Salvo for the community through the agreement among Bishop Paceforno, Fr.Felic Grech rector of the said chapel and Count Nikola Sciberras Bologna, owner of the chapel. This maneuvering together with the personal ambitions of a certain Judge Giovanni Conti precipitated the commencement of the building process of the new church. The limits of territory at this time can be more understood if one considers that Fr.Valletta lived near the Porto Salvo church, which was in the limits of Birkirkara. Just across the road was the residence of Judge Conti (building still standing in the 1970s) was inside Qormi jurisdiction!

On the 2nd January 1861 a petition drawn up by judge Conti and signed by 205 individuals, was sent to Governor Gaspard le Marchant asking for a primary school for boys and girls, a new and larger church, and also the recognition of the area around Via San Giuseppe as an autonomous suburb. Neither the governor himself nor the Bishop were pleased with this petition, so on the 22nd November 1862 another petition was sent, this time to the Bishop and signed by two people asking for a new church, which could accommodate the population.

The Bishop was already negotiating with the Arch-confraternity of St.Paul Shipwrecked church of Valletta for an excellent plot of land near what is nowadays St.Paul square, facing Valletta, but for some reason or other the discussions did not come to fruition. Instead, another available plot called Ta Sajtun on the main road and about 750 meters further west was acquired by the government from Judge Conti in exchange for some property in Zejtun and given to the church authorities for the building of a new church. The contract can be seen among the government notarial documents of the 10th October 1868. This property looks north and is right on St.Joseph High Street. It is at the very base of Atocia hill and a lot of excavation had to be done at the back bringing the floor level of the sanctuary underground by about 5 meters. The architect chosen was Dr Giorgio Costantino Schinas, of Greek descent as some Greek details in particular sculpted areas of the inside of the church hint. He had qualifications from the Italian University of Torino and was for a time also Director of the Malta Public Works Department and was renowned for his designs for reservoirs. Moreover at that time he was also involved in the planning of a Railway passing through the area.

The cornerstone for this formidable temple was laid and blessed by Bishop Gaetano Paceforno on the 13th June 1869 after some changes were made to the plan shortening the projected church by a few meters at the back to save on excavation expenses and to reduce the time for completion. In fact Schinas cut the part behind the main altar short, making it semicircular and shallower than that of the original plans. The master stonemason for this project was Frangisk Spiteri from Rabat and the sum of $1000 was donated by the government to start off the building with the Bishop himself helping with out of pocket expenses to pay for a titular picture and the main altar. After the Parish church was opened, the tiny church of Porto Salvo was declared as Vice Parish.

Before we start to examine the building, it is wise to ponder over the ambiguity of having a church dedicated to St.Cajetan in a village still called 'Casale San Giuseppe' or village of St.Joseph. Moreover the intense devotion towards St.Joseph in the area brought with it the expectation that the new church would be dedicated to him. By choosing St.Cajetan as protector of Hamrun, Bishop Paceforno seemed to fly in the face of the wishes of the majority of the population. But in all fairness sake, there was nothing the Bishop could do but not dedicate it to St.Joseph. The reason for this dilemma was that in 1867, a few years earlier, he had just dedicated the Msida church to the Saint, moreover Msida and Hamrun those days had a common border. Maybe as some say he had already made up his mind about installing his namesake as patron Saint of Hamrun and not of Msida even before. But who could decipher the mind of a Bishop?

The people of Hamrun, realizing that this would in no way deter them from being devotees of St.Joseph, accepted the decision of the Bishop and St.Cajetan as their patron Saint. Before this, only a tiny chapel in the rural area of Wied il-Ghajn had been dedicated to him, and this when the Saint was still a Blessed. On the 11th July 1875, the new St.Cajetan church was hastily opened and blessed by Bishop Karmenu Scicluna. It was estimated to have cost $128,000 in this incomplete state. Here we can see the urgency for opening the church to the public because the dome had not been built as yet. The opening in the roof was closed off and made watertight and work on the embellishments and sculpting inside and out brought to a stop. There were still signs of unfinished work on the facade in the 1980's with places which did not match on both sides, a good example being the finished coat-of-arms below the clock and its plain counterpart on the other side. Even the belfries themselves, tall as they are, still stand unfinished with a flat top that originally was to take some kind of pointed capping.

The Vicar Curate Fr.Fortunat Valletta then started making the necessary appeals to the Ecclesiastical authorities, and in a few years, that is on the 1st December 1881, the same Bishop who had blessed the church, declared it an autonomous Parish church with limits and territory taken from the towns of Birkirkara, Qormi and Floriana. Fr.Valletta who had seen the temple being built from its foundations was installed as the first Pastor. Bishop Don Mauro Caruana consecrated it on the 26th September 1930. In a book describing Maltese churches and their contents published by Giuseppe Calleja a teacher of drawing at the Lyceum in 1881, the author writes about a 'New' church on St Joseph's road. This happens to be the same year that St.Cajetan's became a Parish Church and was open for only a few years.¨›

The shape of this temple is cruciform and its style neo-gothic with a beautiful vaulted ceiling not very common in the islands. It consists of a central nave flanked by two aisles, which meet the sanctuary in a transept. As already stated, the area behind the main altar is shallow and semi circular. The sacristy can be reached from the right aisle and opposite is a side door reached through a few steps going up to the steep street. The main measurements are: Length 43 meters and width 24.5 meters at the transept. Height of the belfries from the ground is 41 meters and the dome 44 meters while the roof of the church is 20 meters high. It must surely be the highest one in the islands with the two slender belfries and the still higher dome conspicuous for miles around. In the right belfry, which can be accessed through a long circular staircase from the back of the church, there are four bells. The largest of these was made in the foundries of Gulju Cauchi in 1889 and cost about $700. In the same location there is a reliable clock made in France in 1892 by the company Renard Ferriere Oise. It cost about $200 and was purchased by the Government. The left belfry is empty inside and the space is used for the storage of long poles, which form part of the feast decorations.

Right below the left belfry is the sculptured coat-of-arms of Bishop Gaetano Paceforno but though there seems to be another protrusion beneath the right belfry, there is no sculpture at all to this day. Further down below there is a statue of St Peter on the left and one of St Paul on the right. Between these, right over the main door archway, there is an elaborately carved space with three niches, which depict Hope, Faith and Charity in the form of three women. Left to Right: Hope holding an anchor, Faith holding the Holy Sacrament and the Cross, and Charity taking care of two little children.

In the 78 years since the church was opened, the dome had not yet been built. It took the initiative of pastor Fr.Nerik Cordina Perez to initiate its raising. On the 13th April 1953 its corner stone was laid. The plan is that of Andrea Vassallo as a winning design in a 1920s competition. Chev.Guze DAmato who made his own working drawings executed it. The Schinas plans had been long lost and only a sketch of the whole projected church existed. The master stonemason was Ganni Baldacchino who saw that it was ready in two years. It is constructed in a double dome cross-section and one of the most majestic in the island. At least the architect took care to match some of the details with the rest of the church especially the steeples. It was ceremoniously unveiled on the 20th April 1955 by Archbishop Mons.Michael Gonzi while the Hamrun Choir sang the Messiah Halleluiah chorus. At this time the dome was still bare stone and even the beautiful ceiling was still unpainted while most surfaces and ledges lacked sculpting.

So the next major embellishment of the church was carried out under the next pastor Fr.Matthew Chircop in the 1960s. Plain parts of the ledges, arches and fascia below the windows of the main nave were sculpted as well as some bas-reliefs added. The painting of the ceiling and the dome from inside was left in the hands of Chev.EmVin Cremona. Prophets, angels and saints took their places on the ceiling while the dome segments bore instances from the life of St.Cajetan. Cremona also repainted the Apse on top of the sanctuary to show St.Cajetan in the glory of Heaven. Actually Chev.Cremona and his wife Lilian lived among the people of Hamrun as refugees for the duration of WWII and it seems that he left his best workmanship for the church of the people who took in his family in their town in time of need.

It is well known how Maltese limestone deteriorates and erodes over the years especially if it is in a prominently exposed position. It is not surprising then that during the storm of 11th October 1982, in the early morning, part of a pillar in one of the belfries fell down to the street below right on the spot where later on during the day hawkers would set up their trades. This brought to light the poor condition of the masonry in this area and was looked into right away for safety. The architect, who for this renovation project was Italo Raniolo, was obliged to order the replacement of about forty pillars and for this dangerous job, master stonemason Kalcidon Calleja was called. He finished the work in about two years and while they were at it, it was decided to finish off the missing sculpture.

As soon as the work on the belfries was finished, on inspecting the dome itself, it was found that the lantern or topmost structure needed repairs too necessitating the replacement of some more pillars. This was another delicate task, which was given to the same twosome, architect and stonemason, who worked on the belfries. This job was finished in 1986.

Again in 2010 a lot of deterioration inside and outside of the dome was remedied once and for all after an aggressive fund raising campaign.

Up to the early 1970s the church used to have eleven altars, but according to the changes made after Vatican II Council norms, the ones in the aisles were dismantled and replaced with beautifully crafted confessionals. The canvases were left, and so were four altars, two on each side of the transept. The main changes can be seen in the main Sanctuary itself where the old rite altar was replaced with a square shaped open modern one made of white marble. The tabernacle was installed on a black marble pillar behind it with two white marble full size angels flanking it on each side. The original golden bejeweled tabernacle door was kept and incorporated in the new location. Actually the gold and jewels on the inside of the Tabernacle door came from votive gifts that used to hang around the necks of the figures on the Titular statue. These were taken off to show that St.Cajetan actually lived a poor life and had given away all his worldly riches. Chev.EmVin Cremona also did the designs for the new altar and the Tabernacle stand. Seeing the old side altars being broken up must have been very traumatic for some who would have rather been still living in the pre-Vatican II era. But the Church moves on with the times and so must the faithful in every town or village including Hamrun.

The inside of the church needed restoration in the mid 1990s. The windows of the main nave were rotting and were in need of complete replacement, even the Chev.Cremona ceiling was deteriorating and had to be restored. This work was started in 2008 and together with other work on the dome outside and restoration of the ceiling paintings inside, was finished just in time for the feast of the Saint in 2012.

After this, volunteers took up the painting of the walls, a project that they scheduled to be finish by 2015.

Tomb: About a century ago there was still permission to bury Pastors who passed away in tenure, in a tomb in the main aisle of the church close to the sanctuary. The one at this parish church contains the remains of the first three Pastors, that is: Father Fortunat Valletta 1881-1895; Father Joseph Muscat 1897-1828; Father Cajetan Mifsud 1929-1933.

Works of art abound in this parish church. The Italian painter Chev.Pietro Gagliardi painted the titular picture in the studio of his Palazzo Giustiniani studio in Rome. It was shipped to Malta and was installed in place in 1875 in time for the feast of St.Cajetan and cost $320.00, a hefty sum in those days. Bishop Gaetano Paceforno commissioned this painting on the advice of Mons.Paolo Pullicino who was a friend of Gagliardi and whose niece studied under the artist. Bishop Paceforno also paid for the main altar and the presbytery. The titular scene shows St.Cajetan receiving Baby Jesus from Mary.

There also exist two narrow paintings, which used to hang one on each side of the titular, one showing the Saint being tortured and the other receiving the Brief from Pope Clement. These two canvases, the work of Prof.G.Briffa, were removed at the same time of updating after Vatican II, and were placed at the back of the side aisles in the church. Our Lady of Sorrows was also painted by Pietro Gagliardi in 1880, the same artist who did the titular picture for the church in Hamrun while St.Benedict & St Scholastica is by the hand of the painter Giuseppe di Giovanni of Palermo Sicily, painted in 1878. Guze Bonnici painted Our Lady of the Rosary with St.Raphel and St.Aloysius Gonzaga in 1881. The renowned Maltese painter Giuseppe Cali who painted another canvas of the vision of St.Cajetan for the Mellieha Parish church, also painted St Joseph (in 1884), whom he depicted with sackcloth on his head and carrying Baby Jesus, also Our Lady of Consolation (also known as Our Lady of Carmel) (1878) and Our Lady of Doctrine (1885) are by CaliíńŰs hand. Anna Forte of Rome did the painting of Sta Apollonia (1874),¨›and Domenicho Bruschi of Rome did the painting of St.Anthony in 1884. Ramiro Cali painted the original Apse, which was painted over by Chev.Cremona. In the church itself there is also another painting of Our Lady of Lourdes from the 19th century, of unknown provenance.¨›In 1932,¨›Chev Raphael Bonnici did The Agony of San Gejtanu, which now lies in the parish hall and is exhibited in the church during the feast days. In the Sacristy one can find some smaller paitings depicting the founding bishops Gaetano Paceforno and Carmelo Scicluna, and also some of the past parish priests. Smaller paintings in ornate frames called Sottoquadri, which used to stand on the side altars underneath the large canvasses, now hang in the ante room to the sacristy. Also in the sacristy one can find a small picture by an anonymous painter, of Blessed Ignatio Falzon one of the three Maltese beatified by Pope John Paul II in Malta. In 2014, after a meticulous study by the professional restorers Prevati, the restoration of all the main paintings in the church was started because all of them needed urgent repair. The founder of Prevati is from Hamrun and was entrusted with the project authorized by both church and civil authorities. The restoration was scheduled to take two years and cost 65,000 Euros.

The ceiling and the dome on the inside, were painted right after the dome itself was inaugurated in the 1950s by Chev. EmVin Cremona. Twelve apostles can be seen on the ceiling, and also angels in the triangular areas above the windows. Instances from the life of St.Cajetan are shown around the inside of the dome. About the same time that the dome and ceiling were being decorated, in the four triangular concave spaces (where the arches of the transept and those of the Choir and main nave meet the base of the dome), the images of four doctors of the church were installed. These are bas-reliefs in stucco made to resemble stone sculptures and are surrounded with gold mosaic. They are by Profs. J.Spiteri Sacco. Also at this time, the escutcheon bearing the Hamrun coat of arms and motto which lies on the rim of the dome above the sanctuary, was painted and gilded as were some bas relief of crowns and lilies all around the ceiling.

Statues used by the church in various celebrations and processions can be found both inside and outside the church (during the festa), but of all these, the masterpiece is the statue of St.Cajetan which, like in the Gagliardi titular painting, shows the Saint in his vision receiving Baby Jesus from Mary. It was made by Karlu (Karlozzu) Darmanin from Senglea in his workshop on St.Joseph Road Santa Venera (then still part of Hamrun) between 1885 and 1888, and cost 100 scudi, in todays money a ridiculous sum of $500, but a fortune for the time. It is said that because the church already had the statue of St.Joseph standing with the Child Jesus in his arms, Fr.Valletta and others did not want that of St.Cajetan in the same pose. Since the work of Mr.Darmanin was usually massive, he agreed even though they changed details in his bozzetto many times. This prolific craftsman produced many works for most of the towns and villages of Malta and it figures that he made most of our statues. The pedestal for this statue, is the work of Giovanni Farrugia from Hamrun and the bradella or detachable platform which is used for carrying the statue in procession, built on the design of Anthony Sciortino.

As already hinted upon in the History of Hamrun chapter, the people of 'Casale San Giuseppe' thought that with all the devotion to St.Joseph the new church would be dedicated to him and so they commissioned a beautiful statue finished in 1873, as can be seen, predating the one of the future Patron Saint. This they still take out in procession on his feast day. It is probably the work of K.Darmanin too. The statue of Our Lady of Sorrows by Darmanin brings many devotees and is brought out of its niche on the feast day close to Holy Week. The statue of Our Lady of the Rosary was made by him for the church of Sacro Cuor of Sliema where they have another one with very similar features. The church is also proud to possess a beautiful statue of The Redeemer and another smaller bust of the Ecce Homo in a niche. Karlu Darmanin also made both of these. The features of his statue of Christ the Redeemer fallen under the cross are very natural and this statue is brought out of its niche on certain feast days. It used to belong to the Good Friday set belonging to the church of Ta' Giezu in Valletta and nowadays it is taken out in procession for Good Friday. Another life size figure of the Crucified Christ, which has articulated arms and which used to be brought down from the cross during Good Friday Liturgy with excellent spiritual effect on the congregation. Other statues are Our Lady of Lourdes and another one of St Francis with Sts.Elizabeth and Ludovic beside him.

Smaller statues of the Four Evangelists stand permanently in niches at the back of the church under the organ loft above the inner door. Our statues are mostly papier-mache especially those which have to be taken out in procession and moved around. On the 17th December 2009 a statue of Saint Gorg Preca, Malta's first Saint, was unveiled near the East side door. It was on this spot in an old confessional that he used to spend hours administering the Sacrament of Reconciliation. St George Preca, who founded the Society of Christian Doctrine (MUSEUM), lived and served in Hamrun for most of his priestly life. The statue was unveiled and blessed by Archbishop Mgr Paul Cremona. The bronze statue, made in Caggiati, Parma is the work of sculptor Gianni Bonnici. Parish Priest Henry Balzan thanked all benefactors and said that while Dun Gorg did not wish for monuments, and did not need them, the people of Hamrun wished to show their gratitude for his service and wanted to recall him forever. Dun Gorg died in 1962 and was canonized by Pope Benedict in June 2007.

The Antiporta or inner door is in itself a work of art. It was crafted on Chev.E.Cremona plans in the 1980s and incorporates a very old original gilded pelmet. The doors to the Sacristy have beautiful carvings of emblems of St.Cajetan, which are: the Cross, the open Bible and lily branches. Other items worth noting are the commemorative marble plaques one on a wall commemorating Pastor Cordina Perez and another which was installed recently on the outside of the church to commemorate those from Hamrun fallen during WWII.

In earlier times, the massive columns in St Cajetan church, like in other parish churches, used to be covered in damask for the feast. There is still a set of seven beautiful crystal chandeliers with an angel hanging onto the top of each one. Hanging from one of the arches, which support the dome, there is a precious¨› olid silver votive oil lamp 'lampier'. Again, like the chandeliers it is now hanging there permanently. Some smaller gilded and silver statues used to adorn the backs of the altars in between the huge candlesticks. Some were refurbished and are still put up for the feast days. The Baptismal font which used to stand at back of the church, was brought up in the transept near the sanctuary. It shows the Baptism of Jesus and is in white marble.

First Centenary festivities.During the tenure of Fr.Joseph Pace as pastor of St.Cajetan parish Hamrun that is in the year 1981, the church celebrated the first centenary of its inception as parish.

Fr.Pace, wanting to do everything the right way and give everyone a chance for input, called a meeting of those people who deserved to be involved on the 1st July 1980 with more than a year before the actual date, giving ample time for preparations. At this meeting he announced his intentions to form a central committee with another five sub-committees reporting to it. He headed the central committee as president and the sub-committees covered the areas of: 1.Secretariat and Publicity; 2.Finances; 3.Mission; 4.Cultural and Civic, and 5.Liturgical celebrations and Outside festivities.

All groups and authorities were represented as for example when the religious groups had representation in the Mission sub committee and both band clubs were represented in the Cultural and Civic, and Festivities sub committees. Even the Education Department of Malta had its representative in the Cultural / Civic sub committee while every particular area of Hamrun sent representation in the Liturgy and Outside festivities section.
The Central Committee usually met on Tuesdays and the sub committees then reported what work had been done. The main committee met more than 18 times in all. It was decided to spread out the festivities in three weeks starting on Saturday 15th November 1981 and concluding on Sunday 6th December, the actual day of the centenary being Tuesday 1st December 1981.

The actual program had been printed and nearly everyone was happy with the spread of events that were going to take place. But the worries of the committees were not over yet because the government, out of the blue, announced a date for general elections, and it was going to clash with the festivities. Actually the problem was not the date itself but the attitudes still fomenting in Hamrun at the time.

The antagonism between the two bands had not been settled yet. From its beginning, each band had affiliated itself to a political party and the two bands found themselves on opposite sides. The Pastor in his wisdom did not want any catastrophic end to all festivities, so in the light of the situation, within the Central Committee he decided to drop those events where the bands were involved especially activities that involved passing in festive manner in front of each club playing marches. Incidents used to crop up every feast day while this was happening, some even involving the police force... Not this time... The committee even cancelled the procession with the incoming relics that had to pass in front of premises of the band clubs.

The program otherwise went quite smoothly especially with the inside Liturgy celebrations. The first week was dedicated to the Spiritual aspect, presenting a modern style mission among the parishioners. On the opening day, a procession with the Blessed Sacrament was held starting from the parish church of the Immaculate Conception to the St.Cajetan parish church where after opening speeches, a concelebrated Mass by all the local clergy was held. The statue of St.Cajetan was taken out of its niche and placed in its festive place. The rest of the week there were Masses with the individual parish groups, and exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. Saturday 21st, being the feast of the Presentation of Mary, the old Icon was brought down from Atocia church to St.Cajetan for the veneration of the population. The Sunday solemn feast of Christ the King saw a manifestation of faith in a procession involving most every group in Hamrun.

The second week was dedicated to the Civic aspect with all kinds of social and cultural occasions like indoor sports tournaments in the clubs, a slide show and a quiz about the history of the parish and also in the Oratory, an exhibition of past experiences of the town. A special Mass was celebrated with special emphasis and sermons on Marriage and modern attitudes while another Mass concentrated on the penitential rite. On Sunday the 29th, the Relics of St.Cajetan arrived from Italy with the Theatine Superior general Fr.Tucci and Fr.Giugliani from Naples. The relics which consisted of a letter in the actual handwriting of the Saint, one of his molar teeth and a piece of his walking stick, were to be received in pomp and procession but as stated, the entry was subdued though solemn.

The Liturgical aspect was emphasized in the third week, and on the first day a new Baptistery was inaugurated. On Tuesday the 1st December which was the actual Centenary day, a concelebrated Mass with the Archbishop and priests of the parish was held. Among dignitaries present was the President of the Republic of Malta Anton Buttigieg.

After Mass a Te Deum was sung in thanksgiving. Next day was a concelebrated Mass with the pastors of the Parishes from which Hamrun sprang and also of those which came out of it namely: Birkirkara, Qormi and Floriana. Sta Venera, Marsa, Kuncizzjoni and Gwardamangia. There was also a huge reception in a hall which use of facilities was donated by the owner for the occasion. Liturgy also took the form of First Communion, Confirmation and a special Mass for the sick of the parish.

On the 6th December, closing celebrations were held inside the church. An 8:00am Folk Mass for youth was celebrated and another Solemn Pontifical Mass at 8:45am with the Hamrun Choir singing. But the closing Mass at 5:00pm brought many a tear to the eyes of those present. All the priests of the parish concelebrated with the Theatine visitors Fr.Tucci and Fr.Giugliani, then the relics were brought to the altar and a solemn hymn of thanksgiving sung. After a blessing with the relics, the Theatines paused in front of St.Cajetan statue before exiting from the church on their way back home.