The Augustinian presence in Rabat, Malta dates back to the end of the 14th century and the beginning of the 15th century.
The first Augustinians there probably came from Sicily. It seems that the first settlement in Malta of the Order of Saint Augustine was in Mellieha. They were obliged to move from Mellieha because it was on the coast and frequently attacked by the Turks. They moved inland to what was then the capital city of Malta, Mdina (now called Rabat).
In 1551 their convento just outside the fortifications of Mdina was hurriedly demolished during a Turkish attack. It was believed that the monastery was too near the walls of the City, and that the Turks would have used it as a spring-board to attack the fortifications of Mdina (now called Rabat).
In this sad destruction in 1551, the Augustinians lost everything. After some years of living in the "Santu Spiritu" hospital and in Imdina, the Augustinian community received St Mark's Chapel at what was then the outskirts of Mdina (Rabat).
This chapel and some tumbled-down houses in the vicinity were donated to the Augustinians by the Bishop Cubelles and the Chapter of the Cathedral of Mdina on 28th August 1555, with a title of a perpetual donation that had certain conditions attached.
The building of the monastery there, based on the design by Girolomo Cassar, started on the beginning of September of 1556.
In the year 1571, Girolomo Cassar started the construction of a church to replace the old Chapel of St Mark.
This work of art, which is still being enjoyed today, was finally completed in the year 1588. Along the years some changes in the interior design have taken place but the original structure is still that of Cassar.
After two hundred years of serving its function, the first monastery by Cassar, adjoining St Mark's Church had to be rebuilt because parts of it were threatening to collapse. Work started in 1740 according to the plans of the best-known architect in Malta at that time, Andrea Belli (1703-1772). Belli was chosen by the Prior General of the Order, on the recommendation of the architect Valvasorio of Rome.
Amongst the reasons why Belli was chosen for the renovations was that his plans "has very good measurements, and will save much of the old plans". The baroque element, typical of Belli, is much felt in this work.
On the portico of the monastery - a beautiful baroque work - one can enjoy detailed work on the Maltese limestone. The emblems on the portico were removed during the occupation of the French forces of Napoleon, when the monastery was taken away from Augustinians for another use for some months.
Today only the emblem of the Order of St. Augustine appears there. The Church is also decorated with another portico which enriches its harmonious facade.
Thanks to the hard labour of the Augustinians and their benefactors, many works of art have found their way in the monastery.
Amongst these one may find of particular notice: the polyptich of the 14th century that portrays the Madonna seated on a throne with the child Jesus, St. Paul, St Augustine and St Catherine of Alexandria; works by Preti (St Augustine and St John of Sahagun O.S.A.); works by Erardi (Our Lady of Consolation).
Photos (at right)
Picture 1: Church & Convento of Saint Mark, Rabat, Malta.
Picture 2: Church of Saint Mark, Rabat, Malta.
Picture 3: Augustinian Church of Saint Mark, Rabat, Malta.
For nine Augnet pages on the Augustinian history in Malta, click here.