Posts Tagged ‘Valletta’

  • A Traditional Crib

    The visit.JPGSearching for a place to stay.JPG

    Detail of the huge Caltagirone crib.JPG

    “The setting up of a crib during the Christmas season has become a worldwide tradition. However probably, few are aware that by doing this, they are reproducing a custom that was originated by St Francis D’Assisi in the 13th century,” told me Francesca Cannavò, the Curator of the Nativity Museum which is located in the crypt of St Augustine’s Church in Old Mint Street, Valletta.

    “The main aim of this museum is to promote a deeper understanding and meaning regarding the nativity of Jesus and how this sacred event has been represented artistically during all these years by various artists,” explained Andrea Consalvo Rifici, the marketing manager.

    Indeed, during these last months, the ambience of this huge crypt has been completely transformed into a landscape which instills the perception of being absorbed back in time, right to the period of this holy nativity.

    “We want the visitors to walk around this place and to meditate about what was happenning in the days before baby Jesus was born and also what took place soon after.”

    Various panels with interesting information accompany the visitors throughout this journey which takes them deep within the old crypt in search of the revelation of the Christmas story. Meanwhile, heavenly music engages the visitors and immerses them into the sanctity of this experience.

    “In the old days, many of the people were uneducated and so they could not read the scriptures. Therefore, the Church set up various plays and commissioned many paintings in order to create a visual narrative with which the people could comprehend certain episodes in Jesus’ life.”

    In fact, beautiful reproductions of renowned artistic works that portray the nativity scene compliment and enhance the significance of this museum, as the visitors can enjoy and absorb the different interpretations that were effected by remarkable painters such as Leonardo da Vinci, Giotto, Tiziano, Rubens, Botticelli, Carvaggio, Fra Angelico, and Hugo van der Goes.

    “It is believed that these representations of the nativity have inspired St Francis of Assisi to compose the first crib which he set up in a cave. Eventually, this idea was so much appreciated by the people that they decided to produce their own cribs in order to possess the blessed nativity scene within their homes. As years passed, people continued to develop this concept by designing new ways of expressing this remarkable episode.”

    A circular room within this crypt has been selected to present a set of artistic scenes which manifest the main events that are relative to the birth of Jesus; such as that of the Annunciation, the dream of Joseph, Mary’s visit to a pregnant elder Elizabeth, the search to find a place for Mary to give birth and the hasty escape to Egypt.

    “These set ups have been designed in Sicily in order to decorate this museum. The figurines were made by Vincenzo Velardita in Caltagirone whereas the scenography was realized by Gigi Genovese in Catania. We tried to keep these scenes as simple as possible in order to reflect the modest nature that Jesus Himself chose for his own birthplace.”

    Certainly, the principal attraction in this nativity museum is the huge crib with its numerous mechanical figures.

    “This crib is the work of Salvatore Milazzo from Caltagirone. We are proud to say that it has been admired in several countries and that it has received various prestigious awards. This year, we decided to introduce it to Malta because we are aware that the Maltese people are deeply devoted to the nativity of Jesus. Moreover, we wanted to share our Sicilian culture with the Maltese people since there are many similarities between our culture and traditions.”

    Milazzo’s work is definitely a work of art as it embraces within it all the skill of the renowned Caltagirone masters of this trade. The forty square metre crib has been decorated with a typical Sicilian country lansdcape of the 1800s which includes also a number of workshops of trades which do not exist any longer.

    Meanwhile, this museum incorporates within it also a number of locally made cribs that were provided by members of Friends of the Crib (Malta).

    Interestingly, this nativity museum which has opened its doors for the public in November will not close after the Christmas season and it will remain available to visitors all throughout the year.

    “The concept behind the creation of this nativity museum in Malta is to heighten the experience of Valletta 2018 both to local and to foreign visitors, by blending together the culture of this island and that of Sicily.”

    (This article was published in CHRISTMAS TIMES Magazine which was issued with The Times of Malta dated 13th December 2014)

    2014.12.13 / no responses / Category: Times of Malta

  • A medal for silver

    Joseph Aquilina (Photo - Anton Aquilina).jpgAquilina at work (1) (Photo - Anton Aquilina).jpg

    Aquilina's oil lamp - a gift to the Queen (Photo - Department of Information).JPGA silver sugar-basin produced by Aquilina (Photo - Joseph Aquilina).JPG

    Within his small workshop in Zejtun, 68 year old silversmith Joseph Aquilina, can still do wonders with precious metals. Having worked as a silversmith from age 14, he has gained so much mastery in this trade that one of his creations was donated to Queen Elizabeth II during the celebrations of Malta’s Independence in 1964. Nowadays, his expertise is particularly focused on the restoration of antique objects which adorn our churches.

    Aquilina learnt this trade from his father Joseph who was originally from Cospicua. Before World War II, Cospicua was renowned for some of the most skillfull silversmiths who eventually had to move to other areas in Malta when this zone became a target to heavy attacks and bombardments.

    From early childhood, Aquilina was very interested in his father’s work and he spent hours observing him working silver items in his shop at St Mary Square in Zejtun. At age 12, he used to rush at the shop immediately after school in order to join silver beads together to produce rosaries for his father’s clients.

    Aquilina knew that he was hooked to this trade but he never dreamt that at age 14, he would be obliged to choose between attending school and becoming a silversmith! It all happened when one day, a social service inspector called at their shop and found him doing some work. It was useless to insist that the boy was only helping his father because the inspector maintained that if the boy wanted to stay in the shop, he had to register for employment within 15 days. And that was the end of his schooldays.

    “School meant nothing to me at that time and I thought that it was a great opportunity to start doing what I was really passionate about. However, when in later years I had to manage my business and was faced with several difficulties due to my brief education, I realized that leaving school at such an early age was definitely a huge mistake,” admitted Aquilina.

    His father was greatly disciplined in his trade and he demanded the same diligence from his son. Above all, he wanted to pass to him all the knowledge that he had inherited from past generations. Yet this was no easy task since the silversmith’s trade expands vastly and covers areas which include work in silver, gold, filigree and the setting of diamonds.

    “Nowadays, most silversmiths choose to specialize in just one of these sectors, but when I was learning the trade, one had to learn to deal with all these areas in order to become a professional. It took long years until you were regarded to be competent enough to open your own business. That was why it was necessary to start at a very young age in this trade and to take matters very seriously.”
    Interestingly, Aquilina succeeded to attain his father’s complete trust by disobeying him.

    “My father expected utter attention during work, both because he wanted the final product to be impeccable, and also because the slightest mistake could be very costly, especially when we were using gold. He put so much pressure upon me that at first, I felt terrified of him and I did not dare to do anything which he did not ask for.”

    Yet one day, Aquilina felt confident enough to try his luck by operating the soldering equipment which his father had adamantly prohibited him to use. Indeed, whilst his father went to church to attend a Lent sermon, Aquilina asked his mother to give him her gold wedding ring in order to cut it in half and reconstruct it again. His mother accepted without a second thought and Aquilina hurried to the workshop, broke the ring in two, switched on the gas, prepared the soldering equipment and trembling with excitement, he quickly joined the two parts together. He did such an excellent job that his mother could not identify any signs that her ring had been broken, and when she told her husband about this and he inspected the ring, a bright smile lit on his face. His son had finally made it!

    From then on, Aquilina had his father’s complete respect and he started to produce his own creations for their clients. He had learnt this trade in the traditional way where everything was done by hand, and to keep in line with this method, he decided to focus on the antique style. This stratagem worked perfectly with those connoisseurs who appreciated refined local craftsmanship.

    “I am proud to say that many of my works can be found among the collections of several local and foreign distinguished individuals. Most of my creations consisted of antique Maltese style coffee sets which included only three items: a coffee pot, a sugar-basin and a milk jug, since tea was not popular back then.”

    Some of Aquilina’s works have often been selected to be given as gifts to foreign individuals.

    “I made a particular silver sugar-basin for a group of Drydocks’ workers who wanted to give it to their British Admiral when he ended his job in Malta. Yet surely, the most popular item that I produced, was the 14 inch oil lamp which the Government of Malta ordered directly from me during the period of the 1970s and 1980s in order to consign it to the foreign delegations who visited our country.”

    Meanwhile, even though throughout the years, there were many machines available which could ease the difficulty of the job and hurry the flow of work, Aquilina always refused to use them.

    “That is the only way of keeping the profession’s prestige and the value of your creations,” Aquilina insisted. “When this type of work is done by machines, the product will loose all its significance because nothing can replace the creative fabrication of the human hand. A handmade product is unique because one can rarely create an object exactly like another. Contrarily, the very precision of objects which are executed by machines will simply turn them into ordinary copies.”

    In order to design and work his particular creations, at times Aquilina had to manufacture his own tools. Yet apart from the ingeniousness required in order to assemble these devices, it was fascinating to know the stories behind the origin of some of the material.

    “Look at these heavy hammers and feel how heavy they are,” he told me with a mischievous look as he brought them near. “I bet that no one would ever guess what they are made of until I tell them myself!”

    Certainly, I did not have the slightest idea.

    “These were some of the huge bolts that formed part of the ‘Angel Gabriel’; the Greek tanker which in 1969 got shipwrecked near the area of the ex-Jerma Palace Hotel in Marsascala. I obtained them when the ship was being broken down into pieces in order to clear the coast.”

    Another curious fact about this trade is that whenever a new silversmith is authorized to start his/her business, he/she is given a personal stamp with which to mark each object that they make. This stamp will be unique and it cannot be transferred to another person. Therefore, each silversmith’s work can always be recognized, no matter how much time elapses.

    In order to explain better, Aquilina referred to an old and rare book ‘The Goldsmiths of Malta and their Marks’ (1972) which was published by Chev Victor Fredrick Denaro; a pioneer in the study of ancient silver in Malta. In this book, one finds significant information about the ancient trade of silversmiths which goes back to the period of the Knights of St John. Meanwhile, this publication includes also all the local silversmiths’ stamps together with their relevant details; starting from the Knights period up to 1972.

    “This book is very precious to me particularly because it helps me to identify the silversmiths of the antique objects which I work on. This will also determine the period of the objects’ manufacture with more precision, and thereby I can understand better which materials and which procedures were involved in its making,” explained Aquilina.

    The restoration of antique metal objects requires high expertise and attention since one small mistake could ruin them completely. Indeed, in these last years Aquilina was responsible for the restoration of various treasured items which include: the restoration of the silver crown of the icon of the Madonna of Carafa that is located within the Co-Cathedral of St John in Valletta, the restoration of the silver leaves that form part of the decoration of the relic of St John the Baptist which is situated in the Museum of the same Co-Cathedral, and in the restoration of the sword of the titular statue of St Catherine in the Parish of Zejtun.

    (This article was published in the ‘Art, Antiques and Restoration’ Supplement of The Times of Malta dated 12th November 2014)

    2014.11.12 / no responses / Category: Times of Malta

  • Imħabba sa wara l-mewt

    Il-Kuratur tal-Muzew Nazzjonali tal-Gwerra, Charles Debono, quddiem l-esebiti ta' Warburton u Ratcliffe.JPGIl-qabar ta' Wing Commander Adrian Warburton (Ritratt - Find a Grave).jpg

    Christina Ratcliffe ma' Wing Commander Adrian Warburton u l-orkestra taghha (Ritratt - Heritage Malta).jpgEman Bonnici biswit il-qabar ta' Christina Ratcliffe.JPG

    Hekk kif illum qegħdin niċċelebraw Jum l-Erwieħ kollha, deherli li għandi nippreżentalkhom ġrajja li xi ftit jew wisq, għandha x’taqsam ma’ dan il-perjodu. Madanakollu, aktar milli nikteb dwar in-niket li ġġib magħha l-mewt, permezz ta’ dan l-artiklu nixtieq nuri illi t-tmiem ta’ persuna jseħħ biss jekk din tintesa. Sakemm tibqa’ l-memorja ta’ dak li jkun almenu f’moħħ individwu wieħed, dawk li ħallewna jibqgħu ħajjin fostna daqslikieku qatt ma telqu.

    L-iskoperta ta’ din il-ġrajja seħħet bla ħsieb meta jiena mort inżur il-Mużew Nazzjonali tal-Gwerra fil-Belt Valletta. L-għan tiegħi kien li niltaqa’ mal-Kuratur Charles Debono sabiex fi ħdan iċ-ċentinarju mill-Ewwel Gwerra Dinjija li qegħdin infakkru din is-sena, nifhem aħjar x’kien li qanqal dan it-taqbid qalil.

    Il-Kuratur Debono kien infurmat sewwa dwar din l-era mdemmija u meta rani interessata biex inkun naf aktar, huwa baqa’ jdawwarni mal-mużew sabiex niddiskutu wkoll it-Tieni Gwerra Dinjija. Ma kienx hemm oġġett li ma kellimnix dwaru u b’hekk wara li lestejna, kelli materjal kemm irrid fuq xhiex naħdem.

    Iżda ġara, li fost il-memorji u l-istejjer kollha li smajt, kien hemm ġrajja ta’ mħabba li seħħet bejn il-leġġendarju Wing Commander Adrian Warburton u l-maħbuba tiegħu Christina Ratcliffe, li ma stajt inneħħija b’xejn minn moħħi. Personalment, qatt ma kont smajt b’din il-koppja u għalhekk tħajjart insir naf aktar dwarha.

    L-esebiti fil-Mużew Nazzjonali tal-Gwerra

    In-narrattiva ta’ din il-ġrajja tnisslet permezz ta’ ħames esebiti li jinsabu fil-mużew. Dawn huma: Midalja tal-Imperu Brittanniku, beritta tal-RAF, ġakketta ta’ uniformi militari, tazza tal-metall li ntrebħet waqt attività sportiva u parti minn ajruplan tat-tip P38 Lightning aircraft.

    It-tifsira ta’ dawn l-oġġetti se tifhmuha waqt li taqraw dan l-artiklu.

    Żmien li nissel l-eroj

    Hekk kif bdejt ir-riċerka tiegħi dwar Warburton u Ratcliffe, sibt li kien hemm diversi kotba miktuba dwarhom. U permezz t’hekk, bil-pass il-pass, irnexxieli nsegwi xi ftit mill-ħajja tagħhom sabiex nieħu idea dwar min kienu dawn iż-żewġ persuni u anki minn xhiex għaddew.

    Ftit ftit, ħassejtni donni miexja lura lejn is-snin erbgħin; żmien meta kemm il-pajjiż tagħna u kif ukoll niesna għaddew minn l-eħrex tbatijiet u ġew mgħasra sat-tarf tal-limiti tagħhom, sakemm finalment, minn fosthom ħarġu l-eroj.

    Adrian Warburton

    Adrian Warburton twieled f’Middlesborough, l-Ingilterra fl-10 ta’ Marzu 1918. Imma missieru Godfrey, li kien kmandat żagħżugħ tas-sottomarini u li kien diġà rċieva l-unur prestiġġjuż għas-servizz distint tiegħu (Distinguished Service Order), iddeċieda li jgħammdu ġewwa sottomarin li kien qiegħed sorġut hawn Malta.

    Jidher li bosta mill-membri tal-familja Warburton kienu magħrufa għall-atteġġjament eċċentriku tagħhom, speċjalment f’mumenti li jikkonċernaw il-gwerra. U kif kiteb l-awtur Tony Spooner, fil-ktieb tiegħu ‘Warburton’s War’, l-unuri tad-DSO kienu xi ħaġa komuni f’din il-familja.

    Infatti, akkost li Adrian Warburton ma għex ħajja twila, anki hu rċieva dan l-unur darbtejn. Fosthom, wieħed minn dawn l-unuri ngħatalu minħabba l-kuraġġ li wera waqt missjoni partikolari li suppost kellha tinvolvi t-teħid ta’ ritratti mill-ajru tal-vapuri tal-għadu. Iżda ġara li waqt din it-titjira, il-kameras ma ħadmux u meta ra hekk, Warburton niżel tant fil-baxx bl-ajruplan tiegħu minn bejn il-vapuri tal-gwerra Taljani li kienu jinsabu f’Taranto, li dawk li kienu miegħu, setgħu jaqraw isimhom u jieħdu nota tagħhom. Din l-informazzjoni wasslet biex l-armata Ingliża setgħet twettaq attakk effettiv fuq l-għadu aktar tard f’dak il-lejl.

    Warburton jgħaddi bi żbrixx bħala pilota

    It-tajba hija illi waqt it-taħriġ tiegħu biex isir pilota, Warburton ma tantx kien impressjona wisq lil dawk ta’ fuqu u għalkemm għadda mit-testijiet involuti, huwa ġab l-inqas grad possibbli. Probabbli, apparti mill-fatt li hu spiss kien jazzarda żżejjed, jista’ jkun li din kienet ir-raġuni vera l-għala huwa kraxxja kemm il-darba waqt il-missjonijiet tiegħu, għalkemm b’xi mod jew ieħor, dejjem reġa’ lura. Forsi dan kien ukoll il-mottiv il-għala meta hu baqa’ ma rritornax wara l-aħħar titjira tiegħu fl-1944, ħadd ma ried jemmen li hu kien miet….

    Warburton trasferit lejn Malta

    Kien fis-6 ta’ Settembru 1940 meta Warburton niżel fl-ajruport ta’ Ħal-Luqa wara li ġie trasferit biex jaħdem f’Malta. Huwa ma damx ma beda jiġbed l-attenzjoni fuqu minħabba li kien juri li ma jibża’ minn xejn. Ngħidu aħna, darba minnhom waqt li kien kienet fuq titjira b’missjoni li jinġibdu ritratti ta’ tkixxif fuq l-għadu, hu u żewġ suldati oħra li kienu miegħu, irnexxielhom jisparaw u jwaqqgħu ajruplan Taljan tat-tip Z.506B.

    Kif bdiet il-ġrajja ta’ mħabba

    Il-ġrajja ta’ mħabba bejnu u bejn Christina Ratcliffe bdiet meta hi sabet ruħha maqbuda hawn Malta, peress li fl-10 ta’ Ġunju 1940, l-Italja ddikkjarat gwerra lill-Ingilterra u lil Franza. Oriġinarjament, Christina kienet ġiet Malta flimkien ma’ grupp taż-żfin sabiex jagħmlu spettaklu tal-kabaret. Però meta mbagħad sabu ruħhom f’pajjiżna bla mpjieg, dawn l-artisti qabdu u ffurmaw grupp għal rashom bl-isem ta’ Whizz Bangs u bdew joffru spettaklu għat-truppi.

    Christina ma damitx ma għamlet il-ħbieb hawn Malta. Fost dawn, kien hemm il-pilota Franċiż Jacques Mehouas li waqt il-laqgħat tagħhom, kellu ħabta jsemmilha lil Warburton fejn kien jiddeskrivih bħala pilota Ingliż formidabbli u ta’ kuraġġ kbir. Ironikament, kienet il-mewt ta’ dan il-Franċiż li ressqet lill-koppja Warburton u Ratcliffe flimkien, hekk kif Adrian, li kien ukoll ħabib ta’ Mehouas, mar jagħti l-kondoljanzi lil Christina.

    F’kitbiet tagħha, Christina tistqarr li sa minn din l-ewwel laqgħa tagħhom, hi kienet diġà ntilfet wara Adrian. Fosthom tgħid illi b’dak ix-xagħar bjond, lewn id-deheb, u b’dawk l-għajnejn koħol sbieħ, stħajjlitu xi alla Grieg.

    Koppja simbolu ħaj tal-ispirtu tal-gżejjer Maltin

    Fl-1939 Warburton kien iżżewweġ lil Eileen Mitchell wara biss ftit żmien li kien ilu jafha. Imma jingħad li hu kien telaqha minnufih wara li skopra li din kienet ħbietlu li kienet iddivorzjata u li kellha wild.

    Min-naħa l-oħra, fi Christina huwa sab is-sieħba perfetta għalih u huma ma damux ma saru waħda mill-aktar koppji popolari ta’ dak iż-żmien. Bħal Adrian, Christina kienet sabiħa, kariżmatika u avventuruża. U kif iddeskriviehom tajjeb Spooner fil-ktieb tiegħu: bil-personalitajiet, bil-kuraġġ u bid-determinazzjoni tagħhom, huma saru simbolu ħaj tal-ispirtu tal-gżejjer Maltin, li ma seta’ jiġi qatt mirbuħ.

    Fil-fatt, minbarra li għall-ewwel Christina baqgħet taħdem bħala żeffiena, wara xi żmien hija vvolontarjat ukoll bħala telefonista mal-RAF. Imbagħad bdiet tagħmel ix-xogħol ta’ plotter fil-Kwartieri tal-Gwerra l-Belt, sakemm eventwalment, hija saret l-assistenta tal-Kontrullur u b’hekk kellha tabbanduna l-grupp Whizz Bangs.

    It-tmiem ta’ din il-ġrajja ta’ mħabba

    Sfortunatament, din il-ġrajja ta’ mħabba ntemmet ħesrem meta fit-12 t’April 1944, Warburton intbagħat fuq missjoni ta’ tkixxif sabiex jieħu r-ritratti minn fuq il-Ġermanja. Imma wara dakinhar, qatt ma rritorna.

    Għall-ewwel in-nuqqas tiegħu ma ttieħedx bis-serjetà għax ma kinetx l-ewwel darba li hu waqaf x’imkien apposta bla ma qal lil ħadd, ħlief forsi lil Christina; bħal meta darba niżel il-Greċja biex jixtri l-alkoħol għax f’Malta ma kellux. Iżda meta ż-żmien beda dieħel u l-ġranet inbidlu f’xhur, kulħadd beda jispekula x’seta’ ġara. Fosthom kien hemm min qal li Warburton kien wettaq suwiċidju għax kien xeba’ f’din il-ħajja ta’ gwerra. Imbagħad, kien hemm ukoll min ġietu l-idea li dan tant xeba’ minn Christina li kien iddeċieda li jiskappa u jisparixxi, forsi anki għax kellu xi tfajla ġdida…

    Intant, wara dan l-inċident, Christina nbidlet drastikament. Il-ġirien tagħha jiftakru li kienet inqatgħet għal kollox min-nies. Bdiet tippreferi tgħix ħajja iżolata fl-appartament tagħha li kien jinsab f’7/3, Vilhena Terrace, Triq Vilhena, il-Furjana. Kull ġurnata kienet tgħaddiha tistenna li jħabbat il-bieb u li ssib lil Adrian quddiemha. Bdiet anki tagħtiha għax-xorb u ftit ftit spiċċat b’ta’ fuqha senduqha.

    Ċertament, kienet tassew ħasra li mara bħal dik, li fl-1943 kienet onorata bil-Midalja tal-Imperu Brittaniku bħala rikonoxxenza għas-sehem tagħha waqt it-Tieni Gwerra Dinjija, tiġi f’dan l-istat. Matul ħajjitha, Christina ddeċidiet li tagħti b’donazzjoni din il-midalja tagħha flimkien ma’ parti mill-uniformi u t-tazza li kienu tal-għażiż Adrian tagħha lil Mużew Nazzjonali tal-Gwerra fil-Belt Valletta, sabiex b’hekk, il-ġrajja tagħhom tingħaqad flimkien ma’ dik tal-pajjiż li huma kienu ltaqgħu u nħabbu fih.

    Warburton jinstab

    Kien biss fl-2002 meta nkixef id-destin ta’ Warburton. Dan seħħ meta Frank Dorber, riċerkatur tal-avjazzjoni, skopra l-fdalijiet ta’ dan il-pilota ġewwa kabina ta’ ajruplan imwaqqgħa, li kien midfun f’madwar żewġ metri fond, f’għalqa ġewwa l-villaġġ Egling an der Paar li jinsab fil-Bavarja, 34 mil bogħod minn Munich.

    Wara li saret eżaminazzjoni tal-ajruplan imġarraf, instabu numru ta’ toqob tal-balal ġewwa wieħed mill-iskrejjen tiegħu u dan indika li l-għadu kien spara fuq Warburton u waqqgħu. Eventwalment, minħabba l-ġrajja li semmejna hawn fuq u l-involviment tiegħu f’pajjiżna, parti minn dan l-ajruplan, ngħatat bħala donazzjoni lill-Mużew Nazzjonali tal-Gwerra fil-Belt u din ngħaqdet mat-tifkiriet li kienet ħalliet Christina.

    Sadanittant, skont ir-regolamenti tal-Commonwealth, fl-14 ta’ Mejju 2003, Warburton ġie onorat b’funeral formali u ġie midfun fiċ-Ċimiterju tal-Gwerra tal-Commonwealth f’Durnbach, fis-Sezzjoni 11, Row H, Qabar Nru. 27. Fatt kurjuż huwa li għal din iċ-ċerimonja, attendiet ukoll martu Eileen li ħafna kienu ilhom li għodduha b’mejta.

    X’ġara minn Christina?

    Naturalment, wara din is-sejba, dawk li kienu jafu bil-ġrajja ta’ din il-koppja, bdew jistaqsu x’kien sar minn Christina Ratcliffe?

    Waqt ir-riċerka tiegħi, sibt illi Christina kienet ġiet midfuna fiċ-ċimiterju tal-Addolorata u wara li kont qrajt tant dwarha, ħassejt l-obbligu li mmur inżurha.

    Għalhekk, fthemt mal-ħabib tiegħi Eman Bonnici li huwa l-Assistent Librar taċ-Ċimiterju tal-Addolorata u riċerkatur ta’ dan is-sit, sabiex jakkumpanjani sal-qabar tagħha. Miegħi ħadt ukoll bukkett fjuri sabiħ b’turija ta’ rispett lejn din il-mara li waqt din il-gwerra, apparti li ħabbet lil Warburton, ħadmet ukoll għal pajjiżi u għenet lil niesi.

    Skont in-notamenti taċ-ċimiterju, jidher li Christina Ratcliffe mietet fl-1988 u ndifnet f’qabar fis-sezzjoni tal-Commonwealth. Iżda aktar tard, fl-1993, il-fdalijiet tagħha nġabru u ndifnu mill-ġdid f’qabar privat li nxtara minn xi familjari tagħha. Dan jinsab fid-Diviżjoni tal-Lvant, Sezzjoni MA-D, Qabar Nru. 4.

    Bonnici infurmani wkoll illi skont deffien mill-Furjana li kien jgħix fl-istess blokka ta’ Christina, din il-mara tant kienet ftaqret, li l-ġirien kellhom jiġbru somma bejniethom sabiex jingħatalha funeral xieraq.

    Viċin ir-ritratt tagħha, ilmaħt il-kitba ‘Christina of George Cross Island’ u hemmhekk erħejt il-fjuri tiegħi. F’qalbi xtaqt bi ħrara kbira li hi kienet qed tarani ħalli tifhem li għadha ma ntesietx.

    Għalkemm forsi ma tantx hawn Maltin li jafu b’din il-ġrajja, Bonnici qalli li numru ta’ barranin, l-aktar mill-Ingilterra u mill-Iskozja, regolarment iżuru l-qabar tagħha bħala sinjal ta’ rispett lejn eroina li għarrfet tħobb tant anki waqt żmien daqstant turbulenti. Fuq kollox, huma sikwit jistaqsu, jekk finalment wasalx iż-żmien biex dawn iż-żewġ maħbubin, anki jekk wara mewthom, jingħaqdu mill-ġdid flimkien?

    (Dan l-artiklu ġie ppubblikat fit-Torċa tat-2 ta’ Novembru 2014)

    2014.11.02 / no responses / Category: Torca - Features & Articles

  • A life of prayer

    From left - Sr. Aloisia Bajada and Rev. Mother Abbess Sr. Michelina Mifsud.jpgThe monastery's garden that was originally a quarry.jpg

    The chapel adjacent to the monastery.jpgThe monastery's crypt.jpg

    The concept of life as a cloistered nun has often intrigued people. How could one choose to deny oneself the privilege of freedom and instead opt for a life locked up in a monastery, when the rest of humanity dreaded even the thought of it?

    As I knocked on the heavy door of the Monastery of the Augustinian Cloistered Nuns of St Catherine which is located in Republic Street, Valletta, I wondered how I was going to probe for an answer to this dilemma. Soon, a female voice responded from the intercom and when I identified myself, the door opened automatically and I stepped inside. The sight of three barred windows amid a thick white-washed wall bound me at a standstill and I stood there in silence and awe, unsure of what I was expected to do.

    Indeed, I was quite surprised when Rev. Mother Abbess Sr. Michelina Mifsud called me in, for I had believed that this interview would take place behind bars and that I would never have the opportunity to look at her face.

    “This would not have been possible if you had come to us about eight years ago,” responded Sr. Michelina as she read the question in my eyes. “At that time, you would have needed a special permit in order to contact us, and on your arrival, I would have sounded a bell so that all the other nuns would know that you’re here and they would retire to their rooms until you left.”

    “Necessary communication with people used to take place only behind those bars,” she continued to explain. “We could neither read newspapers, nor hear the radio or watch television. Our lives were meant to be completely shut from the rest of the world so that we could focus only on God and our prayers. None of the nuns could get out of this monastery except when they needed aid for serious health reasons. We could not even visit our parents when they were sick and if they died, we were not allowed to attend their funeral. However, at times, our close family members could come to see us at the monastery and we greeted each other from behind the bars.”

    I felt dumbfounded and looked down at the floor, searching for a way to question her how and why, until I could not resist no more and spoke out.

    “This style of life does not make us feel miserable because this was our choice,” responded gently Sr. Aloisia Bajada who had joined us silently. “Our faith keeps us strong and prevents us from feeling depressed. Certainly there are moments when life gets pretty hard but whose does not? I am sure that even though you did not choose to become a cloistered nun, you too have to make several sacrifices for your family. So, you see, there is not so much difference between us.”

    I watched them closely, trying to sense any strange move or reaction which might reveal a hint of unhappiness but instead I was met with sincere serene demeanour which was almost saintly.

    “Sometimes even we find it difficult to understand and explain our vocation,” expanded the nuns. “We tend to regard it as a gift from God.”

    We started to walk around the monastery and here I was in for another revelation. For the nuns did not live within some somber building but in a spacious and historical palace which was constructed during the period of the Knights of St John.

    “This monastery has a long and interesting history,” told me Sr. Aloisia as she watched me admire the old paintings hanging on the walls, the colourful painted floor tiles and the exquisite architecture. “In my earlier years, it was my joy to delve within this monastery’s ancient archives which go back to 1606. They narrate detailed incidents and engaging stories which took place in this building and in the lives of the nuns that lived here hundreds of years ago. Surely, it is a pity that very few people have ever laid eyes upon them!”

    At 88 years, Sr. Aloisia is the oldest of the remaining six nuns in this monastery. I was delighted by her passion towards the history of this place which has been her home for the last 70 years. As she led the way ahead, she informed me that originally this building was the residence of Marquis Giovanni and Katarina Vasco Oliviero, and it was known as Casa Vanilla. In 1576, this couple went through a rough time when their son contracted the plague, and in desperation, Katarina, who was a devotee of St Catherine, pledged to donate her house to the Church if her son survived. The boy did survive and Katarina was adamant to keep her word. However, when in 1611, she got to know of a group of girls known as ‘Orfanelle della Misericordia’ who had decided to become cloistered nuns and were taking care of children with family problems, she decided to give her property to them.

    In order to change this palace into a monastery, the couple had to buy some of the neighbouring properties so that they could accommodate about 45 nuns, 15 girls and a chapel. This is why today, this monastery stretches out into Republic Street, St Christopher Street, Strait Street and also a section of St Dominic Street. Incidentally, within a year from their testament this noble couple died and since their son had already died before them, the cloistered nuns of St Catherine inherited all that remained.

    By time, it became customary for some of the girls of the nobility to take their vows and join this monastery, and this included Grandmaster Manuel Pinto de Fonseca’s sister. Certainly, these girls brought with them generous dowries which supported a comfortable life. However, in 1714, the monastery required huge structural changes and much of the money ran out. Then, in 1798, when the French occupation took over Malta, the nuns found themselves in a dire state of poverty and they could not afford to take care of children any more. The number of nuns dwindled to eight but once the French left our islands, new nuns joined the monastery and life started afresh.

    We entered into a lift which took us straight up to the monastery’s huge roof. A breath-taking view of the splendid architecture of the other Valletta buildings welcomed us and a fresh breeze whirled around us. The nearby wide blue sea was shiny and tempting, and we could see sea-gulls gliding smoothly over its surface.

    “How can we feel restricted when we have all this to enjoy?” the two nuns asked me with a bright smile on their faces.

    We stood together in silence, relishing the stillness and the beautiful environment which surrounded us. Then, the nuns shared with me what had led them to make this particular choice in life.

    “Look down there,” asked me Sr. Aloisia as she indicated far below at the monastery’s garden which originally was the quarry from which the stone for this building was extracted. “During World War II, that garden suffered a direct hit and the nuns went to seek refuge at Ta’ Ċenċ in Gozo. I was 16 and from Xagħra and I did not even know what a cloistered nun was. One day, I saw some creative sewing which they had done and I felt curious to meet them. However, people told me that this was impossible, unless I wanted to join them. I felt terrified at the idea that they could keep me with them and yet finally some older friends accompanied me to see them and I liked the nuns’ company. As time went by, I continued to think about them and when I was 18, I was sure that I wanted to join those nuns who had in the meantime returned to their monastery in Malta. And here I am.”

    “I was also 18 when I took my vows and became a cloistered nun of this monastery,” told me Sr. Michelina. “Ironically when I was younger, a priest who often watched me visiting and praying daily in front of St Rita, had suggested to me that I should consider becoming a nun and I was furious! Oh, I want to enjoy life, I told him. The life of a nun is not for me! However, some time later, he convinced me to meet the Rev. Mother Abbess of St Monica who in turn invited me to spend some weekends with them whenever I wanted. Somehow, I liked the idea and little by little I got very close to these nuns until I could not imagine any other life but to stay with them. Then, one day, I went to visit Frenċ tal-Għarb and without even knowing me, he made a cross upon my forehead with some oil that was blessed by the Virgin Mary and he told me that I would soon become a cloistered nun in the Monastery of St Catherine and that eventually I would die there. When I returned home to my father and told him about this, he swore that I would not withstand the life of a cloistered nun for more than 15 days. And yet here I am still after 51 years!”

    We went down again and this time I was shown the crypt where all the cloistered nuns of this monastery get buried. Interestingly, in this crypt, one finds also the tomb of the son of the original owners of this building.

    From there, we moved on to the small chapel wherein the nuns attend to pray. “After 1963, we received new regulations and many things changed. One of these included the possibility of receiving the public in our monastery, even if we still stand behind bars. Indeed, within these last years, many individuals have sought us for spiritual help and advice. Many more have chosen to join us during mass and so people have grown more accustomed to our presence and I think that their respect towards us has increased, now that they know us better,” told me Sr. Michelina.

    “Through these encounters, we want to show people that life does not end when you become a cloistered nun. We simply start a new chapter of a life which is simpler and closer to God. We have our daily chores, we pray and help others, and we also enjoy developing our talents in sewing, crochet and art.”

    “We miss absolutely nothing here except the need for more nuns to join us as we are too few now and most of us are also too old,” admitted Sr. Aloisia.

    I cherished their warm hug when they embraced me before I left, and for a moment I felt a distinct sense of happinness. Yet once the monastery’s door closed behind me, I was concerned about how these nuns will live, once they will be too old to take care of each other? And what will be this monastery’s destiny if one day these nuns will all fade away?

    (This article was published in Focus Valletta Supplement in The Times of Malta dated 1st October 2014)

    2014.10.01 / no responses / Category: Times of Malta

  • Love in the time of war

    Christina Ratcliffe with Wing Commander Adrian Warburton and her orchestra (Photo - Heritage Malta).jpg

    Christina Ratcliffe's British Empire Medal - 1.JPGNational War Museum Curator Charles Debono near Warburton-Ratcliffe exhibits - 1.JPG

    Eman Bonnici standing near Ratcliffe's grave in Addolorata cemetery - 1.JPGA. Warburton - Durnbach Cem. Section 11, Row H, Grave 27.jpg

    A century ago, many countries had to deal with the onset of World War I which was supposed to be the war to end all wars. Yet, a few years later, the reality of World War II ravaged again many people’s lives, as it devastated their motherland, their homes and their existence.

    Today, these poignant episodes are recorded in various museums around the world, including the National War Museum in Valletta, wherein one finds several objects which recall these dark periods. However a visit to this museum will reveal that its exhibits are witness to more than that, since they also display how people confronted and survived these crucial moments, and how the ugliness of war never stopped their urge to live and to love.

    During a recent visit to this museum wherein I was accompanied by Curator Charles Debono, I discovered how five particular items – a British Empire Medal, an RAF side cap, a uniform jacket, a tankard won at a sports event, and part of a manifold of a P38 Lightning aircraft – formed part of a fantastic narrative relating to a famous English couple who met in Malta and were united and separated by war. Indeed, as I followed the story of the legendary Wg Cdr Adrian Warburton and his lover Christina Ratcliffe, I was whirled back in the 1940s; a time when both the Maltese islands and their inhabitants were pushed to their limits and heroes were borne.

    Adrian Warburton was born in Middlesborough on March, 10, 1918, but his father Geoffrey, a young submarine commander who had been awarded the prestigious Distinguished Service Order, decided to christen him in a submarine which was berthed in Malta. Apparently, a good number of Warburton’s family members were renowned for their eccentric behaviour, particularly where war was concerned, and as Tony Spooner said in his book Warburton’s War, “DSO’s were fairly commonplace in the family”.

    In fact, during his brief life, even Adrian received this honour twice: one of which was awarded to him for his bravery when flying very low among the Italian battleships and cruisers in Taranto in order to read their names, after the cameras failed to work during a reconnaissance mission. This information enabled the Fleet Air Arm to dispatch an effective attack on the enemy later on that night.
    Interestingly, during his training to become a pilot, Adrian had failed to impress his seniors and even though he eventually succeeded to pass his trials, his general assessment was deemed below average. Probably, besides his dare-devil acts, this was also the reason why he crashed his planes during some of his missions. Presumably, this was also the motive for the disbelief that he was dead, after he went missing during his last flight in 1944 …

    It was on September, 6, 1940 that Warburton arrived in Luqa airfield after he was transferred on duty to Malta. Soon he distinguished himself for his fearless attitude such as when he and his two crewmen shot down an Italian Z.506B seaplane when they were only expected to shoot some photos.

    His love story with Christina Ratcliffe took place after she was stranded in Malta, when Italy declared war on Britain and France on 10th June 1940. She had come to our islands together with her group in order to perform as a cabaret dancer but when they found themselves unemployed, these artists set up an ensemble which they called the Whizz Bangs and provided entertainment for the troops.

    During her stay on the island, Ratcliffe made friends with a French pilot, Jacques Mehouas, who often spoke to her about Warburton and described him as a brave and formidable British pilot. Ironically, it was his death which brought them together, when Warburton, who was also a friend of his, approached her to give her his condolences. Ratcliffe considered this first encounter as love at first sight since in her later writings she admitted that with his golden hair and his beautiful blue eyes, Warburton resembled a Greek god.

    In 1939 Warburton had married Eileen Mitchell after a very brief courtship but allegedly he had left her at once when he found out that she was divorced and had a child. However in Ratcliffe, he discovered a soul mate and soon they became one of the most renowned couples at the time. Like the British pilot, she was beautiful, charismatic and adventurous and as Spooner described them “With their personalities, zest and determination, they were to become living symbols of the island’s unconquerable spirit.”

    In fact, besides working as an entertainer, after some time, Christina volunteered to work with the RAF as a telephonist and later as a plotter at the underground War Headquarters in Valletta. She was eventually appointed Captain of D Watch and then became assistant to the Controller, thus having to abandon the Whizz Bangs group.

    This love story came to an abrupt end when on April 12, 1944, Warburton was sent on a reconnaissance mission during which he was supposed to take some photos over Germany, but he never returned. At first his disappearance was not given much importance because workmates, friends and even Ratcliffe were expecting him to return like he always did before. Yet by time, this matter became riddled with speculation as people started to question whether he had committed suicide or whether he had simply left his girlfriend and started a new affair.

    After this incident, Ratcliffe changed drastically. Her neighbours recall that she became a recluse, preferring to live in isolation in her apartment at 7/3, Vilhena Terrace, Vilhena Street, Floriana, and forever waiting for her Warby to return to her. In his book Women of Malta, Frederick R Galea, states that “her last few years were unhappy ones, trying to drown her loneliness in alcohol; she became withdrawn and impoverished.” Certainly this was a pitiful end to a woman who in 1943 was awarded the British Empire Medal in recognition of her work during World War II. During her lifetime, Ratcliffe donated this medal together with the uniform and the tankard which belonged to her beloved Warburton, to the National War Museum in Valletta.

    It was finally in 2002 when Warburton’s fate was identified, after Frank Dorber, a Welsh aviation researcher, discovered his remains in the cockpit of his wrecked plane, buried about two metres deep in a field near the Bavarian village of Egling an der Paar, 34 miles west of Munich. An examination of his aircraft showed that one of the propellers had bullet holes in it, thus indicating that Warburton had been shot down. Part of this plane was donated to the National War Museum in Valletta and now forms part of the exhibits which reflect this story.

    Meanwhile, according to Commonwealth regulations, Warburton was given a formal funeral on May 14, 2003 and he was buried at the Durnbach Commonwealth War Cemetery. Curiously, this ceremony was attended also by his wife Eileen whom many believed to have been dead. After Warburton was found and buried, many sympathizers of the couple Warburton – Ratcliffe demanded whether it was time for these two lovers to be re-united, even if after death? But where is Ratcliffe?

    A visit to the Addolorata cemetery in Paola where I was accompanied by Eman Bonnici, who is the cemetery’s assistant librarian and a researcher of this site, led me to the resting place of ‘Christina of George Cross Island’. He explained to me that the cemetery’s records show that Ratcliffe was originally buried in the common area of the Commonwealth section in 1988. According to a grave-digger from Floriana, Ratcliffe had become so poor that the neighbours had collected the necessary funds to provide her with a proper burial. Then, in 1991, an individual bearing the surname Ratcliffe, bought a grave for her so that her remains will not be lost in the common ossuary. This grave, marked no. 4, is situated in the East Division, Section MA-D. Bonnici informed me that Ratcliffe’s grave is regularly visited by foreigners, particularly from England and Scotland, who come to this cemetery in order to pay their tribute to a heroine of such a turbulent but fascinating love affair.

    (This article was published in ‘Man Matters’ Supplement in The Times of Malta dated 20th September 2014)

    2014.09.20 / 5 responses / Category: Torca - Features & Articles

  • Sorijiet u prostituti

    Il-knisja tal-Maddalena llum u l-bini ta' hdejha.jpg

    Pittura - Noli Me Tangere - Palazz San Anton, Attard.jpgPittura -Noli Me Tangere - Monasteru Santa Katarina l-Belt Valletta.jpgIl-qoxra tal-ktieb.jpg

    Għaddejt minn quddiem il-Knisja tal-Maddalena kemm il-darba mingħajr qatt ma bsart xi storja kien hemm warajha. Madanakollu, minn dejjem naffarni l-ħsieb li din il-knisja antika kienet għamlet żmien tiġi utilizzata bħala post fejn jinħadmu l-karrijiet tal-karnival. Iżda kien biss ftit tal-jiem ilu, waqt li kont qed inħuf għal xi erbgħa kotba interessanti fil-Fiera tal-Ktieb, meta finalment ġejt wiċċ imb’wiċċ mar-realtà tad-destin ta’ din il-binja. Kien it-titlu tal-ktieb Magdalene Nuns and Penitent Prostitutes – Valletta li għall-ewwel sammarni fil-post u sfidani nqalleb il-paġni ħalli nara dwar xhiex kien jitratta. Naturalment ma stajtx nitlef l-opportunità li nkellem lill-awtriċi tiegħu, Christine Muscat, u minn hemmhekk infetħet dinja sħiħa ta’ dokumenti antiki u stejjer mistura, intriċċi u misteri, voti tas-sorijiet tal-klawsura u ittra ta’ mħabba miktuba lil waħda minnhom li nstabet fil-Biblijoteka Nazzjonali, ħajjiet ta’ sorijiet konnessi ma’ dawk tal-prostituti, u kripta mirduma bil-fdalijiet tas-sorijiet tal-Maddalena tistenna sakemm xi ħadd jerġa’ jsibha ħalli jagħti lura d-dinjità lil dawn in-nisa illum minsija imma li fi żmienhom kienu tant magħrufa.

    Kien artiklu ta’ Giovanni Bonello li kellu t-tema tal-prostituti u l-korteġġjani ta’ żmien l-Ordni li ispira lil Christine biex timraħ aktar dwar dan is-suġġett. Peress li hija gwida, ma damitx ma ħarġet bl-idea li tibni programm interessanti għall-viżitaturi tal-Belt relatat ma’ dan is-suġġett u l-inħawi antiki tiegħu. It-tfittxija għall-postijiet adattati ħaditha fosthom quddiem il-Knisja tal-Maddalena u hekk kif bdiet tirriċerka ftit l-istorja tagħha, mall-ewwel sabet ruħha affaxxinatha b’dak li beda ħiereġ, tant li spiċċat biex kitbet teżi sħiħa mit-tagħrif li sabet sabiex bih kisbet il-grad ta’ Master fl-Istudju tal-Ospitallieri. Eventwalment din ir-riċerka tant intlaqat tajjeb li l-pubblikaturi, Book Distributors Ltd, iddeċidew li kien jixirqilha tiġi ppreżentata fi ktieb.

    Fatt kurjuż huwa li meta Christine bdiet tistaqsi madwarha ħalli tikseb informazzjoni dwar din il-knisja u s-sorijiet tagħha, ftit li xejn kien hemm min kien jaf dwarha. Donnhom dawn is-sorijiet tal-Maddalena kienu ġew imħassra kompletament mill-memorja kollettiva ta’ dan in-nazzjon, bħallikieku xi ħadd xtaqhom jintesew għal kollox. Iżda huwa waqt każi bħal dawn li l-arkivji juru l-potenzjal tagħhom, hekk kif aktar ma l-awtriċi bdiet tistinka biex tiġbor it-tifkiriet ta’ dawn is-sorijiet, iżjed bdiet toħroġ l-evidenza tal-eżistenza tagħhom.

    L-istorja teħodna lura lejn żmien l-Ordni, meta l-Kavallieri ta’ San Ġwann ġew ordnati jħallu Rodi u sabu ruħhom jgħixu hawn Malta. Fost ir-refuġjati li ġew minn Rodi flimkien mal-kavallieri, kien hemm ukoll għadd ta’ prostituti li segwew lill-klijenti tagħhom f’pajjiżna. Riżultat t’hekk, il-pjaga tal-prostituzzjoni fil-gżejjer tagħna, kompliet terfa’ rasha u kibret b’rata allarmanti, tant li fl-aħħar tas-seklu 17, viżitatur Franċiż ikkummenta li ma kienx hemm post fid-dinja fejn il-mard venerali seta’ jittieħed aktar malajr mill-gżira ta’ Malta. Aktar tard, fit-18 il-seklu, il-vjaġġatur Ġermaniż von Riedesel sostna li fil-belt Valletta ma kienx għad fadal mara waħda onesta! Rapporti bħal dawn, għalkemm ċertament esaġerati, ma damux ma ġibdu bosta kritika fuq l-Ordni fejn din ġiet akkużata li ma kienet qed tagħmel xejn biex toħnoq din il-problema fil-gżejjer Maltin. Għaldaqstant dawn fetħu monasteru għas-sorijiet tal-klawsura tal-Maddalena li kien jinsab biswit il-monasteru ta’ Sant’Ursula l-belt Valletta, sabiex fih setgħu jinġabru dawk il-prostituti ripentiti li ma xtaqux ikomplu b’din il-ħajja tad-dnub u minflok jieħdu l-voti tal-kastità, il-povertà u l-ubbidjenza. Ta’ min isemmi li din ma kinetx xi idea oriġinali tal-kavallieri ta’ Malta għax monasteri tas-sorijiet tal-klawsura tal-Maddalena kien hemm f’diversi pajjiżi, speċjalment fejn kien hemm il-portijiet u t-taħlit tan-nies li sikwit kienu jwasslu għall-firxa tal-prostituzzjoni.

    Għall-ewwel dawn is-sorijiet bdew mix-xejn u meta fl-1596 żarhom l-Inkwiżitur Innocenzo del Bufalo de Cancellieri huwa kiteb lill-Kardinal Aldobrandini f’Ruma biex jgħarrfu li dawn in-nisa kienu qed imutu bil-ġuħ u li l-binja tagħhom kienet kiesħa silġ. Mill-ġdid din l-aħbar qanqlet ħafna kritika lejn l-Ordni u dawn ma kellhomx għażla ħlief li jirrimedjaw din il-problema billi jibnu monasteru ġdid għal dawn is-sorijiet. Pjanti antiki tal-monasteru l-ġdid juru li dan ġie mibni madwar bitħa ċentrali twila u dejqa u li kien magħmul minn binja sħiħa rettangolari li kienet tinsab bejn Triq Merkanti (dak iż-żmien Strada San Giacomo) u Triq it-Tramuntana (Strada Sant’Elmo). Issa dawn is-sorijiet kellhom post lussuż fejn kellhom l-ilma tagħhom u saħansitra funtana. Barra minn hekk, il-knisja li kienet tagħmel parti mill-monasteru, bdiet tiżżejjen b’xogħolijiet tal-aqwa artisti ta’ dak iż-żmien bħal Filippo Paladini u Mattia Preti.

    Il-finanzi ta’ dan il-monasteru kienu jidħlu minn diversi sorsi fosthom: mid-doti li kienu jġibu magħhom is-sorijiet, mid-donazzjonijiet, mill-fondi li kienu dovuti kull sena mill-Ordni, u mill-fondazzjoni ta’ Ġirolama Ciantar li ħalliet somma ta’ flus li biha tmien tfajliet mis-Siġġiewi bil-kunjom Ciantar, setgħu jiddaħħlu bħala sorijiet f’dan il-monasteru mingħajr ma jħallsu d-dota dovuta. Imma ċertament l-aktar sors sinifikanti minn fejn dawn is-sorijiet bdew jibnu l-assi tagħhom kien permezz ta’ taxxa li ġiet imposta fuq il-prostituti kollha li kien hemm f’Malta f’dawk iż-żminijiet, fejn dawn kellhom iħallsu 20% ta’ flushom, tal-propjetà tagħhom u ta’ dak kollu li kienu jippossjedu, sabiex bihom is-sorijiet tal-Maddalena setgħu jieħdu ħsieb l-ispejjeż tal-monasteru tagħhom. Din it-taxxa li oriġinarjament ġiet introdotta f’Ruma mill-Papa Klement VIII fl-1602, kienet qajjmet fervent sħiħ fost il-prostituti ta’ Ruma u l-istess ġara f’Malta meta l-Granmastru nġieb f’pożizzjoni li jrid u ma jridx idaħħal l-istess regola f’pajjiżna. B’inġenjożità, b’manipulazzjoni u b’kapaċità li wieħed ma jistenniex minn sorijiet tal-klawsura magħluqa bejn erbgħa ħitan fis-seklu 17 u 18, dawn in-nisa rnexxielhom jibnu fortuna kbira, tant li wara ċertu ammont ta’ snin, il-ħajja tagħhom fil-monasteru kienet fost l-aktar lussużi.

    F’monasteru fejn kien hemm nisa ta’ oriġini sinjura u edukata mħallta ma’ oħrajn li minn dejjem kienu foqra, b’uħud minnhom li daqu anki d-dinja tal-prostituzzjoni, ma setax jonqos li jkun hemm bosta kunflitti interni. Infatti, bħal f’kull monasteru ta’ dak iż-żmien, kien hemm is-sorijiet koristi li kienu jieħdu ħsieb l-amministrazzjoni ta’ l-artijiet u l-investimenti li kellu l-monasteru, u s-sorijiet servjenti li kellhom ir-responsabbiltà tax-xogħol domestiku, u din ir-realtà kienet toħloq ġerarkija bejniethom. L-inkwiet kien jinqala’ wkoll meta kienu jiġu mposti fuqhom xi nies li ma kienux jaqgħu taħt ir-regola tal-monasteru fejn kien hemm spjegat ċar li huma ma setgħux jaċċettaw morda, xjuħ u nisa tqal. Infatti kien hemm inċidenti meta r-rabja ta’ xi sorijiet qabżet il-linja mhux ħażin, bħal meta wħud minnhom ippruvaw joqtlu tfajla tqila li ntbagħtet tgħix magħhom permezz tal-velenu! Att li kien infurja lill-Inkwiżitur Giovani Ottavio Mancinforte li meta sar jaf b’din l-istorja, huwa ordna l-għeluq tal-monasteru u tal-knisja tiegħu u l-iskomunikazzjoni tas-sorijiet. Kien biss għal xi intermedjarji li daħlu għalihom li kkalmaw is-sitwazzjoni meta s-sorijiet kellhom jiskużaw ruħhom anki jekk kontra qalbhom.

    Il-poter u l-kuntatti li kellhom uħud minn dawn is-sorijiet kien qawwi ħafna u dan kien ċar min-numru ta’ ġrajjiet li l-awtriċi rnexxielha tislet mid-dokumenti. Iżda ċertament waħda mill-aktar fatti impressjonanti huwa dak tas-soru ripentita Sister Dorothea Valenti, li kienet eks-korteġġjana tal-Granmastru De Paule. Ġara li meta din ġiet irrifjutata milli tkun il-korteġġjana tas-suċċessur ta’ De Paule, hija ddeċidiet li tidħol bħala soru tal-Maddalena u magħha ħadet 18,000 skud u lil bintha Anna li kellha tliet snin. Peress li r-regola tal-monasteru ma kinetx taċċetta li t-tfal jgħixu ma’ dawn is-sorijiet, Valenti għamlet talba speċjali lill-Papa Urban VIII u dan aċċetta li bintha titħalla tgħix magħha, bil-patt u l-kundizzjoni li meta t-tifla ssir adoloxxenti tieħu l-voti tal-klawsura. U hekk sar. Infatti Anna Valenti saret soru tal-klawsura imma wara xi żmien din ħalliet il-monasteru u jidher li ħadet l-isem ta’ Anna Pitard.

    Fost il-paġni ta’ dan il-ktieb intriganti, wieħed isib ukoll kopja ta’ ittra ta’ mħabba li l-awtriċi sabet arkivjata flimkien mad-dokumenti antiki tal-Biblijoteka Nazzjonali. Fiha, l-awtur anonimu li kien il-maħbub ta’ ċerta Giuditta għal 33 sena sħaħ, jinfurmaha li kien sejjer ikellem lill-Papa u sadanittant jissuġġerilha wkoll biex tilbes żarbun tat-takkuna u tibda titla’ u tinżel it-taraġ bih ħalli ma tintelaqx. L-ittra twebblek li forsi finalment dawn il-maħbubin kienu ser jieħdu xi deċiżjoni biex jibdew xi ħajja flimkien. Madanakollu, Christine irnexxielha ssib soru li kien jisimha Sister Giuditta Novi li kienet tgħix fil-monasteru fil-perjodu tal-ittra u din mietet hemm erbgħa snin wara d-data ta’ dan il-messaġġ.

    Bi storja ta’ aktar minn 200 sena, wieħed jista’ jimmaġina kemm hemm aktar rakkonti f’dan il-ktieb. Imma l-ispazju f’dan l-artiklu jitlobni biex issa nasal għall-perjodu meta l-ħajja ta’ dawn is-sorijiet inbidlet minn lejl għan-nhar hekk kif Malta waqgħet taħt idejn il-Franċiżi. Infatti kien biss ġimgħa wara l-wasla tal-ħakkiema l-ġodda meta s-sorijiet irċevew ittra mingħand l-awtoritajiet li kienet qed tinfurmahom li l-monasteru tagħhom kien ġie soppress u li huma kellhom jitilqu minn hemm fi żmien ġurnata u jħallu kollox warajhom. Christine tiddeskrivi b’mod imqanqal dawn is-siegħat tat-twehir hekk kif dawn is-sorijiet b’ta’ fuqhom senduqhom, ġew akkumpanjati mis-suldati Franċiżi armati bil-bajjunetti, sabiex imorru jgħixu flimkien mas-sorijiet ta’ Santa Katarina li kien jinsab ftit passi ‘l bogħod mill-monasteru tagħhom, fejn baqgħu jgħixu sakemm mietu. Jidher li maż-żmien huma rnexxielhom jiġbru xi affarijiet li kellhom fil-monasteru tagħhom, imma l-biċċa l-kbira tal-affarijiet għosfru. Akkost li meta telqu l-Franċiżi minn Malta, il-ħakma Ingliża rritornat il-monasteri lura lis-sorijiet u lill-patrijiet li kienu jgħixu fihom qabel, dan ma seħħx mas-sorijiet tal-Maddalena. Anzi huwa kurjuż il-fatt li meta s-sorijiet bagħtu t-talba tagħhom lill-awtoritajiet biex jingħatawlhom lura l-possessjonijiet tagħhom, inkluż il-monasteru, huma rċevew l-informazzjoni dettaljata li kienu bagħtulhom lura b’sempliċiment sentenza miktuba fuqhom li kienet tispjega li r-rikjesta tagħhom kienet ġiet injorata! Minn hemm l-istorja ta’ dan il-monasteru u s-sorijiet tiegħu tant titħawwad li hu diffiċli ħafna biex tispjega eżatt x’ġara. Intant, parti kbira minn dan il-monasteru ġġarfet meta l-post intlaqat bil-bombi waqt it-tieni gwerra dinjija.

    L-awtriċi rnexxielha ssib il-postijiet fejn uħud mill-aħħar sorijiet tal-Maddalena ġew midfunin; fosthom 31 soru jinsabu midfuna fil-kripta tal-monasteru ta’ Santa Katarina fil-Belt Valletta. Iżda Christine għandha xewqa kbira li xi darba tiġi nvestigata l-kripta li jidher li hemm wara l-kor tal-knisja tal-Maddalena li fis-sena 1866 kienet infetħet aċċidentalment minn xi ħaddiema li kienu qed jaħdmu fuq il-bini tal-iskola biswit. Achille Ferris ħareġ rapport dettaljat dwar dak li sab fejn fosthom irrimarka dwar ir-raffinatezza tal-arkitettura tal-kripta u anki dwar is-sejba ta’ xi fdalijiet ta’ sorijiet midfuna fuq il-qiegħa tal-art, fejn waħda minnhom kienet għadha liebsa l-abitu.

    Fl-istess ħin, l-awtriċi traċċat ukoll żewġ kwadri li juru xeni tal-Maddalena ma’ Ġesù bit-titlu Noli me tangere (la tmissnix), li jidher li kienu jappartjenu lil dan il-monasteru. Wieħed minn dawn il-kwadri qiegħed fil-monasteru ta’ Santa Katarina filwaqt li l-ieħor jinsab fil-Palazz ta’ Sant’Anton f’Ħ’Attard. F’ritratt antik u rari tal-intern tal-knisja tal-Maddalena, Christine irnexxielha tilmaħ wieħed minn dawn il-kwadri wara l-artal maġġuri. Issa hi tixtieq li xi espert fil-qasam tal-arti jikkonferma jekk xi wieħed minn dawn il-kwadri huwiex xogħol ta’ Filippo Paladini kif jingħad ħalli b’hekk tkompli tinħall il-kobba dwar din l-istorja.

    Meta Christine avviċinat lill-Kunsill Lokali tal-Belt Valletta peress li xtaqet tagħmel il-preżentazzjoni ta’ dan il-ktieb tagħha fil-knisja tal-Maddalena, hija mill-ewwel sabet għajnuna kbira. Imma hekk kif fetħu l-bieb tal-knisja huma sabuha fi stat tal-biki: bl-ilma dieħel mis-saqaf tagħha u b’ħitan mimlija graffiti u bi kliem oxxen. Permezz ta’ fondi mill-Ministeru tar-Riżorsi u Affarijiet Rurali, il-knisja ġiet imnaddfa mill-imbarazz li kien fiha, is-saqaf ġie kkurat u l-ħitan tnaddfu. Il-Kunsill xtaq anki jsib fondi biex jiftaħ il-kripta ħalli b’hekk din l-istorja li reġgħet ingħatat ir-ruħ, tkompli twassal għal aktar żviluppi f’dan il-qasam, imma s’issa dan ma kienx possibbli. Nemmen li proġett bħal dan ikun validu ħafna għas-settur kulturali tagħna għax barra li jkun qed iservi biex jikseb lura parti mill-istorja ta’ pajjiżna u anki mill-istorja tan-nisa lokali (li bosta drabi jitħallew barra mill-kotba tal-istorja), għandu l-potenzjal ukoll li joffri sit b’laqta differenti fil-qasam turistiku.

    Żgur li dan ix-xogħol ġdid ta’ Christine Muscat ser iqanqal ħafna interess f’dawn il-ġrajjiet u f’din il-knisja li llum tidher tant umli minn barra meta fir-realtà għandha storja daqstant rikka u affaxxinanti. Ormaj m’għandix dubju li din l-istorja mhiex ser tieqaf hawn…

    (Dan l-artiklu ġie ppublikat fis-sensiela ĠABRIET IT-TIFKIRIET (6 Parti) fit-Torċa tat-8 ta’ Diċembru 2013)

    2013.12.08 / no responses / Category: Torca - Features & Articles

  • MINN WARA L-ĦITAN TAL-KLAWSURA

    Is-sorijiet tal-klawsura minn dejjem kienu jintrigawni. Qatt ma stajt nifhem l-għażla tagħhom li jinqatgħu kompletament mid-dinja biex imorru jingħalqu wara erbgħa Mix-xellug - Il-Vigarja Swor Aloisia Bajada u Madre Michelina Mifsudħitan. Spiss kont nipprova nimmaġina x’tip ta’ persuni jistgħu jkunu u x’inhu dak li jwassalhom biex jieħdu deċiżjoni drastika bħal dik. Dak il-wiċċ mistur għad-dell tal-grada ċkejkna kien ikompli jqanqalni biex niskopri l-emozzjonijiet u l-ħsibijiet moħbija wara dawk l-għajnejn baxxuti. Iżda fl-istess ħin kont rassenjata li ser nibqa’ bil-kurżità għax kont naf li lil dawn is-sorijiet ma tistax tkellimhom kif ġieb u laħaq.

    Għalhekk tistgħu taħsbu kif bqajt meta dan l-aħħar irċevejt ittra mingħand il-ħabib tiegħi Ralph Micallef fejn infurmani li kien irreferini biex niltaqa’ mal-Madre tas-Sorijiet Agostinjani tal-Klawsura ta’ Santa Katerina! Nistqarr li domt ftit intella’ u nniżżel qabel ċempilt lill-Madre. Kont qed nipprova nara kif ser inpoġġi l-kliem ma’ persuna bħal din. Imma lanqas ħaqq kemm ħlejt ħin għax Madre Michelina laqgħatni b’ġentilezza u ħlewwa kbira u bla eżitazzjoni aċċettat li niltaqgħu.

    Tlajt it-telgħa wieqfa ta’ Triq ir-Repubblika b’ċerta trepidazzjoni u hekk kif wasalt quddiem il-bieb tal-monasteru ntbaħt li min jaf kemm għaddejt minnIl-kamra fejn jiltaqgħu man-nies quddiem dan il-post mingħajr ma qatt kont naf x’kien. Ċempilt il-qanpiena tal-bieb u kif identifikajt ruħi, l-bieb infetaħ waħdu. Imbuttajtu l-ġewwa u dlonk sibt ruħi f’kamra bi stil antik mill-isbaħ. Quddiemi wkoll tfaċċaw tliet itwieqi mbarrati bil-ħadid miżbugħ bajdani. Waqaft ħdejhom imma l-Madre sejjħitli bi tbissima u daħħlitni ġewwa.

    “Bħalissa għaddej xi xogħol ta’ restawr. Kellhom jgħaddu 500 sena biex irranġajna l-faċċata tal-monasteru. Imma ftit taż-żmien ilu għal naqra ma ġratilnix diżgrazzja kbira hekk kif waqa’ xi ġebel għal isfel waqt li kienet għaddejja l-purċissjoni ta’ San Duminku minn quddiemna. Imn’Alla ma weġġa’ ħadd. Bdejna x-xogħolijiet ħames snin ilu u l-ispiża telgħet mhux ħażin. Imma meta ġew il-bennejja, l-ġebel tant kien iddeterjorat li bidlu 40% minnu. Sfortunatament il-fondi qed jixxuttaw u l-bqija ser ikollu jitħalla kif inhu għalissa,” bdiet tispjegali l-Madre hekk kif bdejna mexjin minn kamra għall-oħra.

    Ma’ l-ewwel impatt tiegħi mal-post intbaħt li kont diġà żbaljata fuq punt wieħed! Is-sorijiet tal-klawsura ma kienux jgħixu wara erbgħa ħitan imma ġo palazz storiku u spazzjuz li kien  jesa’ fih erbgħa sulari.

    “Dan il-bini jiftakar lill-Kavallieri ta’ San Ġwann,” fetħet id-diskursata l-Vigarja Swor Aloisia Bajada li ngħaqdet magħna hekk kif ratni nammira l-ġmiel tal-madum prezzjuż u kkulurit, l-arkitettura mirquma u l-pitturi antiki. “Fil-fatt dal-monasteru għandu storja mill-isbaħ u tmur lura għal snin twal. Dnub li ftit biss jafuha.”

    “Din taf tgħidlek l-istorja tal-monasteru fuq ponot subgħajha,” qaltli bi tbissima l-Madre.

    Swor Aloisia hija soru ta’ 84 sena iżda akkost l-età tagħha hija persuna vivaċi, ċajtiera u b’memorja mill-aqwa.

    “Jiena l-hena tiegħi nidħol fil-profond ta’ dak kollu li nagħmel,” kompliet tgħidli. “Għalhekk spiss kont nintefa’ fl-arkivji tal-monasteru nqalleb fil-manuskritti u d-dokumenti antiki ħalli nitkixxef aktar dwar il-ġrajja ta’ dal-post li ngħix fih. Sibt illi l-arkivji jmorru lura sal-1606 u huma miżgħuda b’dettalji ferm interessanti dwar dak kollu li għaddew minnu s-sorijiet. Uħud mid-dokumenti huma bil-Latin però rnexxielna nsibu lil min jittraduċielna xi xogħol għat-Taljan u jien qlibt parti minnu bil-Malti.

    Oriġinarjament hawnhekk kien hawn id-dar tal-Belt tal-Markiżi Giovanni u Katarina Vasco Oliviero li kienet magħrufa bħala Casa Vanilla. Fl-1576 it-tifel tal-koppja marad bil-pesta u ommu li kienet devota ta’ Santa Katarina għamlet wegħda li jekk binha jfieq, hija tagħti d-dar tagħha lill-Knisja. It-tifel fieq u ħu Katarina, li kien ukoll prokuratur tat-Teżor ta’ l-Ordni, fakkar lil oħtu fil-wegħda li kienet għamlet.

    Il-Markiża wettqet il-wegħda tagħha imma meta fl-1611 hija saret taf bi grupp ta’ tfajliet imsejjħa l-‘Orfanelle della Misericordia’ hija ddeċidiet li ddawwar id-deċiżjoni tagħha u minflok għaddiet il-Il-monasteru minn fuq il-bejtproprjetà lilhom. Dawn it-tfajliet kienu qed jieħdu ħsieb lil xi tfal li kellhom il-problemi fil-familja u matul is-snin kienet ġiethom il-vokazzjoni reliġjuża għall-ħajja tal-klawsura. Biex id-dar setgħet tinbidel f’monasteru ħalli tkun tista’ tilqa’ fiha lil madwar 45 soru u 15 il-tifla, il-Markiżi bnew kappella mal-ġenb tad-dar u xtraw ukoll xi bini tal-madwar. Huwa għalhekk li llum hawn dal-kobor kollu tant li l-ħitan tal-monasteru jmissu ma’ Triq ir-Repubblika, ma’ Triq San Kristofru, ma’ Strada Stretta u anki ma’ parti minn San Duminku. Sa sena wara mit-testment, il-markiżi mietu u hekk kif anki binhom kien laħaq miet qabilhom, is-sorijiet tal-klawsura wirtu anki l-ġid kollu tal-Markiżi.

    Fl-1714 il-monasteru kellu bżonn xi tibdiliet strutturali u tant intefqu flejjes illi eventwalment ma kellhomx biżżejjed fondi biex ikomplu l-kappella. Fl-1798 s-sorijiet kellhom anki jieqfu jieħdu ħsieb it-tfal minħabba li kienu waqgħu f’għaks kbir.”

    Ma tridx wisq biex tifhem kemm spejjeż jirrikkjedi post bħal dak. Kelli kurżità kif jiffinanzjaw ruħhom dawn is-sorijiet?

    “Fi żmien il-Kavallieri kienu bdew jidħlu bosta tfajliet nobbli bħala sorijiet tal-klawsura u dawn kienu jġibu doti kbar magħhom. Fil-fatt waħda minnhom kienet Swor Marianna Pinto, oħt il-Gran Mastru Pinto nnifsu. Tul is-snin dan il-ġid akkumula mhux ħażin u l-monasteru kien jgħix permezz tar-renta fuq l-artijiet u mill-flus li dawn is-sorijiet ġabu magħhom. Illum naturalment l-istorja nbidlet imma għallinqas għad fadlilna biex ngħixu permezz tal-imgħaxijiet li nħolqu mill-bejgħ ta’ xi bini li kien proprjetà tal-monasteru.”

    Fil-kunvent kien hemm kwiet perfett tant li konna qisna qegħdin weħidna f’dak il-post. Xtaqt inkun naf kemm hemm sorijiet?

    “Bħalissa qegħdin 10 sorijiet u sfortunatament għandna 4 minnhom morda. L-ikbar soru hawnhekk tgħodd l-età ta’ 88 sena u l-iżgħar waħda għandha 60. Ilna madwar 25 sena ma jkollna vokazzjonijiet ġodda hawn ġew.”

    Impressjonanti! Allura x’jiġri jekk jilħqu jonqsu s-sorijiet kollha?

    “Jiena qatt ma naqta’ qalbi,” weġbitni bil-ħlewwa l-Madre li issa ilha tmexxi l-monasteru għal dawn l-aħħar ħames snin. “Nemmen ħafna fil-provvidenza t’Alla u npoġġi t-tama kollha tiegħi fih. Iżda nammetti li bħalissa l-ħajja pjuttost iebsa hekk kif ħafna mis-sorijiet kibru mhux ħażin u jridu jieħdu ħsieb lil sħabhom morda apparti li jridu jkomplu bil-faċendi u d-dmirijiet ta’ kuljum.”

    “Din l-istorja diġà ġrat fl-1798 meta s-sorijiet kienu xjieħu kollha u kien għad fadal tmienja biss. Tant kienet gravi s-sitwazzjoni li soru minnhom li kienet tiġi mill-familja Preziosi, kellha tmur lura għand qrabatha biex jieħdu ħsiebha fl-aħħar ġranet ta’ ħajjitha. Imma hawn hu l-kobor tal-Mulej; appena mietu dat-8 sorijiet, minnufih daħlu 16 oħra u l-ħajja kompliet,” serrħitli rasi Swor Aloisia.

    F’dal-punt deherli li kelli nistaqsi x’wassalhom biex saru sorijiet tal-klawsura u l-istejjer li rrakkuntawli żgur li ma bsarthomx!

    “Fi żmien it-tieni gwerra dinjija kienet waqgħet bomba ġol-ġnien tal-monasteru u għalhekk is-sorijiet kienu marru jsibu rifuġju f’Ta’ Ċenċ Għawdex. F’dik il-ħabta jiena kelli 16 il-sena u lanqas biss kont naf Il-Vigarja Swor Aloisia Bajadax’jaħbtu das-sorijiet tal-klawsura. Jiena kont mix-Xagħra u darba minnhom wara li rajt xi xogħol tal-ħjata tagħhom urejt ix-xewqa li niltaqa’ magħhom. Sħabi daħku bija u qaluli ‘Mela dawk ser ikellmuk? Dawk trid tkun ser tidħol magħhom biex jiftħulek.’ Imma jiena kelli kurżità kbira biex nara x’ikunu dawn is-sorijiet li ma joħorġu qatt u finalment ikkonvinċejt lil sħabi li kienu ikbar minni biex jeħduni għandhom. Tgħidx x’biża’ kelli li jdaħħluni veru magħhom għax jien kull ma ridt li naqta’ l-kurżita’. Imma meta morna serrħuli rasi li kont għadni żgħira wisq biex nidħol magħhom imma li jekk ridt stajt nibqa’ nżurhom. Hekk għamilt u bdiet tiġi wkoll ħabiba tiegħi miegħi. Ftit ftit inġbidna lejn il-ħajja ta’ dawn is-sorijiet sakemm darba minnhom, meta għalaqna t-18, inżilna Malta (fejn kienu rritornaw is-sorijiet) u ngħaqadna magħhom. Kienet l-aqwa għażla tiegħi tant li jekk nerġa’ nitwieled nerġa’ nagħżel dit-tip ta’ ħajja,” ikkonfermatli Swor Aloisia.

    “Jiena wkoll kelli 18-il sena meta dħalt soru tal-klawsura u daqs Swor Aloisia konvinta mid-deċiżjoni tiegħi. Imma għandek tkun taf li l-ewwel darba li saċerdotMadre Michelina Mifsud issuġġerieli li nidħol soru tgħidx kif ħtaftu. Kien jarani ninvista lil Santa Rita kuljum u darba qalli “Inti għax ma tidħolx soru? Dejjem insibek quddiem Santa Rita.” U spirtu pront weġibtu ‘Għandix nidħol soru! Jien irrid ingawdi ħi’. Kont tfajla fuq ruħi u dejjem nittanta x-xemx għaddejja għax kont inħobb ħafna nitkellem man-nies. Xorta waħda das-saċerdot baqa’ sakemm laqqagħni mal-Madre ta’ Santa Monica u minn hemm bdejt ngħaddi xi weekends għandhom sakemm ftit ftit trawwimt minnhom u verament tħajjart nidħol soru. Niftakar li ddeċidejt li nidħol soru ma’ ta’ Santa Rita u meta wissewni li dawk kienu sorijiet tal-klawsura, għalkemm ma kontx naf wisq dwarhom, bqajt insostni li magħhom ridt nidħol. Xi xhur qabel kont mort inżur lil Frenċ tal-Għarb u waqt li għamilli s-salib fuq moħħi biż-żejt tal-Madonna, bla ma jaf xejn fuqi kien bassar li jien kont ser insir soru tal-klawsura mal-monasteru ta’ Santa Katarina u li kont ser immut hemm ġew. Meta finalment dħalt magħhom, missieri ħalef li ma kontx ser indum aktar minn ħmistax hemm ġew u s’issa ilni 47 sena.”

    Qomna minn fejn konna u bdejna mexjin lejn il-kappella tal-monasteru. Minnufih laqtuni ż-żewġt itwieqi magħluqa bil-gradi li kienu misjuba wara l-artal.

    “Il-ħajja tal-klawsura kienet ħafna aktar iebsa qabel imma aħna konna nafu għal xiex dħalna u ma nsibu l-ebda problema bir-regoli li rridu nimxu magħhom.

    Erbgħa snin ilu ma kontx ser taqbad u tiġi hekk kif għamilt illum u noqogħdu ndawwruk ma’ kullimkien. Min jaf kemm permessi ridt biex stajt biss biss tkellimna. Mal-wasla tiegħek kieku kont indoqq qanpiena biex is-sorijiet l-oħra jinġabru kollha f’kamarthom ħalli ma jiltaqgħux miegħek.

    Lin-nies stajna nkellmuhom biss minn wara dawk il-gradi. La stajna nisimgħu radju, la naraw televiżjoni u lanqas naqraw gazzetti. Konna għal kollox maqtugħin mill-bqija tad-dinja biex inkunu nistgħuIl-kappella bil-gradi wara l-artal niffukaw biss fuq it-talb u fuq Alla. In-nies ftit li xejn kienu jafuna għalkemm dejjem urew qalb tajba magħna. Però naħseb li kienu jaħsbuna nies imdejjqin ħafna peress li konna dejjem imsakkra hawn ġew. Ħadd minna ma kellu permess biex joħroġ barra ħlief għal bżonn biex immorru għal xi kura. Lanqas jekk jomordu l-ġenituri tiegħek u wisq anqas għall-funeral tagħhom ma stajt tattendi. Hawnhekk setgħu jidħlu biss familjari, sal-kuġini u nitkellmu minn wara l-grada. Barranin ħadd.”

    Il-madre ratni nitmeżmeż u ma flaħtx ma nistaqsihiex għala bniedem għandu jaċċetta li jiċċaħħad tant, sempliċiment għall-fidi? Imma t-tnejn qabżu fuqi u rrispondewni…

    “Aħna ma nħossuniex imċaħħda. Din hija t-tip ta’ ħajja li għażilna. Nammettu li ġieli jiġu mumenti iebsa bħal kif jiġu fuq kulħadd. Imma permezz tal-fidi tagħna, lanqas biss inħossu n-nuqqas li qed titkellem dwaru inti. Kultant lanqas aħna stess ma nkunu nafu kif ser infissru din il-vokazzjoni tagħna. Imma biex forsi nagħtuk ħjiel infakkruk li għalkemm inti ma dħaltx soru bħalna, m’għandniex dubju li tagħmel bosta sagrifiċċji biex tara l-familja tiegħek kuntenta.”

    Is-sorijiet għarrfuni wkoll li wara l-Koncilju tal-1963 l-affarijiet inbiddlu xi ftit.

    “Issa nistgħu nitkellmu mal-pubbliku għalkemm dejjem minn wara l-grada. Lanqas biss ngħidlek kemm jiġu nies kuljum jitolbuna l-pariri jew biex jiftħu qalbhom magħna. Barra minn hekk it-telefon ma jieqafx minuta.

    Sirna wkoll nistgħu nsewgu ċertu programmi fuq ir-radju u fuq it-TV. F’dawn l-aħħar erbgħa snin qegħdin ukoll noħorġu nisimgħu l-quddies man-nies minflok narawha minn fuq il-monitor minn wara l-artal tal-kappella. Kienet esperjenza sabiħa wisq meta rajna l-attendenza tan-nies tfawwar il-kappella wara din il-bidla. Fejn qabel kien ikun hemm wieħed jew żewġ persuni, illum il-kappella tkun mimlija nies. Joqogħdu anki jkantaw magħna u tgħidx kemm jieħdu ħsiebna meta xi waħda minna ma tinżilx għall-quddiesa. Nifhem li dan kien pass il-quddiem għax b’hekk in-nies saret tafna u tfittixna u nġibdet ħafna lejna. Tneħħa l-misteru ta’ x’seta’ konna u fejn ħafna ħasbuna strambi u ma nafux immorru man-nies issa setgħu jifhmu li aħna m’aħniex ħlief bnedmin bħalhom li ddeċidejna li niddedikaw ħajjitna biex nitolbu għall-bżonnijiet tal-popli kollha u tad-dinja.”

    Imma ngħid jien mhux aħjar tmidd idejk u tagħmel xi ħaġa milli toqgħod titlob biss?

    “Aħna nagħmlu ħafna xogħol fil-monasteru imma t-talb huwa d-dedikazzjoni tagħna. It-talb għandu qawwa kbira quddiem Alla u t-talb tagħna kontinwu jservi biex min ma jafx jew m’għandux ċans jitlob, nitolbu aħna għalih. Il-Papa xebbaħ lis-sorijiet tal-klawsura mal-power station tal-Knisja u sostna illi li kieku m’hawnx dat-tip ta’ sorijiet, il-Knisja tkun fqira ħafna.

    Peress li aħna ddedikati lil Alla, nkunu nistgħu nidħlu f’intimità miegħu u nwasslulu t-talb kollu ta’ dawk li jkunu rrakkomandaw ruħhom f’talbna. Fil-fatt kull fil-għodu fl-5:45am l-ewwel talba tagħna L-inħawi tal-madwar minn fuq il-bejtdejjem tkun dedikata għall-bżonnijiet ta’ dawk li jkunu kellmuna, għall-morda, għall-ġerarkija tal-Knisja u għal dawk kollha li għandhom bżonn l-għajnuna t’Alla. Noffru wkoll diversi quddisiet għall-benefatturi tagħna kemm ħajjin u anki mejtin.”

    It-tnejn li huma saħqu miegħi li ma jħossuhomx magħluqa u li qatt ma jixxenqu għal barra. Biex ifehmuni aħjar iddeċidew li jtellgħuni fuq il-bejt u għalhekk it-tlieta li aħna rkibna l-lift għal erbgħa sulari ‘l fuq.

    “Qabel dal-lift ma kienx jeżisti. Konna nitilgħu fuq il-bejt kull nhar ta’ Ħadd u biex niċċajtaw aħna u telgħin it-taraġ bl-ikel ta’ nofs inhar f’idejna konna nagħmlu tabirruħna li sejrin sa San Pawl il-Baħar. Veduta minn fuq il-bejt tal-moansteruIllum m’għadnix nifilħu nitilgħu dak it-taraġ kollu imma l-bejt sabiħ wisq!”

    Ma ridtx wisq biex nifhem hekk kif xrifna barra għall-frisk tal-arja. L-għoli tal-post jippermetti xeni mill-isbaħ li jinfirxu sa fuq il-baħar.

    “Għidilna kif tista’ tħossok imsakkra f’dal-ġmiel? Tant hawn sabiħ li bla ma trid tidħol f’meditazzjoni. Fl-istess ħin in-nies tant huma qrib li ma tħossok waħdek qatt. F’xi ġurnata sabiħa mhux darba u tnejn li nitilgħu hawn u noqogħdu nitpaxxew bid-dgħajjes sbieħ għaddejjin.”

    Ressquni qrib ċint li jagħti għal isfel fuq il-ġnien. Ommi ma kif inħsadt! Kemm kien hemm għoli!

    “Hawn dan l-għoli kollu għax hawnhekk kien hawn barriera minn fejn inqata’ l-ġebel kollu biex inbena l-bqija tal-monasteru. Issa ħares hemm isfel ara, hemmhekk hemm il-kannierja fejn jindifnu s-sorijiet li jmutu.”

    Dħalna ġewwa mill-ġdid u s-sorijiet ħaduni f’kamra minn fejn huma jittawwlu biex jaraw il-purċissjonijiet għaddejjin. Xtaqt inħoss kif iħossuhom huma wara dik in-nisġa ta’ Il-ġnien kien barriera minn fejn inqata' l-ġebel għall-bqija tal-biniħadid u għalhekk ersaqt qrib u ttawwalt barra. Minn wara t-toqob tal-grada stajt nara n-nies għaddejjin b’ħajjithom fit-triq ta’ taħtna u fl-uffiċini faċċata u bla ma naf kif ersaqt bil-ħeffa lura hekk kif għajnejn raġel minnhom iltaqgħu ma’ tiegħi malli rnexxielu jilmaħni. Il-Madre tbissmet u talbitni nsegwiha għax issa xtaqet tniżżilni fil-kannierja.

    “Nippreferi li nilħqu nidħlu qabel jidlam għax nibża’ mill-mejtin u niddejjaq nidħol hemm fid-dlam.”

    Issa kien imiss lili nitbissem. Fl-istess ħin stagħġibt kemm kien għadda ħin u lanqas biss indunajt.

    “Aħna ngħixu għal dejjem fil-monasteru tagħna u meta mmutu nindifnu hawn ukoll.”

    Ma kien hemm xejn tal-biża’ fil-kannierja. Anzi! Bħal kif kien hemm fil-bqija tal-kunvent kienet teżisti sensazzjoni ta’ paċi u serenità.

    “Hawnhekk ma jonqosna xejn ħlief aktar vokazzjonijiet. Bħal kif stajt tara b’għajnejk stess aħna ngħixu ħajja pjuttost trankwilla u ferħana. Dejjem insibu fhiex nhedew uIl-kennierja - faċċata hemm il-qabar tat-tifel tal-Markiżi huwa biss iż-żmien li issa qed irażżnilna kemmxejn il-pass. Min jaf kemm organizzajna attivitajiet bejnietna u kemm ħadna gost flimkien bl-aktar affarijiet sempliċi. Għax wara kollox x’ifisser li tkun ferħana fil-ħajja jekk mhux li tħossok sodisfatt bl-għażliet tiegħek u bil-ħajja li tkun għext?

    Issa inti għaddejt dal-ftit siegħat magħna u nixtiequk li twassal din l-esperjenza lill-oħrajn. Jekk hemm xi tfajliet li jixtiequ jiġu jaraw kif ngħixu, aħna nilqugħom b’idejna miftuħa u min irid jista’ anki jqatta’ xi xhur magħna biex jara kif imur.”

    Kont kurjuża kif it-tfajliet li jidħlu magħhom jistgħu jkomplu jesprimu ruħhom apparti bit-talb?

    “Min jidħol hawn ma tispiċċax ħajtu imma sempliċiment jibda paġna ġdida minnha. Min għandu xi talent ċertament li ser isib skop għalih għax hawnhekk jiġu ħafna nies jitolbuna biex naħdmulhom bosta affarijiet li jirrikjedu sengħa bħal ħjata, crochet, ganutell, pittura eċċ.”

    Iż-żewġ sorijiet ħadnuni magħhom daqs li kieku konna ilna nafu ‘l xulxin is-snin u waqt li rregalawli kuruna mill-isbaħ wegħduni hekk..

    “Issa inti benefattriċi tagħna wkoll u mill-lejla ser tibda tkun fit-talb tagħna.”

    Kliemhom imlieli qalbi. Laħaq dalam x’ħin ħriġt minn hemm u jkolli ngħid li kif l-għodwa ċediet għall-miġja ta’ lejl ġdid, daqstant ieħor fehemti kienet inbidlet. Għafast il-kuruna f’idi u hekk kif ħaffift lejn il-karozza biex nasal malajr ħdejn żewġi u binti, f’moħħi fhimt ċar li kull għażla kapaċi twassal għas-sodisfazzjon tal-ħajja.

    (Nota: Dan l-artiklu ġie ppubblikat fit-Torċa tad-19 ta’ Settembru 2010)

    2010.09.19 / 3 responses / Category: Torca - Perspettivi