Churches in Xaghra
In Xaghra, one can find these churches:
(a) The Collegiate-Basilica Sanctuary of the Nativity of Our Lady (Maria Bambina)
Ix-Xagħra was separated from the Cathedral and established a parish by Bishop Davide Cocco Palmeri on 28th April, 1688 through the Apostolic Decree Cum in Prima;. The old chapel of Saint Anthony the Abbot served as the initial seat of the parish. But the people, at the request of the Bishop, began building a new church in the centre of the village on public land donated by Fra Gregoria Carafa, the Grand Master of the Order of Saint John. By May 1962, the new church was functioning. This church was dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, first under the title of Graces and, time later, to her Nativity. The population of Ix-Xagħra continued to grow and the church soon became too small. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, the Gozitan priest-architect Dun Salv Bondi prepared a plan for its enlargement. The foundation stone was laid on 2 October 1815 but, due to lack of funds, its building came to a halt. Its facade and interior reflect the baroque features common to most churches of these islands. Construction was concluded in the early 1850s due to a generous contribution by the parish priest Dun Mikiel Buttigieg, later elected as the first bishop of Gozo. The church was blessed on 14 February 1855. It was eventually solemnly consecrated by Bishop Pietru Pace on 26 May 1878. The majestic dome was raised in 1892 on a design by another priest-architect Dun Guzepp Diacono, who was also parish priest.
In 1893, the parish priest was elevated to the title of ‘Archpriest’, bearing the titles of Monsignor, Apostolic Protonotary and the privilege of wearing the mitre on special occasions. On 9 March 1899, Pope Leo XIII founded the fourth Collegiate of Gozo in this church, eventually elevated to a minor Basilica on 26 August 1967 by Pope Paul VI. The joyful announcement was given to Xaghra parishioners on 29 August 1967 – the first day of the traditional ‘novena’ in preparation of the titular feast. The Ix-Xagħra Basilica has two bell towers with six bells (the only one in Gozo having such a number of bells), the oldest dating to 1770 and the largest weighing 2778 kilograms. The clock on the facade was assembled in 1885 by the Maltese clock-maker Mikelang Sapiano. On 8 September 2003, the Ix-Xagħra Basilica was spiritually affilated to the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome, thus having the same priviliges of this major Basilica, including several plenary indulgences on special Marian feasts.
The church’s interior, in the form of a Latin cross, is a polychromatic wonder with the marble of the flooring and the pilasters intertwined with the paintings and gilded cornices along the length and breadth of vault. The whole is crowned by the dome. The marble floor was designed by Ignatius Bonavia and executed at Montecatini (1949), while the marble of the columns was designed by Ruman Buttigieg and Illio Pellocca (1960-65). It is by right the finest marble found in the churches of our island. Of particular wonder in the Basilica are the fourteen Stations of the Cross. They were designed by Ruman Buttigieg and the firm Garibaldi e Lazzerini, while the mosaic work is by Luciano Favret (Pietrasanta, 1963). All the paintings on the vault, in the nave, the transepts and the aisles, except one, are by Virginio Monti, a Roman painter (1922 – 1928). In several niches in the church and in the sacristy, there is a set of ten statues that are paraded along the streets of the village on Good Friday. This papier-mache set were made, except two, by Luigi Guacci (Lecce, 1914) and restored by Antonio Malecore (Lecce, 1989-1992).
There are ten chapels in all the Basilica. These are dedicated to Saint Laurence Martyr, the Blessed Virgin Mary of Light, the Shipwreck of Saint Paul, The Patronage of Saint Joseph, the Blessed Sacrament, the Crucifix, the Blessed Virgin Mary of Rosary, the Blessed Virgin Mary of Victories (Il-Bambina), the Blessed Virgin of Mount Carmel and Saint Maurice Martyr. The titular statue (il-Bambina) was made by the renowned Gallard et Fils (Marseille, 1878). The statue, blessed on the occasion of the consecration of the church (26 May 1878), stands on a plinth by Pio Cellini (Italy 1913) and has a solid gold crown with precious stones (1973) by Joseph Sagona. This crown was solemnly laid on the statue on Sunday, 2 September 1973 by H.E. Mgr Nicholas J. Cauchi, the then Bishop of the Gozitan Diocese. In 1985, H.E. Cardinal Luigi Dadaglio laid a golden flower at the feet of the statue. This statue is taken round the village streets every 8 September. The titular painting, depicting the Nativity of the Virgin Mary, is a chromatically good work that reveals considerable artistic sophistication.
The village feast is celebrated every year on 8 September.
Present Ix-Xagħra Archpriest: Mgr. Carmelo Refalo STL Prot. Apost. (17 April 2005 – present)
Masses celebrated in the Basilica:
Weekdays: 5.00am, 5.30am, 6.00am, 6.30am, 7.45am, 8.30am, 4.30pm, 6.00pm (winter) 7.30pm (summer).
Sundays and feasts of obligation: 5.00am, 6.00am, 7.00am, 8.30am (Conventual), 9.45am, 11.00am, 5.00pm (winter)/ 5.30pm (summer) and 7.30pm.
(b) The Church of Saint Anthony the Abbot
A chapel in honour of Saint Anthony the Abbot at the area commonly known as Tal-Qaċċa is recorded as early as 1520. In 1575, the chapel had a small cemetry in front which means that a small community lived in the vicinity. On 28 April 1688, this chapel became the seat of the newly founded parish, with Dun Bernard Formosa as the first parish priest. It functioned as a parish church until May 1692. All the furnishings of the chapel, including the old altarpiece had to be burned in 1814 after a plague outbreak. On 10 February 1942, at the height of the Second World War, a bomb exploded in the vicinity and the blast damaged the ceiling and other parts of the chapel. It was partly rebuilt and opened again on 30 September 1947. Eight years later, it was enlarged by being prolonged from the front over the parvis and was opened again on 3 November 1955. In 1984, the family Bajada donated to the church a new titular statue of Saint Anthony, a great work of art by local artist Michael Camilleri Cauchi. The church was consecrated by Bishop Nicholas J. Cauchi on 28 April 1988, on the commemoration of the 300th Anniversary of the Ix-Xaghra Parish’s foundation. In 1993, a new vestry was built and the facade altered. On Sunday 21 January 2001, a monument in stone in honour of Saint Anthony was inaugurated in the middle of the square next to the church. The altarpiece is a work of art done in 1818 by Salvatore Bondi (1790-1859). It shows the old Saint Anthony praying in a cave; in the background, on the upper left hand side, there is Għajn Lukin plateau on the outskirts of Ix-Xagħra and the tents where those infected by plague were confined in 1814. In 2006, the church’s interior was restored. The project was inaugurated by H.E. Mgr Mario Grech, Bishop of Gozo on 17 January 2007, the liturgical feast day of the Saint.
The feast of Saint Anthony is celebrated every year on the third Sunday of January (the Sunday which is closest to 17 January). Associated with this feast, there is the traditional blessing of animals since Saint Anthony is their patron saint.
Present rector: Rev. Can. John Sultana (1998 – present)
Masses celebrated in this church:
Weekdays: 6.30pm (winter) 7.30pm (summer)
Sundays and feasts of obligation: 6.30am, 10.00am.
(c) The Church of Christ the Redeemer
A third chapel stands in the area of ta’ Gajdoru, now better known after this chapel, as Tan-Nazzarenu. It is dedicated to Christ the King. The chapel was built in 1904 on a design by the then Archpriest Dun Guzepp Diacono for the commodity of the people in that area. The main altarpiece as well as the left side altar dedicated to Saint Joseph are by Lazzaro Pisani, while the other side altar is dedicated to Saint Anne and has a picture by Ganni Vella.
On 21 November 1930, a community of Franciscan Sisters of the Heart of Jesus, founded by Dun Ġużepp Diacono and Margherita Debrincat, moved into a house adjoining the church. They began taking care of the church as well as to give catechism lessons. They also opened a kindergarten school.
The chapel was consecrated by H.E. Bishop Mgr Michael Gonzi on 15 November 1931. In 2001, with the initiative of the then rector Rev. Ignatius Borg (at present Parish Priest of San Lawrenz), the church was adapted to the instructions given by the Second Vatican Council. The project was inaugurated by H.E. Bishop Mgr Nicholas J. Cauchi on Sunday, 3 November of the same year. The feast, which includes a procession with the Blessed Sacrament, is celebrated on the third Sunday of October.
Present rector: Rev. Can. Anthony Refalo Rapa
Masses celebrated in this church:
Weekdays: 6.00am, 7.30am, 6.30pm (winter) 7.30pm (summer)
Sundays and feasts of obligation: 6.00am, 7.30am, 10.30am.