|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 at the time, started to feel the need for a new temple in the Hamrun area to accommodate the increase in numbers. The two churches existing in the latter part of the 1800s, that is the tiny church of Porto Salvo on the main road and that of Tas-Samra 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 notes 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) but this 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 Archconfraternity in 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 Rd. It is at the very base of Samra 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 he was also involved in the planning of the Railway when it was built.|
|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 that in 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 of the new church being 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 $128000 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 come 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. It was Cosecrated by Bishop Don Mauro Caruana 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.
Please see the actual scans of the title page and the pertinent page below.
|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. 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.
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 first stone was laid. The plan is that of Chev.Guze DAmato since the Schinas plans had been lost and only a sketch of the whole projected church existed.
Below: Original Schinas sketch; Dome being built; Side elevation and cross-section of dome; Finished dome
|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 Halleluia chorus. At this time the dome was still bare stone and even the beautiful ceiling was still unpainted while many 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 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 his family in their town in time of need. 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. The designs for the new altar and the Tabernacle stand were also done by Chev.EmVin Cremona.||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.|
|Top Left: Main altar around 1900s set up for Eucharistic Adoration.
Left: The Parish Church of St.Cajetan in the 1950's decked with damask for the feast of the Saint.
Right: An early picture of the main altar before the side painted panels were installed.
Below: The Main Altar of the pre- Vatican II era.
|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.
The inside of the church needed restoration in the mid 1990s. The windows of the main nave were rotting and needed to be replaced completely, even the Chev.Cremona ceiling was deteriorating and had to be restored. Up to the summer of 2006 this work was still in progress, but taking into account where the money is coming from, one cannot but praise all the benefactors in Hamrun.
Again around 2008 it was found that the dome needed more work on the outside and restoration of the paintings inside. The work done was inaugurated just before the feast of the Saint in 2012.
|Left: Scaffolding for restoration work (May 2010)
Right: Information for the public and parishioners.
Below: Deteriorating stone railing.
|Some particular comments about the facade of the church:
Right under 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 are Hope holding an anchor, Faith holding the Holy Sacrament and the Cross and Charity taking care of two little children.
|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 titular picture was done by the Italian painter Chev.Pietro Gagliardi (self-portrait left) in 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. This painting was commissioned by Bishop Gaetano Paceforno 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. This happened to the Saint in a vision on Christmas eve of 1517 at the Basilica of Sta.Maria Maggiore in Rome. Please read all about St.Cajetan in my other project San Gaetano.|
|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.
See picture of the inside of the church, pre- Vatican II, further up
|Our Lady of Sorrows below left, was also painted by Pietro Gagliardi, the same artist who did the titular picture for the church in Hamrun while St.Benedict below right, is by the hand of the painter Giovanni di Giovanni of Palermo Sicily.|
|Guze Bonnici painted Our Lady of the Rosary with St.Raphael below left, and St.Aloysius Gonzaga below right.|
|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 whom he depicted with sackcloth on his head and carrying Baby Jesus, Our Lady of the Cinture (also known as Our Lady of Carmel) and Our Lady of Doctrine. Pictures below.|
|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. See apse in colour on right. 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, small picture on right, which lies on the rim of the dome above the sanctuary, was painted and gilded as were some bas reliefs of crowns and lilies all around the ceiling.
Anna Forte of Rome did the painting of Sta Apollonia below left, and the painting of St.Anthony below right was done by D.Bruschi of Rome in 1884.
|Chev Rafel Bonnici Cali painted the original Apse which was painted over by Chev.Cremona
Picture above right in B&W is the original one by Rafel Bonnici Cali.
This painter who was a descendant of Giuseppe Cali, also painted the Agony of St.Cajetan which used to hang in the sacristy and is now brought out into the church for the feast days. Picture Below.
|In the church itself there is also another painting of Our Lady of Lourdes.
|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. Please see these in the chapter about Pastors and 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.|
|The ceiling and the dome on the inside, were painted right after the dome itself was inaugurated in the 1950s. As already mentioned, the painting is the work of 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. Please click HERE to see a set of E.Cremona's ceiling paintings in this church.|
|Statues used by the church in various celebrations 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 (On Left) 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 most of our statues were made by him.|
|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 Anthony Sciortino’Äôs design.|
|As hinted upon earlier 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 took out in procession on his feast day as recently as the 1950s. It is probably the work of K.Darmanin too. on right.....|
|The statue of Our Lady of Sorrows by Karlu Darmanin Far left, 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 immidiate left, 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. Both of these were also made by Karlu Darmanin. 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. 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.|
|Redeemer close up|
|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. Above. 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 Gorg, 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 was made in Caggiati, Parma. It 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 for ever.
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.|
|Karlu Darmanin who fashioned the titular statue was the author of other statues for Hamrun which are used as part of the exterior decorations during the St.Cajetan feast. Among these is one with the young Cajetan accompanying his mother. Another was the triumph of the Saint over the teachings of Martin Luther. This statue showed St.Cajetan in black raising a cross in his right hand and holding a book in the other.|
|Left with his mother.
Right in triumph.
|There is a story behind the latter. Originally it used to depict the triumph of San Gejtanu over the teachings of Martin Luther who, in the statue lay upside down shown like a devil under the feet of our Saint.
With the post Vatican II teachings and the rapprochement between the Catholics and Lutherans, this depiction was now out of place. In the 1980's the antagonism between the two band clubs of Hamrun was at a peak. The pastor of that time thought it fit to adapt the statue and instead of the figure of Luther, the two banners of the clubs were placed at his feet. Again in the 1990s, the statue which used to be carried by each band, (alternating every year) to a suitable stand near the square in the course of the festivities, was destroyed by fanatics. It is now replaced with the one shown further up, with the Saint standing upon a cloud and surrounded by cherubs. Evolution of Karlu Darmanin's statue Left.
|A beautiful new outside statue of St Cajetan in priestly garb was inaugurated for the 2012 feast. This was set up for the first time close to Blata l-Bajda right across from the entrance to the old Radio City theatre.|
|In olden days, the massive columns in St Cajetan church, like in other parish churches, used to be covered in Damask for the feast. Nowadays this is out of fashion and moreover the Bishops have asked the parishes to keep decoration down to a minimum. But 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 solid silver votive oil lamp 'lampier'. Again, like the chandeliers it is now hanging there permanently. Chandelier and silver oil lamp left.|
|Some smaller gilded and silver statues used to adorn the backs of the altars in between the huge candle sticks. Some were refurbished and are still put up for the feast days.|
|The Baptismal font at the back of the church shows the Baptism of Jesus and is in white marble. It stands in the space under the right belfry.|
|Since the 60s, a modern style crib was being set up in front of the Oratory with the figures of the Holy Family and a couple of angels. The background which is flat and round, has stars which light up and some clouds. It was designed by Chevalier EmVin Cremona.|