In 1900 the Augustinian Province of Malta had 32 priests, 11 lay brothers and seven candidates in its three ancient houses at Valletta, Rabat and Gozo in Malta. By 1950 it had nine houses containing 61 priests, 14 lay brothers and 21 candidates. By then they conducted schools not only at Valletta as previously but also Saint Augustine’s College at Pieta. Today there are over sixty members of the Province. Seven other members of the Province conduct Augustinian ministries in Brazil, based at San Paolo.
No one can say with certitude when the Order of Saint Augustine (founded by the Grand Union in the year 1256) arrived in Malta and Gozo. In his book "Della Descrizione di Malta" published in 1647, the first Maltese historian, G.F. Abela, argues that the Order of Saint Augustine came of Malta in about the year 1460. This date has been challenged by various other historians who argue in favour of an earlier date of settlement, around 1420.
Luigi Torelli O.S.A. in his book, Secoli Agostiniani, states that the Augustinians were well established on the islands before 1386, since on that date a certain Francesco di Malta O.S.A. was Vicar General of Sicily. A modern historian, Anthony Luttrell, has studied notary documents in the archives of Palermo, Sicily, and wrote, "It is now certain that the Order of Saint Augustine had a convent in Malta by 1413 at the latest." It seems that the first settlement in Malta of the Order of Saint Augustine was in Mellieha. Their convent (convento), whose front façade still exists, was near the Maltese national shrine of Our Lady where an icon — painted by St. Luke, according to tradition – is venerated. They were obliged to move from Mellieha because it was on the coast and frequently attacked by the Turks. From the Augustinians moved inland to the old silent city of Mdina (now called Rabat). Until the middle of the 16th century Mdina was the capital city of Malta.
In Mdina they moved a number of times to various locations, and had their first convent demolished. Nowadays one can still admire the restored hoarse of the "well of Saint Augustine’’ which is supposed to have been the well of the monastery the friars had inside the Silent City. From inside Mdina they moved outside the City and built a monastery "in frontespicio contra et prope civitatem quantum est jactus lapidis’’. This monastery built in front of the main gate of Mdina where today stands Howard Gardens. The monastery was destroyed by the Maltese population in July 1551 as the Turks were about to attack Mdina.
Photos (at right) Picture 1: Statue of Saint Augustine, Valletta, Malta. Picture 2: The location of Malta. Picture 3: The Republic of Malta comprises of three main islands.
Military defence was the reason given for such destruction. 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. In this sad destruction, the Augustinians lost everything; they then had to wait until 28 August 1555 to obtain the small church of Saint Mark and its adjacent small houses in ruins at Saqqajja. This was on the outskirts of Mdina. This action of 1555 marked a new start for the Augustinians in Malta. It steadily and unwaveringly gave form and shape to the Augustinian presence in Malta and Gozo. As well, 1555 established an uninterrupted continuity lasting up to the present days.
Little by little the priory at the outskirts of Mdina (now called Rabat) became the heart of the Augustinian presence, the seat of formation and the philosophical and theological school of the Order of Saint Augustine in Malta. It was even given the title of ‘Major’ priory (convento), and for a long time its members enjoyed the privilege of choosing their own Prior (religious leader). This privilege, unique in the history of the Order, was given by Rome on the 14 March 1525 and lasted till the 22 May 1614.
In Rome in 1602, the Prior General (international leader) of the Order of Saint Augustine, Ippolito da Ravenna O.S.A. called this priory "domus celeberrima’’ ("the most celebrated house"). As a matter of fact, this priory is a precious jewel of architecture. In it, space and light mellifluously weave together, creating a natural atmosphere of peace and serenity. For centuries this priory has been the cradle of our "matière grise", a long list of Magistri, Baccellerati and Lecturers in the sacred sciences, in philosophy, music and other arts and sciences.
Photos (at left) Picture 1: Church & Convento of Saint Mark, Rabat, Malta. Picture 2: Church of Saint Mark, Rabat, Malta. Picture 3: Augustinian street procession, Malta.
Many regents of studies who served abroad - especially in the houses of the Order of Saint Augustine in Italy - began their studies in Rabat. For example, Gaetano Pace Forno O.S.A., who was Archbishop of Malta (1858-1874), Paul Micallef O.S.A, who was Prior General of the Order (1859-1863) and later the Archbishop of Pisa and Primate of Sardegna (1871-1881), and Mgr. G. Camilleri O.S.A., who was Bishop of Gozo (1889-1924) were among the many outstanding Maltese Augustinians. They were known for their learning and their spiritual values. The Priory at Rabat still serves as the house of formation where young people are seriously challenged by the Augustinian ideal of living together as one heart and one soul in God.
After the great siege of Malta, in 1565, Jean La Valette, grand Master of the Order of Saint John, decided to build a new Capital. The knights of Malta followed the Rule of Saint Augustine and consequently they felt very akin to the Augustinians.
Photos (at right) Picture 1: Gozo harbour, Malta. Picture 2: Augustinian procession of Saint Rita, Malta.Besides that, an Italian Augustinian, who later became the Prior General of the Order, Spirito Pelo Angosciola O.S.A., was a well-known preacher to the knights. He was asked by La Valette to deliver on the 28th March 1566 the speech at the laying of the first stone of the City of Valletta. In 1571 a contract was signed by which the Augustinians were granted a whole "quarter" in order to build a priory (convento) and a church. Later on, in 1763, the old building was demolished and gave place to a spacious convent and a magnificent – almost unique in Malta – church in the form of a Greek cross.
This whole complex was finished by 1794. During the Second World War the priory and the church where partly destroyed by the German bombs, but were later rebuilt. This priory (convento) for some time served also as novitiate house. In it also was installed the first secondary school, free of charge, on the island of Malta.(Continued on the next page)
For the Augnet gallery on the Augustinian Order in Malta, click here.
Links Province of Malta. Official web page. http://www.agostinjani.org
St Augustine’s School, Pieta, Malta. A very modern web page. http://www.sac-malta.org
Map of Malta. http://www.infoplease.com/atlas/country/malta.html