Valletta

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The Augustinians in the early years of the New City

The relation between the Augustinians and the city of Valletta goes back to its very foundation, when Grand Master jean de la Valetta laid the foundation stone of this new city on the 28th March 1566. On this occasion, the Italian Augustinian Father Angosciola delivered a famous inaugural speech. La Valette died in August 1568 without seeing the completion of his city. He was succeeded by Pietro Del Monte who immediately sought to continue on the same plans as his predecessor. In order to encourage more people to go and live in the new city, Del Monte started distributing land to various religious orders so that they would build their churches and convents there.

The Augustinian fathers in Rabat asked for and were given a piece of land in quarter number 43 that adjoined four streets; Strada Del Monte (today St. John’s Street), Strada San Giovanni (today Old Bakery Street), Strada Pia (today Melita Street) and Strada San Sebastiano (today Old Mint Street). The contract was signed on the 10th May 1571 and immediately after works commenced on the building of the church and convent on the designs of architect Girolamo Cassar. While the church was dedicated to our Lady of Succour, the convent was known as St. Augustine’s.  Most probably the first Augustinian church was built on the corner of Strada San Sebastiano (nowadays known as Old Mint Street). The building works had to be interrupted for a while because the permission from the bishop had not been obtained. Nevertheless, on the 1st November 1574, the works continued.

The Building of the Second Convent during the French Occupation

After nearly two hundred years from when the monks started performing their religious duties in their first church in Valletta, both the church and the convent needed considerable repairs. Due to this, the monks felt that it would be better to dismantle everything and build the church and convent anew. The site for the new church was chose on the corner of Old Bakery Street with St. John’s Street.

The foundation stone of the new church and convent was laid on the 7th January 1765.When the work on the building of the church was at an advanced stage, the architect Giuseppe Bonnici died and his work was continued with some minor changes by the architect Antonio Cachia.  Due to a lack of funds, the whole building could not be completed before 30 years that is in 1784, just four years before the French occupation. On the 7th May 1785, the church was officially inaugurated although it required another 9 years before everything was completed. The church was blessed by the bishop Mons. Vincenzo Labini who also transported the Holy Sacrament from the old church to the new.

With the advent of the French occupation, several orders and edicts were issued, amongst which one which stated that the religious orders in Malta could not own more than one convent. In fact every religious order was left with the smallest and poorest convent. In the case of the Augustinians they were left with their convent in Gozo. The two convents of Rabat and Valletta fell into the hands of the French with all their possessions.

Due to the fact that the monks of the Rabat and Valletta convents could not gather in the convent in Gozo, most of them went to live with their families. Their property was restored to them between December 1800 and January 1801. The Augustinian monks once again embellished the church once more after it had been despoiled of its gold and silver. Meanwhile they also continued the restoration of the convent.

Modern Developments

On the first of November 1844, it was proposed that a belfry be built on the plans of architect Luigi Bonavia. The work was completed in May of the following year (the belfry on the right which hadn’t suffered any damage in the Second World War was built in 1912). As soon as the restoration work on the façade of the church was completed, the Provincial, Gaetano Pace Forno, was instructed by the General of the Order to set up a Formation Centre (Educandarium), in the Valletta convent, a place for those young men who wished to join the Augustinian Order. Thus another floor was added to the convent under the direction of the architect Antonio Ruggieri and was completed on the 7th July 1848.

Amongst the works of art that were created during this time we find two large paintings in the choir by the Roman artist Domenico Bruschi. On the 1st July 1906, the bishop of Gozo, Mons Giovanni M. Camilleri OSA consecrated the church and once again the Main Altar in a solemn ceremony.

With the start of the Second World War, the crypt of the church served am air raid shelter for many people who also slept in it.  On the 20th of May 1941, the convent in Valletta was hit by enemy bombs and suffered considerable damage especially on the corner of Old Mint Street and St. Mark Street where there were the archives and the refectory. A little less than a year later, on the 4th April 1942, the church was hit in another attack at the corner of Old Bakery Street and St. John Street. Following this, all the monks gathered in the convents of Rabat and Gozo save for two or three who remained in Valletta to watch over what remained of the church and the convent.

As soon as the war ended, the church and convent were rebuilt as they were, except for some minor alterations in the convent. The statue of St. Augustine that stood on the corner that was destroyed was replaced by a stone one by the sculptor Marku Montebello. This was unveiled and blessed on Sunday 3rd October 1948.

One of the many artistic works in the church is the marble pulpit designed by Chevalier Vincenzo Bonello. The items of sculpture and their models were made by Professor Carlo Pigi from Rome. This pulpit was blessed and inaugurated on Thursday 15th June 1950.

The church becomes a Parish

On the 21st January 1968, by means of a pastoral letter of the Archbishop Mons. Michael Gonzi that was read in all the parishes of Malta, it was officially announced that the church of St. Augustine in Valletta had become a Parish.  This new parish that came out of that of St. Dominic’s and that caters for about a quarter of the population of Valletta started operating on the 1st February 1968. The first Parish Priest of this new parish dedicated to St. Augustine, bishop, was Fr. Salv Portelli OSA.

The Augustinian monks in this community assist in all the pastoral work and the spiritual needs of the parish. Other brothers in the community work in other fields, amongst which, teaching at the University, following groups and movements, spiritual care of the Augustinian nuns who lead a contemplative life and who live in the monastery of St. Catherine in Valletta.  


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