The 600th anniversary of the advent of the Carmelite friars in Malta (1418 - 2018)
Some Maltese historians maintain that the Carmelites came to Malta before 1418, however there is no documentation to sustain this. In the book by the Carmelite Friar Seraphin Abela written in 1993, entitled 'The first Carmelites in Malta - The Old Annunciation (Lunzjata l - qadima) (1418-1659)' he states that the first document that we come across and that indirectly proves the advent of the Carmelites in Malta is the will of Noble woman Margarita d'Aragona di Pellegrino.
On the 5th June 1418, Lady Margarita d'Aragona, a good, generous woman, of royal blood hailing from the family of Aragon, wife of the dead Noble man Giacomo di Pellegrino made her will before the notary Antonio Azzopardo. In it she left as universal heirs her two daughters Francia and Cesarea. The first was married to Ludovico di Plozasco and the other to a Noble man from the de la Habica family. She left as the executors of her will Ludovico di Plozasco and Giacomo de la Habica, her grandson, along with Fr Cataldo Cusburella who at the time was parish priest of the Cathedral.
After leaving many pious legacies in her will Lady Margarita added: "I also leave the church of Our Lady of the Annunciation that I re-built at the place called and known as ‘Santo Leonardo’. For the maintenance of the same church, and, to purchase the vestments and ornaments, namely books, chalices, sacred clothing, frames, crosses, the marble of the altar and other items needed for the same church, as well as for covering the living expenses and helping the priests or those who accept to recite the Divine Office in the same church, I leave all the land that I possess in Santo Leonardo...".
Lady Margarita d'Aragona died a few days later in the month of June 1418. We do not have records that stipulate the date when the executors granted the church to the Carmelites but what we know for certain is that in 1441 there already was a Carmelite community formed at ‘Lunzjata’ and that the Prior was Maltese. It appears therefore that the friars had been established in Malta for a number of years. Nonetheless, we hold 1418 as the symbolic date of the advent of our Order in Malta.
The works carried out in Malta by the Carmelite friars
Among the many friars and religious Carmelites we find many who are still mentioned to this day for; the sanctity of their life, the wisdom that God endowed them with and the apostolic work that they carried out.
Let us start by mentioning sanctity of life. There were various friars and religious that were renowned among people for their sanctity. They would see them praying and constantly focusing on the presence of God. Among these is Fr Avertan Fenech whose case for Beatification is currently underway.
We also find many learned friars who used to teach at the University of Malta as well as in Universities abroad. Among these is the poet of Our Lady, Fr Anastasio Cuschieri. There still are friars who teach in Universities around the world as well as work in the Vatican. Many have also written books to help educate people, such as Fr Lawrence Sammut. The Carmelites also published a magazine called ‘Il-Karmelu’ (The Carmel) to spread the Carmelite charism in our islands. It has been in publication since 1935.
Over the past 600 years the Carmelites have done a lot of appostolic work on our Island and away from our shores. Many are the friars who are known for their preaching, hearing confessions and offering people spiritual guidance. The religious Carmelites to this day strive to spread the devotion towards the scapular of Carmel. Over the years many Maltese have enrolled in the scapular. Moreover they built a Sanctuary dedicated to Our Lady of Mount Carmel which many a family have visited while presenting their children to the Virgin Mary. The friars also built a school now called St Elias College to help children and our youth in their Christian and Civil education. Today the Carmelites serve 4 parishes, the Priory of Mdina and the old Santa Venera Priory, the ‘Lunzjata’ retreat house in the limits of Rabat, in addition to their mission in Bolivia where they have been for several years.
As part of the celebrations commemorating the 600th anniversary these are some of the events that took place in Malta.
On the 4th of April 2018, on Wednesday of the Octave of Easter and the first Wednesday of the audience of Our Lady, the Consecration of the Basilica Sanctuary of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Valletta was held by Mgr. Charles J. Scicluna, Archbishop of Malta.
On Monday the 9th of April, 2018 the transferred Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord the re-opening of the House of Prayer 'Lunzjata' in the limits of Rabat, Malta was held.
On 30th May a national retreat for Maltese Carmelite Tertiaries was held by the former Prior Provincial Fr Sandro Vella O.Carm and Alex Scerri O.Carm the National Assistant of the Tertiaries.
And on the 16th of July, 2018 the Solemn Commemoration of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Carmel in Valletta led by Fr Fernando Millán Romeral Prior General of Our Order was held.
I would like to end this article by thanking God from whom all good things come, the Virgin Mary, our Mother and Patron, who was present with us and directed us over these centuries, and last but not least the brothers who came before us and left us a great spiritual, apostolic and cultural legacy.
Fr. Hermann Duncan O.Carm