My dear explorers, welcome back in my blog!

Did you know that in Malta and Gozo there are in total 359 churches?

For being such small islands this number of churches confirms the huge devotion that the Maltese and Gozitan people have for God, the Saints and the Holy Family and also the importance that the church has for being a place of socialisation for many people, especially if you consider the rural chapels. In fact, the “church” or “ecclesia” (“chiesa” in Italian) was historically considered as a community of people in spiritual connection with God. Moreover, it is during the main two festivities for the Catholic calendar, Christmas and Easter, that devotees can express their feeling of gratitude and respect, sharing with other members the message of joy and hope that these feasts bring with them.

In Malta and her sister island, the Christian tradition is still alive and it is one of the few places in the world where more than nineteen villages organize the Holy Week Procession to commemorate on the Good Friday the Passion of Jesus Christ.

In this article I’m going to tell you more about my experience of the Qormi’s Holy Week Procession, this is the “Behind the Scenes of Qormi’s Holy Procession”…

It is early morning, at the St George Church in Qormi, one of the oldest church in Malta and the volunteers are already in action.

You can see a group of volunteers moving the heavy statues and setting up the “Last Supper”…

Others are preparing the decorations and the Passion symbols to bring along the procession, while some are carefully restoring the statues details, everything must be realistic!

In Malta they are always ready to make you feel welcomed and a coffee is made with love, for Flora the Explorer 🙂

It was lovely to see the volunteers showing me the old pictures of the procession, when they used to take part in their younger years! Thanks for sharing your memories with me!

The Good Friday Procession is like a theatrical representation of the story of the life of Jesus before his Passion and of His Death, so that on the Easter Sunday Mass the devotees can celebrate with a Feast of Joy Christ’s Resurrection.

Participating in the Procession is a deep experience for Christians, as well as tourists and fascinating for non religious people to get in contact with the culture, the traditions and the Easter Spirit so well represented by the Maltese.  

The locals participate in the pageant dressed up in Roman costumes or as shepherds, you can also see Jewish priests. The Band follows the slowly walking of the procession with funeral marches while the crowd assists in prayer.

The main characters of the Passion representation are the Statues thanks to which the Procession is a genuine story telling of the various stages that brought Christ to the Cross, as His ultimate gesture of unconditional love, abandon of any Ego and final surrender of God’s Will.

I was curious to discover more about the statues and their story as well as their iconography, so the volunteers of the St George Church welcomed me and let me have a look at the preparation.

I had a young guide who explained to me the sequences of the Passion statues, Nathaniel. This fourteen years old boy with his sweet words in his simplicity told me the story of Jesus, His doubts, the Agony, the pain suffered by St Mary, so that I was moved by Nathaniel genuine heart!

Here you can watch the Video with the young volunteer Nathaniel.

Then another volounter, Matthew, introduced me to an expert of the History of Malta and in particular of the Qormi procession, Dr Joseph Grima (pictured below), who kindly not only answered my curiosities about the statues but gave me his book about the procession and some of the pictures that you will see below.

Dr Grima how old is the Qormi Good Friday procession?

“The Qormi Good Friday Procession originated over 250 years ago. Actually, the Rabat (Malta) procession still includes what is considered to be the oldest processional statue still in use: it is a wooden sculpture depicting The Scourging at the Pillar and it was very probably imported from Sicily about four centuries ago” (in the picure below). 

“Originally the processions used to be a votive and penitential processions without costumes and probably started off with just one or two statues and then progressively increased their number as the years wore on”.

With what the statues are made of?

“The first local statues were made of wood and in the seventeenth century were dressed mannequins with real clothes each of which consisted of a head, arms and hands, and feet normally carved in wood but that were progressively replaced by papier-mâché”.  “Vittoriosa is perpetuating a very old Maltese tradition of having dressed-up statues”, as the Statue of the Crucifixion in the picture below.

“Another type of material used was stucco. A beautiful still-existent exemplar is the statue of Our Lady of Sorrows at the Qormi Parish of St George whose bust – including the shoulders and upper chest – and hands are made of stucco but within a papier-mâché dress”.

Dr Grima how many statues take part to the Procession?

Up till the end of the eighteenth century, a complete set of statues developed into the traditional eight components or episodes of the Passion which have remained an integral part of all processions.

The Episodes are: 

1. The Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane (so called in Maltese “l-Ort”): Christ with one angel bearing in his hands the symbolic chalice and small cross.

 

“2. The Scourging at the Pillar (in Maltese “Il-Marbut”): the lone figure of Christ tied to a small column, in front of Him or behind Him, after He had been scourged by the Roman soldiery. In the pictures you can see the old Qormi statue of the Eighteen Century (the third in sequence) and the Valletta statue”. 
“3. Ecce Homo, or The Coronation with Thorns; a lone figure of Christ, standing or seated on a low pillar, with a crown of thorns on His head, a silver or golden reed in His hands and draped in a red mantle normally made of fine cloth or velvet with a gold border and sometimes, with a Passion symbol woven in gold. Because of this mantle, this statue is also known as Tal-Porpra. In the pictures the old Qormi statue and the present one”.
“4. Christ Falling under the Cross: the lone figure of Jesus is shown carrying the cross but falling under its burden while he tries to steady Himself with one hand on a rock. This statue is also known locally as Ir-Redentur, or The Redeemer” A curiosity about this statue is that during the restoration in 1986 the volunteers found an older statue of the Eighteen Century inside the present one, which is still conserved inside. 
“5. Veronica; a holy woman, not mentioned in the gospels, reputed to have wiped the face of Jesus on the way to Calvary. Tradition holds that the image of His face remained on her veil and she is depicted thus in Passion statues”. In the gallery below you can see the Qormi Statue (first and second pictures), the Valletta Veronica and the Zejtun at the end.
“6. The Crucifixion: a group of four statues showing Christ nailed to the cross, either dead or in his last moments, Mary Magdalen with her arms round the base of the cross and Our Lady and St John the Evangelist looking on. Since it was the largest statuary group, it was referred to as Il-Vara l-Kbira  (literally The Large Statue)”.
“7. Christ laid to Rest: the figure of the Dead Christ in a richly decorated urn and canopy normally shown with angels at the four corners. It is locally known as Il-Monument, literally The Monument”.

In the pictures you can also see the Valletta statue at the end.

“8. Our Lady of Sorrows, know us “id-Duluri”: the sorrowing Mother is shown under a cross comforted by a small angel, or St John the Evangelist, holding passion symbols. More often than not, Gozitan statues show a standing Madonna without a cross. This is the oldest of the Qormi’s statue”.

“Traditionally “id-Duluri” statue is also brought out on procession one week before Good Friday marking the beginning of the Holy Week.

In the pictures you can also see the Valletta statue (the fourth) and the Ghaxaq statue at the end.

Dr Grima also explained that the Qormi procession is one of the largest and most comprehensive procession in the islands with 12 statues.  In fact in 1908 was added the Betrayal of Judas and in 1961 The Last Supper (featuring only in Qormi) and Jesus meets His Mother.
Afterwards, in 1965 was added the “Deposition”, so called “Pietà”, the beautiful group of statues which evocate the Michelangelo Pietà with the Holy Mother holding Jesus Christ on her lap.
At the end of my interview with Dr Grima, who I thank from my heart for having shared with me some of his pictures that you can see in this article and his knowledge and passion for the Qormi procession, my friend Nathaniel took me to see the church from a higher point of view, the balcony… wow!

Flora the Explorer also went on top of the Church 😉 My legs were shaking to be honest but Nathaniel helped me and it was worth it: a stunning view from the bell tower was the perfect end of this amazing experience with the volunteers of the Qormi St George Parish Church!

Thanks to everyone!