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Pjazza tad-Dehra

Historical Information  -  The Apparition of Anglu Grech  -  The Monument

The Apparition Square or as is better known, the 'Pjazza tad-Dehra' at the end of Wied Simirat is the heart of Ghajnsielem both geographically and historically. It was in this square that 'Ghajn Salem', the spring that gave its name to the village used to flow. It was next to this spring that one of the first Ghajnsilmizi received a heavenly message. And it was near this spring that an arcade and six stone washing basins were built by Grand Master Raymond Perellos for the increasing population of Ghajnsielem started to gather and form a community as we know today.

Historical Information on the Spring

Ghajnsielem simply means Salem's spring. Salem is a very popular Arab name, extinct in Maltese. It is possible that the names goes back to the Arab rule and refers to its owner. The spring referred to in the toponym was situated at the end of Wied Simirat - the valley that terminates in the present square in the very centre of the village. In 1710, the Grand Master Raymond Perellos after getting the approval of his Council General, ordered the construction of an arcade around the spring. Beneath the arcade, six stone washing basins were constructed, into which water from the spring was channeled. These facilities proved to be a boon to the increasing population of the late 18th and 19th century. The woman found them especially suitable for washing laundry. For over two centuries, from dawn onwards the area around the spring was throngs with chattering woman. The woman-folk congregated there in the mornings washing the laundry in the troughs while the man lazing off their afternoon under the canopy of the mulberry trees. Rare where the occasions where the spring remained idle. According to old people,  even at night one could hear the sound of splashing water and constant vigorous scrubbing.

But to maintain hygiene in such a place was a problem. Less and less care was taken to the washing area and in the latter years of its existent, the arcade was left in a state of reckless abandon, the whole place stinking with filth until its removal in the early fifties to make way for a new square.

Photo taken during the beginning of 20th century showing the Wash-House

The present Pjazza tad-Dehra began to take shape in 1865 when a bridge was built over the end of Wied Simirat. In 1911, Triq Simirat was joined to Triq fuq il-Ghajn by the building of a new street. Before long, this became known as the Apparition Square. In 1954, so as to further enlarge the piazza, it was decided, unbelievably but true, to demolish the historic wash-house and entomb the spring that gave its name to the village.

Anglu Grech and the Apparition

Anglu Grech, a farmer nicknamed 'Tax-Xini' who lived in the vicinity, used to take his sheep and goats to the spring every day. While the flock quenched its thirst, he sought shade under a carob tree (Harruba) and often knelt down in prayer. One day, he beheld a vision just across the spring. A beautiful lady dressed immaculately white invited him to raise a statue in her honour on a lip of land close by. He understood. A shrine would enhance his prayers and encourage fellow farmers to raise their minds to God.  

'Hain Salem' and the Wash-House during a 19th Century drawing

Anglu lost now time. He shared the message with his farmer friends and in a matter of weeks they constructed a stone plinth, sculpted a large statue of the Blessed Virgin of Loreto, and raised into its top. At the time there was still no chapel in the vicinity, so every evening the farmers and their families fathered around the statue to recite the Holy Rosary. After the statue was placed in niche, people used to gather around it to recite the Rosary.

The year in which these events took place is not know. However the oral tradition was very strong and was supported by interviews carried out by the first parish priest of Ghajnsielem with persons from Nadur. The presence of the niche induced the Nadur Parish priest to organise an annual procession on the day of the apparition. On that occasion, the parish priest accompanied by the clergy of Nadur would sing vespers and deliver a homily. In 1810, the people began to raise a small chapel close by.

The Apparition Monument

This vision was immortalized in a monument erected by the Ghajnsielem Local Council. This monument has given Pjazza tad-Dehra, at the heart of the locality, a completely new look. The local council embarked on the project, in January 1996 and financed the work, with the help from the government who allocated Lm10,000 under special fund scheme.

Works division personnel assigned to the council carried out the initial work on the project. A large limestone fountain was constructed ad Mr. Emanuel Saliba from Ghajnsielem carried out the stonework. Other innovations include colored, patterned concrete for the elevated pedestrians area and the street furniture was used to embellish the square.

The monument, by sculpture Michael Camilleri Cauchi features a statue depicting the apparition of a lady to Anglu Grech, a shepherd from Ghajnsielem, who every day used to take his sheep to drink water from a spring at this place. This lady asked that the statue of our lady of Loreto be erected neat this area. The parish owes its origin to the story of the apparition. The monument was designed by architect David Mallia and was inaugurated on the 18th January 1998.


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