29th September is a significant day in the annals of the parish of St George and the liturgical life of the community. One of the side chapels of St George’s basilica is dedicated to St Michael, the archangel. The altar of this mediaeval dedication, though, was only covered in polychrome marble in 1939. In 1968 its 17th cent. painting was replaced by a mosaic depiction after Guido Reni’s Roman painting. An 1838 wood statue of the saint was acquired in 1866 and today, feast of St Michael, it is displayed alongside the main aisle of the basilica. Concelebrated Mass in honour of St Michael is presided be archpriest Mgr Joseph Curmi, this today at 5.30pm.
The “mystery” of Michael, which is one with that of the archangels Gabriel and Raphael, remains an eye-opener for Catholics buffeted, misled and spiritually distressed as they are by contemporary culture. The name “Michael” signifies “Who is like to God?” and this was the war cry of the good angels in the battle fought in heaven against Satan and his followers. Holy Scripture describes St. Michael as “one of the chief princes” and leader of the forces of heaven in their triumph over the powers of hell.
St Michael has been especially honoured and invoked as patron and protector by the Church from the time of the apostles. His cult flourished in mediaeval Italy where he is said to have appeared and where a shrine is dedicated to him on a mountain in the south of the peninsula. St George’s parish has a Fratellanza ta’ San Mikiel and it was in relation to this confraternity that the parish acquired its statue of St Michael.
Another significance associated with today’s commemoration is that of art and this raises the cultural dimension of the Catholic faith. The statue of St Michael was sculpted by Alessandro Farrugia (1791-1871), in 1838. It was commissioned by the procurator of a confraternity of the village of Qormi, Malta. The statue was later bought by Gozitan Dionisius Tabone and Saverio Muscat for 100 scudi, in 1866, who donated it to the Fratellanza ta’ San Mikiel that had been established in 1809 in the parish of St George in Gozo.
In 1944 statue maker Agostino Camillieri of Victoria was asked to paint over the silver and gold leafed statue in polychrome. In 1996 this paint was removed and the statue underwent much needed restoration by a team of professional restorers from Naples, led by art historian Rev. Dr Ugo Dovere. Archpriest at the time was Mgr Salv Borg and this restoration took place within the context of various restorative works that were than being carried out in St George’s basilica.
This restoration work was another expression of the high cultural disposition that always characterized the people of St George’s parish.