Thursday, January 6, 2005:
Three Portrait Paintings by Maltese Artist Raymond Pitre’
Three new large paintings have been added to the already prestigious collection of portraits that adorn the recently renovated hall which, in 1998, became the “new” sacrestia maior of St George’s Basilica.
The three new paintings were commissioned by Archpriest Joseph Farrugia following two others that had been acquired by the basilica in 2003. The first one, that of Blessed Adeodata Pisani of St Peter’s Benedictine Monastery, Mdina, was donated by relatives living abroad.
Blesseds George Preca and Adeodata Pisani
The painting of Blessed Mgr George Preca, was commissioned in 2002 and funded by Ms Pauline Grech, an active and prominent member of the female section of the Society of Christian Doctrine founded by the subject. The male section of this Catholic association, founded by “Dun Gorg”, as he was widely known, to work in the field of catechesis, and still very active in the Parish, had started in Gozo within St George’s Parish in the 1940s.
The two paintings have received vast praise. Preca’s portrait is considered one of his finest depictions on the islands.
Three New Portraits
The idea of acquiring other works by the same artist started from these two paintings as well as two others of archpriests Mgr Emanuel Mercieca and Mgr Saviour Borg. Moreover it was felt that the two portraits of the three Maltese Blesseds needed completion by commissioning one for Ignatius Falzon, a cleric who lived in Valletta, Malta, between 1813 and 1865.
It was also decided that the Gozitan servant of God, by the name of Mother Margaret Debrincat (1862-1952), who is on her way to beatification, should also have her portrait alongside the three Blesseds. Born in the then outlying area of Kercem, Mother Debrincat was baptised at St George’s parish church and, as a young professed religious, practically re-founded her order of nuns within the same parish.
The portrait of Fr Paul Micallef (1897-1956) arose out of the consideration of his significant pastoral activity amongst Gozitan youth and his exemplary holiness. “Dun Pawl”, as he was affectionately called, was also a spiritual son of St George’s where he was baptised and nurtured, and subsequently performed his priestly activity. It was Dun Pawl who came up with the idea of opening a house where young men could meet for Catholic formation and spiritually healthy recreation in the form of cultural activity after the Salesian method of St John Bosco. He was a pioneer in youth ministry, specifically targeting the youth of Victoria, and for this purpose, worked hard within the Parish to build the Don Bosco Oratory.
The three paintings of Il-Beatu Nazju Falzon, Dun Pawl Micallef and Madre Margerita Debrincat, were commissioned in October 2003 with the understanding that they would be delivered by July 2004. However they actually arrived at St George’s basilica late in the same year and were hung in the major sacristy on Wednesday, 15th December 2004.
Three benefactors respectively made possible the acquisition of these three beautiful paintings. The payment for the portrait of Blessed Falzon was given by a devotee who chose to remain anonymous. The picture of Dun Pawl Micallef was funded by his great nephew Can Felix Tabone, who is parochial vicar at St George’s. The portrait of Madre Margarita is a donation of the Congregation of the Franciscan Sisters of the Sacred Heart whose Mother House lies at a few meters' distance from the basilica.
The “New” Sacristy Hall
The hall where the portraits now hang was inexistent up to 1978. It had been created by the late archpriest Mgr Emanuel Mercieca, in the course of the building works that he embarked upon on commencing his time as pastor of St George’s Parish. After acquiring some new property, Mgr Mercieca demolished most of the existent structures surrounding the so-called “archpriest’s sacristy” and built large halls around it: the wide hallway, the hall that is now the new sacristy and the large parish hall above them.
The new sacristy remained bare for many years except for the marble floor consisting mostly of yellow, green and white slabs removed from the elevated sanctuary of the basilica when it was enlarged, and laid on an adapted design made by Frank Mizzi, It housed three statues of the Good Friday procession and some 17th cent. paintings.
Mgr Mercieca’s successor, Mgr Salv Borg, with the collaboration of ex- church procurator Mgr Anton Grech Vella, started the decoration of the ceiling with the intention of it being turned into a so-called “oratorju tal-Passjoni”, that is a prayer-hall housing the statues that are used in the annual Good Friday procession. The decoration was carried out by the late Anthony Xuereb on designs drawn up by veteran Gozo artist Chev. Paul Camilleri Cauchi. Camilleri also made the three paintings depicting important events in the history of Christianity in Gozo.
Mgr Joseph Farrugia, the current archpriest, in consultation with his predecessor and the various organs of the basilica, re-considered the function of the hall and acted on the decision that it would be of better use as a sacristy. Thus, the artistic furnishings of the upper sacristy were moved from the hall now housing the Aula Mons. Giuseppe Farrugia, to the newly decorated and vast lower hall.
The furnishings included four significant portraits of archpriests Mgr Francis Buttigieg (1848-1864) who became the first bishop of Gozo, painted by Roman painter A. Giacometti in 1965, Mgr Felix Refalo (1869-1917) and Mgr Alphonse M Hili (1917-1943) both painted by R. Caruana Dingli in 1923, and Mgr Michael Cefai (1944-1975) which was painted by Giacometti in 1965.
Between 1998 and 2000, two other portraits were added to the above, both of them commissioned from Raymond Pitre’, depicting respectively Mgr Emanuel Mercieca (1976-1986) and Mgr Saviour Borg (1986-1998).