The Good Friday Procession in Nadur
by Alexander Bonnici OFM. Conv | English translation by Dr. Joe de Bono
Up to the dawn of the 20th century there were no processions in Gozo featuring the statues of the Passion of Christ, except in Victoria. But the liturgy of the Holy Week was always celebrated with due solemnity in the Collegiate Church at Nadur.
This village - always one of the biggest parishes in Gozo -provides us with registers which give us details regarding the Holy Week functions and the three-hour sermons. In 1752, for example, tha administrator of the so called "Veneranda Lampada" bought a bust of the "EcceHomo", for which he paid the sum of 7 skudi' and 4 tari'. The statue immediately attracted some very considerable veneration. So much so that on 30th July, 1836 the then not insignificant sum of 3 skudi and 7 irbajja was paid to artisan Louis Bugeja for a hanging light made entirely of brass to be used in front of this highly venerated statue. Consequently, an "ad hoc" procurator was installed with the explicit duty of ensuring that the icon was always kept in trim. Every now and then, of course, it had to be touched up. In fact on 28th June, 1854, 7 skudi and 6 irbajja were paid out for its restoration and a new coat of paint.
Not later than the mid-l9th century, the parish was enriched with a statue of Our Lady of Sorrows. During the time of Parish Priest John Baptist Grech (1855 -1876), this statue was embellished by the addition of a silver dagger which bears the name of Joseph Bartolo; so, one can justifiably presume that he was the donor who forked out the expenses entailed. This was in 1863. This statue was used whenever a pilgrimage devised by the parishes of Nadur, Ghajnsielem and Qala was undertaken.
Concurrently, there appeared the Corpse of Christ made of papier-mache. In 1876, the statuarian Kalcidon Agius, gave it a body-coloured coat of paint. It was soon placed in an urn sporting the Franciscans' Coat of Arms because it had been acquired from the Franciscan Conventuals of Valletta.
1913: THE FIRST PROCESSION
Soon after his installation, Archpriest Martin Camilleri (1910 - 1921) began to plan for a formal procession. The idea became a reality in 1913. In fact, on 21st March, for the first time, the procession slowly wound its way round the main streets of the village: Saints Peter and Paul Square, Dun Bernard Haber, Parish Priest, Rakela Camilleri, Xandriku, Saint John, Grunju, Dun Grezz, Xjuf ir-Rih, Triq Dicembru 13 and back to the Square. It was still a fledging procession involving only three statues, but the concourse of both participants and people was tremendous. For this occasion, the statue of "Ecce Homo" made its appearance complete with a silver sceptre made appositely by its procurator, Paul Gatt, [the local school headteacher]. Eventually, this sceptre was installed in a new statue that replaced this old one.
The second statue, that of Our Lady of Sorrows, also took part. Although it has since undergone some changes and restoration, it is still in use today.
To these was added a new statue of the Corpse of Christ, carved in wood and made In Bolzano, Italy. It was paid for by Joseph Grech and was meant to replace the old one whose condition had badly deteriorated.
In 1914, a first committee to take charge of the Good Friday Procession was also convened, made up of the following gentlemen: John Cauchi, Anthony Said, John Mifsud, Laurence Camilleri and some others. It is interesting to relate that with the exception of Mr. Cauchi, all were Primary School teachers. Of these, Anthony Said was the most active, making several symbols that are still in use to-day. He also made a set of banners [bandalori] showing the last seven words of the crucified Christ. They were the most beautiful in Gozo. Various families too, made lanterns which were carried in the procession by their own children. Some had coloured glass, and therefore, added a touch of colour to an otherwise sombre pageant. These lanterns were passed on from one family child to another.
The Reverend Father Anton Camilleri, a noted musician and a future archpriest, trained his choir for the occasion. All the streets through which the procession passed were lit by torches, often made of discarded tins of all shapes and sizes filled with ash soaked with kerosene The Ellul family in Grunju Street drew a lot of attention by lighting the biggest torch of all - a big sizable bath tub that emitted light and choking smoke in equal quantities. The Sammut family who still live at the confluence of North and 10th December Streets invariably installed something that was new for all Gozo - a system.of 10 acetylene burners that gave a very bright light without any attendant smoke.
A unique statue depicting St. Peterís betrayal ^
A SET OF STATUES BY CARMEL MALLIA
Carmel Mallia (1880-1930) nicknamed "Il-Lhudi" from Qormi, a statuarian producing figures in papier-mache and a disciple of the famous Carlo [Charles] Darmanin made several new statues for Nadur. Mallia had not only imbibed his art from Darmanin but had also bought most of the moulds used by his master when the latter died in 1909, aged. 85 years. Mallia a had a passion for making his Good Friday statues look like Jews who, of course, were leading protogonists in the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Consequently, he was given the sobriquet "ll-Lhudi" - the Jew.
Towards 1914, he made a statue of the Redeemer, which was paid for by Michael Borg a worker on the Harbour ferries. When the statue arrived In Gozo, It was temporarily placed in St Anthony's Church of the Franciscan Friars Minor whence it was eventually carried processionally to Nadur by the Chapter, Clergy and Confraternities of Nadur followed by an immense crowd of parishiners and people from all comers of Gozo.
Mallia went on producing, in succession, the statues of Christ in Gethsemane, the Scourging at the Pillar, the "Ecce Homo" (which replaced the old bust) the Veronica and the Crucifiction. Thus, during the relatively short archpriesthood of Fr. Martin Camilleri, Nadur was equipped with a set of 8 traditional statues. Unfortunately, however, of these Mallia statues, only the Veronica and the Crucifixion group have survived. Now, only the Veronica statue is still taken out for the Good Friday procession while the Crudfixion group can be seen in its niche high up on the Altar of the Crucifixion.
During the short Archpriesthood of Canon Anton Camilleri (1922-1926), the Nadurians went on donating money for the purpose of embellishing their Good Friday procession. In fact, quite apart from the usual sermons, an orchestra began to take part in the functions. But there was no change in or additions to the statues.
next archpriest, Canon Joseph Cassar (1927-1950) went to great lengths
to have new statues, which were now made of wood. In 1927, the statue of
Christ in Gethsemane was brought from Bolzano. It was paid up for by
Marcel and Rose Camilleri. A short time afterwards, Bolzano again
produced the Scourging at the Pillar, arguably the most artistic of all
the Nadur statues, followed by the "Ecce Homo" both paid for
by Chevalier Joseph Camilleri. Consequently, only the statues of the
Veronica, the Redeemer, the Crucifixion and Our Lady of Sorrows remained
of the 1914 set of statues.
1968-1975: PALM SUNDAY
In 1968, the procession appeared in the Nadur streets once more after a lapse of several years because of local trouble with the church authorities. But on orders of His Lordship Bishop Nicholas J Cauchi, the procession took place on Palm Sunday rather than on Good Friday.
Then, in 1973, the Reverend Father Joseph Cauchi, the new administrator, took upon himself the arduous and expensive task of restoring some of the statues and expanding the whole concept of the procession. Artist Michael Camilleri Cauchi - among other works - restored two of the older statues: those of the Veronica and Our Lady of Sorrow.
A new era had dawned in which many new habits for the members of the various con fraternities - originally a penitential dress - were made; Zimarri - children's cloaks for Good Friday processions, mahagony crosses for the statues of the Redeerner and OurLady of Sonows and banners embroidered with Christ's last seven words were made. Their design was drawn up by Carmelo Tonna of Rabat, Malta, and the intricate needle work was carried out by several Nadur girls.
Among other Passion symbols that were made during that time, one can, perhaps, mention a big banner which leads the procession with the words II-Passjoni ta' Gesu' Kristu - "The Passion. of Our Lord Jesus Christ" made on a design of Michael Carnilleri Cauchi. During this period, too, new mahagony braddelli and platforms were made by Paul Curmi and his son Joseph. Glass globes were also bought to protect the lighted candles around each statue during the procession.
In 1975, the aureolas - raggieri of all statues were changed and a new cross was made for the Crucified Jesus. Joseph Camilleri of Nadur made the wooden Cross, while Michael Camilleri Cauchi worked in papier-mache the figure of Christ on the Cross. Joseph Cassar of Cospicua made a silver star-studded halo stellarju for the statue of Our Lady of Sorrows, while the above mentioned Joseph Camilleri made the woodwork of the urn to contain the Corpse of Jesus. The sculpture on it is the work of Michael Camilleri Cauchi: on a design drawn out by his brother Paul. The urn was guilded by Emanuel Darmanin of Rahal Gdid and it was first seen outside the church in 1975, during the Procession which was held on Palm Sunday.
In order to keep the people informed of the massive work undertaken, news leaflets began to be published containing a lot of information regarding the Good Friday Procession.
1976: AGAIN ON GOOD FRIDAY
As from 1976, the Good Friday Procession once again began to take place on the appropriate Friday. In that year, a new group of statuary representing the CrucifIxion was inaugurated. Five characters are depicted Christ on the Cross, the Madonna (Qur Lady), St John, Mary Magdalene and the Centurion Longinus, all of them the work of Michael Camilleri Cauchi.
When this new set appeared, the old statues including the Crucifix, the Madonna and St, John, which formed part of the old Crucifixion statue were placed in a beautiful niche on the main altar of the north apse of the parish church, where they still are today
In 1976, too, the costumes of 13 Roman Soldiers were inaugurated. Most of the apparel is made of metal and cost Lm899. It was made by the Firm Joseph-Aquilina of Qormi. Pauline Azzopardi sewed the fabric involved free of charge, while the leather sandals were made by Reuben Sammut
Two philarmonic Societies now began to accompany the procession: the 'Precursor" Band of Xewkija and the local "Mnarja" Band. Other Biblical personages were also introduced and further ornaments were added to embellish the various statues.
In 1979, the Reverend Father Carmel Portelli took over as procurator of the Good Friday procession He immediately took steps to ensure that the annual pageant held during Holy Week by the youth members of the local parish centre be again staged in the parish church. For some years this pageant had been the responsability of the "Ghaqda Zghazagh Nadurin", a branch of the Mnarja Band. In the last years of Archpriest Michael Portelli, a big cross that was to be hung on the main altar during Lent as well as a statue of the Risen Christ were ordered. They were to be made by the well-known Gozitan statuarian Michael Camilleri Cauchi. However these were completed after the installation of the present Archpriest.
THE RECENT YEARS
In 1983, Monsignor Canon Saviour Muscat was installed as Archpriest of the Nadur parish and the Good Friday celebrations have since, increasingly begun to be looked upon as second only in importance to the village feast the "Imnarja".
In 1983, on the occasion of the inauguration of the Holy Year of Our Salvation, the statuarian Camilleri Cauchi made the above mentioned Crucifix which has since attracted a lot of devotion. It was hung for the first time immediately above the main altar on the 17th March, 1983. Then, in 1984, the new statue of the Risen Christ was inaugurated. The aureola and the palm frond in Christ's right hand are made of solid silver and they were both donated by Mr. Edward Vassallo. The statue was blessed on the eve of Easter Sunday. On the morrow, the statue was taken round in a procession accompanied by the "Mnarja" Band.
In 1984, some hooded men wearing a white habit and dragging heavy chains tied to their legs, and carrying big wooden crosses on their shoulders, either in completion of a vow or to show penitence made their first appearance. Concurrently the statues of the Scourging at the Pillar and the "Ecce Homo" were carefully restored.
In 1987, the statue of the Veronica the work of Carmel Mallia was embellished by the addition of a statue of a young girl, the work of Michael Camilleri Cauchi. It was paid for by the late Moses Camilleri. The Veronica is one bf the most beautiful of the Nadur set of Good Friday statues, besides being the only one of its type in the Maltese islands.
Then, in 1988, when Nadur was celebrating the 300th anniversary of its erection into a seperate parish, a new statue for the Good Friday procession was made. It shows Saint Peter with Christ being dragged in chains after the great betrayal. It was, like many others, made by artist Michael Camilleri Cauchi. There is no similar statue in our islands. It was paid for through donations by Nadurians. Carmen Buttigieg met the expenses of the silver halos,
In the last few years, more biblical characters were introduced and mounted Roman soldiers made their appearance. Two other sets of costumes of Roman soldiers were made, while a muzzetta (shouldercape) was added to every habit worn by those carrying the statues.
In 1991, Michael Camilleri Cauchi restored and made some modifications to the statue of Christ in Gethsemane. This is the only statue in our Islands which shows Christ on the right hand and the angel on the left. The modification involved the raising of Christ by several inches and its removal towards the right.
In the same year, too, a big banner sporting the letters S.P.Q.R. meaning "Senatus Populusque Romanus", the Senate and People of Rome - embroidered in gold by sister Anastasia Said on a design of Joe Segona of Victoria - was inaugurated.
Eventually, in 1994, the restoration of the statue of the Redeemer was undertaken and embellished.
Now the procession, without losing its religious aspect, has also taken on the aspect of a magnificent outdoor pageant which draws spectators from all over both islands.