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The new Parish Church
and Titular Statue of Our Lady of Loreto

The need for a larger Church  |  The First Stone  |  Long Delays and Tragedies
The Completion  |  A look inside the Temple  |  The Titular Statue

The need for a larger Church
Ghajnsielem became a parish by a decree issued by Pope Pius IX on 1st April 1855. The first parish priest of the locality was Rev Anton Cauchi who served until 1864. By the turn of the century, the population of the village started to increase and the old parish church was deemed too small for the needs of a growing village. The idea to built a larger temple was made by Parish Priest Dun Frangisk Mizzi (1909 - 1948) who noted all this.

A spacious tract of land was acquired close to the first church and the project was assigned to Architect Ugo Mallia.  The new church was to be built on a Gothic-Lombard style on the basis of a latin cross. An artist impression of the original plans as designed by Ing. Ugo Mallia can be shown below.


The First Stone
Work on the sub-structure started on 4th June 1922 and the foundation stone was laid in a special ceremony on 14th September 1924. Unfortunately the building proceeded at a snail's pace and rather haphazardly due to several factors. Little did the villagers know that the building of the new church would dominate their hopes, frustrations and finally the fulfilment of their ambitions after over half a century in which they bore the responsibility for a project which few thought they would see completed. When the first master mason retired, it took years to find a replacement. Than the second world was brought the project to a standstill. 

Long Delays and Tragedies
Work on the building of the sanctuary was halted on several occasions, the longest of which was undoubtedly that between 1939 and 1946 - during the war years. Two near tragedies occurred when the same workman (Toni Vella) fell off on two different occasions from precanous lofts over fifty feet above the church. For these reasons, work on the building of the church seemed destined never to start again. After the war, the architect also  had to be substituted.

This photo taken during the early 1970's shows
Leli ta Bufajra (left) with Kelinu tal-Mulla,
Sander ta’ Parani and Guzzep il-Gurmettu,

Leli ta Bufajra (left) working on the Church tower
during the final phases of completion

Architect Mallia informed Parish Priest Xerri that he did not intend to continue with the project and this was passed on the Architect Guże D' Amato. When D' Amato died he was replaced by Architect Joseph Mizzi from San Lawrenz who stayed for eight years. The last architect to oversee the works on the new church was Joe Ellul Vincenti from Sliema. The builders of the church were Frangisk Farrugia, Wenzu Borg, Toni VeIIa, Guzepp Dimech, and Emanuel Saliba from Ghajnsielem.

The Completion
The arrival of Father Espedito Tabone in 1955, galvanized the latent energy of the villagers who donated their resources, financial and physical and moral so that they could see the completion of their life-long dream. Things began to change for the better. He resolved to bring the project to a conclusion and he succeeded. It took fifty five years to complete this temple.

The project which completed in 1979 with the blessing of the bell tower in June 1979. The church itself had been blessed a year earlier, on 29th August 1978. Before leaving his post Archpriest Tabone donated the main altar to the community of Ghajnsielem. This was built on a design by Guzeppi Farrugia and was blessed on 10th December 1980.

Archpriest Rev. Guseppi Zerafa who took over as a pastor as from 1981 has endowed the temple from inside with several works of art. His determination, courage and enthusiasm injected the people of the village to give start to a successful fund-raising effort to keep furnishing this fantastic temple. The Church was consecrated on the 13th of August 1989.

A few months after Archpriest Can. Frankie Bajada was installed as the eleventh parish priest of Ghajnsielem, he announced that that the parish is embarking on the ambitious project of having a new set of bells for the belfry. The task was given to the French bell-foundry 'Cornille-Havard' from Normandy. The long desired project of a set of bells that will crown the majestic bell tower of Ghajnsielem church required a funding of €600,000. But generosity of the Ghajnsleimzi meant that this sum was collected after just three years. The set of eight bells arrived in Ghajnsielem on the 11th of August 2011 and were blessed three days later. After completing the structural alterations in the bell tower, the bells were lifted on the third week of May of the following year with the asistance of the Cornille-Havard engineers. 

Inside the Temple
The interior reflects the neo-gothic style at its best. Below you will find a layout plan of the temple. Each numbers shows a particular point of interest. A description about each number can be found by scrolling further down (see numbers in red).

The layout plan of the Ghajnsielem Parish Church (by Ugo Mallia)

Description of each point of interest
(numbers shows in red)

An inscription to the left of the main door records the consecration of the church in 1989. Below it, inside a niche there is the statue of the Virgin Mary of Sorrows (1) by Salvatore Bruno (Bari, 1962) and paid by Dumink Scicluna.

In the south aisle, there is a niche with a statue of The Crowning of Christ with Thorns (2) by Michael Camilleri Cauchi (1985). In recess further up there is the statue of the Virgin Mary of Rosary (3) by Wistin Camilleri (1921).

The titular statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Loreto dominates the left transept (4). The gothic-styled niche was designed by Tony Cauchi while the woodwork was left in the hands of Tony Muscat.

The gothic style niche was inaugurated in August 1998
These pictures were taken a few days before the Feast

The chapel on the left of the high altar is reserved for the Blessed Sacraments (5) preserved in silver tabernacle (1998) The statue of the sacred Heart of Jesus and the accompanying angels are by Michael Camilleri Cauchi (1998)

A statue of the Black Madonna (6) is at the back of the choir. This statue was acquire at Rome (1924) and paid for by Frangisk Mizzi. The building of the church has been under its protection and in fact, it was taken inside the old church on 13th September 1924, on the eve of the laying of the foundation stone of the church. The large Crucifix (7) in the middle of the choir area is by Michael Camilleri Cauchi (1989) and was paid for by Mikiel and Emanuela Zerafa.

The central feature of the presbytery (8) is the marble high altar executed by Themistocle Sarti (Pietrasanta, Lucca, 1980) and paid for by Archpried Espeditio Tabone. It was consecrated on 10th December 1980. The chapel on the right of the high altar is dedicated to the Blessed Virgin of Loreto (9). The statue on the altar is the original raised on the plinth in the Pjazza tad-Dehra by the first Ghajnselmizi. In the chapel there is also a piece of rock from the House of Virgin Mary of Nazzareth.

Beyond the transept (10), in the right aisle there is a niche with a statue of Saint Jude the Apostle (11) (Pawlu Aquilina 1995) paid by John Grech. Further down there is a statue of Saint Andrew the Apostle(11), patron saint of fishermen. (Lyons, 1903). On the right of the main door there is the statue of Saint Joseph (3)acquired from Gallard et Fils (Marseilles, 1910).

The nave (14), the area from the principal door to the presbytery has a beautiful marble pavement designed by Tony Cauchi and executed by Canzam Marble Works. The twelve marble crosses on the pilasters were also designed by Tony Cauchi and executed by Montebello Artworks. Tony Cauchi also designed the Via Sagra, the ambone and the four gothic distinct confessionals.

The Titular Statue
The parish of Ghajnsielem is dedicated to Our Lady of Loreto and the titular statue was ordered by Parish Priest Refalo. It was ordered after Ghajnsielem was spared from Cholera in 1865. The people of Ghajnsielem immediately donated over 500 scudi for the statue which was manufactured in less than a year.  The artistic statue was manufactured by Gallard et Fils of Marseilles and arrived in Gozo on 14th October 1866 costing 420 scudi.

The virgin Mary dressed in full regalia with crown and sceptre in her right hand, is acknowledged Queen of heaven and earth. Her glance is fixed on Jesus, Redeemer of the world. The angel hovering on her right hands holds a replica of the Holy House of Loreto, while that on her left displays a scroll with a plan of the same house and inscription in French. On that occasion the statue was carried processionally from Mgarr Harbour to Ghajnsielem. During the feast (which is held on the last week of August), the statue is placed beneath a gold embroidered red canopy (1970) in the nave.

It is interesting to mention a curious mishap that took place when the statue was brought over to Gozo from Marseilles. The statue was initially sealed in a wooden box and was located in the 'Kalkanja' warehouse in Mgarr (today the warehouse is known for the Velsons Winery) until the preparations for the blessing ceremony were ready. When the Ghajnslemizi removed the statue from the wooden box (which was full of straw to protect the statue), they dumped the empty box in the Mgarr valley. While the happy Ghajnslemizi were admiring the Madonna, someone noticed that the statue had two empty hinges on both sides. The people decided to go back to the Mgarr valley to search and see if something was missing from the statue. In the box among the straws they found two golden angels which fitted perfectly between the Madonna.

The titular statue arrived back to Mgarr after it was renovated in 1920
Click on image to enlarge

In 1920, the titular statue was renovated for the first time. It is interesting to mention a controversy that erupted during this period as the Ghajnslemizi wanted to coat the statue in fine gold while the Parish Priest, Dun Frangisk Mizzi wanted to repaint the statue in natural colours. Dun Mizzi consulted with Nadur's Archpriest Dun Martin Camilleri who in return famously told him "Forsi jekk tagħmila kif tixtieq int tiġi isbaħ, iżda għamila kif jixtieq il-poplu". The people of Ghajnsielem had their way and the statue was taken to Malta where, with great craftsmanship, Valletta's Frangisk Coleiro structurally reinforced and gilded the statue. These works amounted to Lm50 but this was collected in just a few months.

The statue arrived back on the Gozo Boat Number 10 which belonged to Salvatore Xuereb known as 'Ta Pupull' on Thursday 26th August 1920. The statue was immediately taken to Lourdes Chapel where, on that very same night, Wistin Camilleri repainted the faces of the human figures including that of the Madonna.

The newly renovated statue was unveiled to the public three days later on Sunday 29th August in a ceremony which held under a tent in the port of Mgarr. For this occasion, the Ghajnslemizi obtained the services of Birgu's 'Duke of Edinburgh' Band. This band, which was very popular in those times, offered this service free of charge. Several Maltese people accompanied this band which arrived to Gozo on the 'Princes Melita' ferry. The boat was rented by Dun Frangisk Mizzi for Lm15. The ceremony started at 4.00pm and the statue was officially unveiled by W.C. Millard, the Government's Assistant Secretary for Gozo among the applause of the Ghajnslemizi. The statue was then taken processionally to the Old Parish Church. The 'Duke of Edinburgh' Band returned back to Mgarr playing popular marches before boarding the ferry.

The statue was re-coated in fine-gold in August 2004. On that occasion, hundreds of Ghajnsilmizi gathered on Ta' Pinu Sanctuary square to see the statue of Our Lady of Loreto after being restored and re-coated with fine Gold. A carcade then accompanied the statue to the Sanctuary of 'Our Lady of Loreto'. The following day (Saturday), St Joseph Band accompanied the titular statue to the main square where a special mass was concelebrated  by Bishop Mons. Nikol G. Cauchi. see pictures

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