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The peace of the risen Christ be always with you - Il-paci ta' Kristu rebbieh fuq il-mewt tkun dejjem mieghek

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Balzan Parish Church History

A Historical Note

Balzan always depended by its spiritual welfare on the help given by the Parish Church of Birkirkara.  So much so that the vice Parish Priest of Birkirkara used to come to Balzan every Sunday and day of obligation to say mass here.  Birkirkara’s Parish Priest used to come to this village to hear confessions, administer the sacraments and bury the dead.

When the apostolic visitor Mgr. Pietro Duzina, visited Balzan on the 1st of February 1575, the number of its inhabitants was 300.  When H.L. Mgr Fra Michael Balaguer visited Balzan, a letter dated 19th March 1655 was handed to him in which the inhabitants of Balzan, while giving several reasons, asked the Bishop to segregate Balzan from the Parish of Birkirkara and erect this village as an independent Parish.  The Bishop consented to the wish of the Balzan villagers and raised Balzan to an independent Parish on the 14th August 1655.

Building the recent Parish Church

When H.L. Mgr. Fra Michael Balaguer erected Balzan as a new Parish, he decreed that the XIV century church dedicated to the Annunciation of Our Lady begin to serve as Parish Church and that Fr. Adrian Zarb, brother to the Birkirkara Parish Church Priest, was to be installed as the first Parish Priest of Balzan.

The number of inhabitants was increasing and by 1667 there were about 550 people living in 140 houses, and the old church of the Annunciation was too small for an increasing population.  This was five years since Fr. Dominic Ellul was installed as a second Parish Priest.  Fr. Ellul had this Parish at heart, and seeing the needs of a new Parish Church he saw that the plans of the new church could cope not only with the exigencies of those days but for the days to come, and this was very true.  The plans of the new Parish Church were prepared and never altered.

The Laying of the Foundation Stone

On the day when the Foundation Stone was supposed to be laid, Malta was without a Bishop.  These circumstances gave the honour and the privilege to the zealous Parish Priest, Fr Dominic Ellul, to lay the Foundation Stone himself.  Amongst the great joy and enthusiasm of the 550 inhabitants of Balzan and people from other Parishes, the Foundation Stone was laid on the 23rd December 1669.

The Church was blessed on the 23rd January 1695 by H.L. Mgr. David Cocco Palmieri, and consecrated on the 7th October 1781 by H.L. Mgr. Vincentius Labini.

The Exterior of the Church

Spanish influence is as strong in this façade as the afternoon sunshine is on its tall front.  Against this, the main door facing west is strong and sombre, over which stands in a niche a stone-carved statue of Our Lady Immaculate.  In the centre of the façade is a rose-window surmounted by a frontispiece ending in a stone cross.

The whole façade is marvellously lit with hundreds of coloured bulbs forming a fantastic lace design giving life by sunset and during the night to the bare walls and pilasters of this church.

The opening space in front of the church enclosed by a cement balustrade recint was made in 1937 by Joseph Galea.  Here we see four stone statues.  The two statues representing Our Lady and the Archangel Gabriel were made by Sigismondo Dimech in 1802.  The other statues of St. Peter and St. Paul were made in 1716 and were first placed in the choir apse and later, when Fr. Anibale Sisner was Parish Priest. I-e 1896-1923, they were transferred to this present place.

The Belfry

This Church has only one Belfry, which was built in 1708, and is now furnished with six melocius bells made in Annecy, France, by Paccard.  The largest bell of this set weighs about 4 tons and ranks third in Malta after that of Birkirkara and St John’s Cathedral.  The bell was blessed and installed in January 1949.

The electric clock, made by Petit & Fritsen Ltd., of Holland, was inaugurated on the 25th December 1970. It replaces an old one made in 1744 by the Maltese clock maker Pietro Tanti.

The Interior of the Church

The plan of the church is in the form of a Latin cross a nave crossed by a transept and a choir.  It is 120 feet long and 92 feet wide in the transepts and 27 ½ feet wide in the main nave.  The architecture of the church is of a Doric order.  The architecture of all the altars is of a Corinthian order, except for two which are of compost order.

The Cupola

The high altar is surmounted by a beautiful dome.  The work on this dome started in 1699 and finished in 1707.  This cupola is of a lonic Order and is sustained on eight stone-carved giants, which make this dome singular in Malta. The paintings were made by Guiseppe Cali’ in 1894. The paintings on the four main vaults over which stands the cupola and which represent the four Evangelists were painted by the same artist.

The Pavement

The nave and transepts are paved with rich multi-coloured marble inlaid with emblems of Our Lady and the Coat of Arms of Balzan , Pope Pius X and of X.G Michael Gonzi.  This pavement was made through the contributions of the clergy and the people of Balzan in 1951, and the work was executed by Jpampinato Tabons.

The Baptismal Front

This marble and rich oak Baptismal Font just inside the entrance were made in 1847.  The marble base was made by Felix Psaila and the oak pyramid by Michael Casha.

The Holy Water Fonts

There are four Holy Water Fonts, two placed at the entrance near the main door and the others at the side of the transepts.  These fonts were donated by four different families of Balzan in 1952 and are made by Themistocole Sarti of Pietra Santa, Lucca.

Altar dedicated to Saint Anne

This altar was mentioned the first time in the Pastoral Visitation of H.L. Mgr. Michael H. Holina, on the 3rd January 1679.  He says the altar is a “Jus Patronatus” of John Mary Frendo and Benedict Borg.

The marble columns and alter were made by Michael Baldacchino.  In the altar’s prospective there is an oval picture of St. Francis Xavier.

Statue of Our Lady of the Rosary

This statue was brought to this church in 1777.  This statue is carved into wood and is carried shoulder-high during the procession on the feast of the Holy Rosary.  Up to 1863, this same statue used to be carried during the feast of the Annunciation.  The niche was made of oak by Antonio Farrugia in the year 1779 and costed 97 skudi 1 tari’ and 10 grani.

The Confessional Box

This was made in 1839.

Altar of Our Lady of Sorrows

This altar has been dedicated to our lady of Sorrows since 1959.  In 1673 it was first dedicated to Our Lady of the Holy Rosary.  Then in 1709 it was changed to the Visitation Of Our Lady and was looked after by Fr. Bellia.  Later it was dedicated to St. Joachim.  The present picture of Our Lady of Sorrows was painted by Prof. Emvin Cremona in 1952. In the same year on the invitation of the Parish Priest, Can. Carmeno Sciberras the Confraternity of Our Lady of Sorrows started.

The Pulpit

The Pulpit is very much appreciated by all lovers of wood carving.  This was made of dark oak and gilded statues by the already mentioned artist Antonio Farrugia in 1744.

The Stations of the Cross

The first Stations of the Cross in this church were placed in 1784.  Later in 1814 another set replaced the first.  The present 14 stations were placed in 1884.  The candle-holders were made by Calcidonju Busuttil and the flower ornaments by Valentina Muscat.

The Statue of Our Lady of Lourdes

This statue dates from the beginning of the 20th century. It is a custom that during the commemoration of the apparitions of Our Lady. This statue is placed near the High Altar.

Silver Lanterns

These pair of silver lanterns were made by Francis Arpa in 1769.

Statue of Jesus Nazarene

This statue has been venerated in this church for many years.  The people of this village show great devotion to Jesus Nazarene mostly during Lent.

Crucifix and Lanterns

Two lanterns and a crucifix made of silver are the fruit of craftsmanship of Salvatore Letard.  The Confraternity of the Holy Rosary ordered these lanterns and crucifix in 1797.

Picture of St. Joachim

The picture of St. Joachim on the side door of the transept was once the altar piece of this altar is dedicated to Our Lady of Sorrows

Altar of the Holy Rosary

In 1673 the alter dedicated to Our Lady of the Holy Rosary was in place where now stands the altar of Our Lady of Sorrows.  Then in 1699 the main altar in this transept was built and the altarpiece could be transported from the nearby altar in the nave.  The altarpiece was surrounded by 15 small icons showing the 15 mysteries of the Holy Rosary.  Later all the sculptured ornaments around this altar were destroyed.  In 1893 Joseph Vassallo restored the façade of this altar and Joseph Bartolo guilded the ornaments.  The paintings surrounding the altar were all painted by Guiseppe Cali’.  The altar was constructed by H.G. Mgr. Michael Gonzi on 19th January 1953.  The confraternity attached to this altar, known as the Confraternity of the Holy Rosary was erected on the 22nd December 1958 in the old Parish Church of the Annunciation.

 

Statue of St. Rita

The statue of Saint Rita was donated to the church by Mr. Rosario Briffa. It was made by Chev. Agostino Camilleri in 1961.

Altar of St Michael

This altar was erected in 1723. It had as an altar-piece an old painting on wood showing Saint Michael. This altar piece used to be in a small church at the end of the small village which in 1658 during a Pastoral Visitation, the Bishop declared profanated. For some time the altar piece on this present altar was surrounded by three oval pictures showing the Holy Epiphany, the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady, and St. Bartholomew.  When this altar had to undergo some restorations, the three holy pictures were taken from their old place and are now found hanging on the side walls of the old sacristy. The Confraternity of Saint Michael was erected in the year 1728. This altar was also consecrated on the 19 January 1953. 

The Corpse of St. Valentine 

On the altar dedicated to Saint Michael there is a guided urn in which there stands the Holy Corpse of the Martyr Saint Valentine.  The remains of this saint were brought in 1784 from St. Helen’s Cemetery “ad duas lauras” in Rome by the Rt. Rev. Mgr. Laurence Grech Delicata and offered to the Parish Church on the 26th January 1820.

Since 1820 Saint Valentine has been chosen as the second Patron of Balzan.  Most of the old Balzan families gave the name of Valentine to one of their new-born babies. 

The Statue of the Annunciation

This statue represented Our Lady being greeted by the Holy Messenger the Archangel Gabriel is carved in wood.  It was made in 1868 by Salvatore Dimech of Mosta.  The statues of both Our Lady and the Archangel Gabriel are adorned with precious jewellery donated by the villagers.  The halo over Our Lady’s head is of 18 carat and is adorned with stars and 84 diamonds.  It was made by Paul Dimech in 1953.  The golden halo over the head of the Archangel was also made by the same jeweller and place on St. Gabriel’s head in 1959.  The sandals were made in 1965 by Joseph Xuereb Archer.

The devotion towards Our Lady in the Mystery of the Annunciation which the Balzan people sine time immemorial has always shown is testified by the numerous votive candles burning all the year round in front of this statue. 

The Main Altar

The first main altar in this parish church was placed under the arch of the main vault: just after three years since the laying of the foundation stone of the church in 1669.  This church was solemnly blessed on the 23rd of January 1695 and since then the main altar was erected in this present place.  This altar was consecrated by Bishop Vincent Labini on the 7th October 1781.  Later, in 1824 the was covered with rich marble by Vincent Adrario and Joseph Dalli.  The bronze decorations were made by Louis Bugeja.

The wooden carved statues were designed by the well known Vincenzo Dimech and donated by Signor Gian Carlo Grech Delicata in 1820. The ceramic vases with miniatures representing the life of Our Lady are a donation of a benefactor who lived in America. The silver tabernacle was made in 1967 by Francis Cassar of Cospicua. The guided holy relic holder ‘Ostensorto’ was made by Roberto Cannataci in 1840. Worth noticing on this altar are the candlesticks, the artificial flowers, rich Malta lace altar cloths, gold embroidered red velvet altar cover and the six solid silver candlesticks on the altar table.

The Canopy

The first canopy over the high altar was made in 1725 and a donation for this canopy came from Grand Master Manoel de Vilhena. The present canopy is made of delicately carved cornices and other intricate decorations on wood.  It was designed by the architect Enrico Calleja and made by Salvatore Grixti both from Balzan.

Two Large Candlesticks

The two wooden carved and gilded candlesticks which attract the eyes for their largeness were designed by the well-known Maltese designer Francesco Zahra.  On this same design were made all the other candlesticks on all the altars of the church.

The Side Tables

Though a considerable number of precious gold and silver religious objects are exposed on the side tables, a word of mention should go to some particular ones, such as: 

-         The silver monstrance gilded in gold and made by Andrea Triosi in December 1749.  This monstrance throughout the years has been decorated with many precious stones.

-         The chalice which is made of solid gold was donated by Signor Guiseppe Frendo.

-         The chalice donated to this Parish church by Bishop Grech Delicata.

-         The gilded communion plate donated by Not.Dott.G. Frendo in 1885.

-         Large silver plate donated by Alfred Brincat in 1959.

The Choir

 

On entering the choir from the left hand side, one can admire the silver processional cross made in 1777. The choir stalls were made by Antonio Farrugia in 1739 and donated by the priests living in the parish in those times. In the middle of the choir is an old carved lectern with a Roman Psalter dating 1700. The two large pictures on the sides of the choir were painted by Rocco Buhagiar (1725 – 1805).

 

The Titular Altar

Though the church architecture is of perfect Doric Order, the choir apse is of a compact order.  The altar in the apse was first mentioned in 1709 during the Pastoral Visitation of Bishop David Cocco Palmieri. In 1745 on the upper part of the altar was placed a decorated niche protected by an iron grate where sacred relics were kept in custody. The present altar is covered with rich marble and was donated by Fr. Salvatore Sammut in 1818. On this altar stands a Reliquary which contains a large number of authentic sacred relics of saints.

The present altar piece was made by Guiseppe Calleja in 1859.  It replaces an old painting of the Annunciation of Our Lady which one can admire in the old sacristy. On each side of the apse were the statues of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, which now stand in the open space in front of the church. The two kneelers on each side of the altar, were made in 1817 by Giovanni Bugeja. The paintings on the choir ceiling were done partly by Guiseppe Cali’ and partly by Prof. Emvin Cremona.

The Sacristy on the Left

This sacristy was built in 1679.  Here we see decorated cupboards where religious articles are stored.  The painting covering the ceiling was the altar piece of the titular altar. The oval paintings representing the Epiphany, the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady and St. Bartholomew are the pictures that once adorned the altar piece of the altar dedicated to St. Michael. The painting of the Assumption of Our Lady was once the altar piece of the church known as Santa Marija.

The Sacristy on the Right

The design of this sacristy was made by Mastro Salv of Siggiewi.  In this sacristy we are attracted to admire an old clock unique in Malta.  It is said that this clock is the model of G.M. Pinto’s Clock in the courtyard of the President’s Palace in Valletta.  This clock besides showing the time, gives the date, the phases of the moon, and the seasons.  Four moors every quarter on an hour strike their hammers on different bells to give the time. A large painting shows one of the great benefactors of the church – Fr. Dominic Debono, Prontonotarius Apostolicus. Another painting which was brought from the church of the Assumption represents the mystical wedding of St. Catherine.

Altar of St. Paul

This altar is dedicated to St. Paul the First Hermit.  It was erected by the Doctor of Medicine, Fra Giuseppe Zammit, Magesterial Chaplain to the Order.  We read about the erection of this altar in 1711.  This altar became juspatronate of Donna Agata Farrugia as heir of Frater Zammit whi is buried in front of this altar. This altar was consecrated in 1953.

Statue of St. Michael

This was carved in wood by F. Perathoner of Crtisei, Bolzano and donated to the church on the 13th December 1959.

Altar of the Crucifixion

In 1716, this altar had fifteen oval pictures depicting the way of the Cross and the Last Supper. In 1758 on each side of the Crucifix were placed paintings representing Our Lady and St. John. In 1675 a sodality for the welfare of the dying was erected. The picture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus shows the devotion of the people of Balzan who as we know started special devotions to the Sacred Heart since the year 1765.

 

Statue of Our Lady of Fatima

This statue has been in this church since 1958 when the present Parish Priest started amongst his parishioners the devotions to Our Lady of Fatima.

The Painting over the door

This was the altar piece of the altar, which is now dedicated to St. Joseph.

Altar of Our Lady of Mount Carmel

In 1679 this altar was dedicated to the Holy Trinity and it was erected by Fr. Dominic  Debono. In 1906 for the first time this altar is said to be dedicated to Our Lady of Mount Carmel. The painting is of Guiseppe Cali’ and in 1973 this altar was redecorated.

Altar of St. Joseph

This altar was erected before 1678 and was dedicated to the Holy Name of Jesus. Today this altar is dedicated to Saint Joseph.  The painting of the altar piece was made by Ramiro Cali’ in 1936.  The altar was redecorated last year.

Statue of Our Lady of Sorrows

This statue was made by Chev. Agostino Camilleri in 1954.  In 1959 the Confraternity of Our Lady of Sorrows was erected.

INFORMATION PROVIDED BY FR. JOHN DIMECH

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