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Title: Relics and reliquaries in the diocese of Malta during the baroque period 1600-1798
Authors: Vella, Edgar
Keywords: Relics -- Malta
Reliquaries -- Malta
Christian saints -- Cult -- Malta
Issue Date: 2013
Abstract: The evolution of the cult of the saints and the veneration of their relics has been rooted in the history of the Church since the dawn of Christianity. In the first centuries show how the early Christians cherished with great reverence the remains of the witnesses of Christ, the heroes of faith, calling them saints. With the cult of the saints emerged the first cellæ or memoriæ, small open chapels which were erected on the tombs of the martyrs. Following the end of the persecutions, the small modest monuments over the graves were transformed into magnificent basilicas many of which were adorned with marble and material removed from the ancient temples of the 'old' gods. When the remains of the saints started being transferred into the cities to rest with dignity within the walls of the holy edifices, the urge to acquire relics of the saints became an inexhaustible activity for the many churches seeking the protection and intercession of the patron saint. The great activity to acquire holy relics brought about the need to manufacture superb reliquaries to conserve the poor and humble bones of the holy men and women who had laid their lives for faith in Christ or those who had suffered for having confessed their faith publicly. The introduction and transportation of relics in the diocese of Malta occurred very late. With the arrival of the Knight Hospitallers of the Order of St John in 1530, Malta received the first corpus of relics which was treasured with great pride in Fort St Angelo. Subsequently various parishes in the diocese of Malta incessantly sought with incessant initiatives to acquire and conserve as many relics as possible for their churches. Rome was the major source from where hundreds of relics reached our shores. During the Baroque period, the diocese of Malta was involved in a frantic activity to acquire relics and eventually commission splendid reliquaries to house these relics. Reliquaries of different materials and typology embellished the local churches and mesmerized the faithful who flocked towards the liturgical celebrations focusing around the rituals of the cult of the saints. This phenomenon reached its climax during the eighteenth century with sumptuous festivities many of which lasted for eight days, days of rituals, music, illuminations and fireworks. Although the heydays of these mega-celebrations with corpi santi being translated solemnly in various towns and villages diminished by the mid-nineteenth century, the local feasts of the patron saints remained as sumptuous as ever. This is the pulse of a people who cherished these traditions from one generation to another and seek to make the annual titular feast holy, colourful and noisy as ever.
Description: S.TH.D.
Appears in Collections:Dissertations - FacThe - 2013

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