When the statue of St George was brought out of its niche last Tuesday, it did not leave an empty ‘home’ behind.
As is customary, the niche is decorated with sacred items or other notable objets d’art related to a particular theme.
Since this year in Gozo we are celebrating the 400th anniversary of the miraculous painting of the Blessed Virgin of Ta’ Pinu with a Marian Year, and given the special historical ties St George’s has with that painting in particular, those who visit St George’s niche inside the Chapel dedicated to him – just before you step into the Neo-Byzantine Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament – during these festive days will find a small collection of items related to this subject.
The first thing to notice is certainly our own replica of the Ta’ Pinu altarpiece. From the original at Ta’ Pinu, in 1883 the Blessed Virgin spoke to Carmela Grima. The copy at St George’s Basilica was painted by Fontana artist Godwin Cutajar a few decades ago and draws a lot of devotion from parishioners all year round.
Mgr Giuseppe Farrugia (Tal-Vers), who was Secretary to Bishop Giovanni Maria Camilleri oesa when the Call at Ta’ Pinu took place, gave us the first written account of the story after gathering the necessary information from the horse’s mouth. An original copy of his book La Beata Vergine Ta’ Pinu in Gozo, published in 1891, is being exhibited together with the first prayer book issued in 1887, only four years after the extraordinary event.
A photo of the chapel when this happened and another one of Carmela Grima are also being shown in the niche.
Coming also from the Ta’ Pinu Sanctuary is the processional cross used during the special liturgies of the year. What is interesting about this Neo-Romanesque cross is the fact that it bears the engraved images of our island’s patron saints, St George and St Ursola, featuring prominently on its sides together with St Paul.
The close links between Ta’ Pinu and St George’s Parish are evident in the registration of the 1626 marriage of Gio Filippo Muscat to Catarinella Gauci, who was the daughter of Pinu Gauci, the same one who in 1619 had commissioned the new painting of the Assumption for the Tal-Ġentili Chapel, which thereafter became known as Ta’ Pinu after him. Pinu himself is known to have been a parishioner and is in fact believed to have been buried at St George’s.
Clearly, in this Marian Year, St George’s not-so-empty niche is worth a visit!