Important events in the history of the Fraternity of St Demetrius


     In a previous chapter we saw how the Fraternity of St Demetrius was set up in Senglea. Here we have some important events which happened during the short life of this Fraternity.


     The Fraternity of St Demetrius was open for males only but each member could nominate a woman, who when she died, could be carried to the church by the members of the Fraternity. The Fraternity used to dedicate special prayers for these particular women. Each member of the Fraternity could recommend his wife, mother or sister. They were considered as ‘affiliated members’ of the Fraternity.


     Since the members of the Fraternity were all qlafat (caulkers – men who used to do maintenance work on the galleys) there were some regulations regarding their contributions to the Fraternity. They were obliged to donate two irbajja to the Fraternity from their wages gain by working on the galleys. The procurator used to keep everything in his register. Those members who could not afford to pay this donation were exempted but had to pay six irbajja a year. Every affiliated woman used to offer two irbajja a year. Those who could pay the two irbajja from their wages were also obliged to pay a further one irbajja per year.


     The members of the Fraternity of St Demetrius were obliged to take part, in full garb, in the titular procession and in the procession of Corpus Christi (Body of Christ) which was held in the morning. They were also obliged to take part in the procession of the Terza (the third – because it used to be held every third Sunday of the month) and the votive procession of St Gregory which was held on the Wednesday after Easter. The Archpriest was the director of the Fraternity but when he was unavailable another priest used to replace him. For the first installing ceremony in 1808 the Fraternity had thirty two members.


     From our records one can see that for some time the Fraternity was well organised and very active. Following the First World War it started to go off the rails.


     In front of the altar of St Demetrius there were some graves where the members of the Fraternity and the associated members used to be buried but when burial started to be help at the Addolorata Cemetry the Fraternity started to bury its members there. The graves in the church were still in used in 1928 according to the Collegiate records.


     The feast of St Demetrius was still be organised up to 1928 and this included solemn High Mass and vespers on the feast day. Solemn Mass was also still being said for the repose of the Fraternity’s dead members. The set up of the Fraternity was getting from bad to worse. The last minutes kept were for the year 1880. Up to 1895 the register showing the list of the members who paid their two irbajja contribution was still being regularly kept and up to 1926 dead members were still having Mass said for the repose of their souls.


     From what one could gather from the records of the administration of the altar of St Demetrius, we know that Dun Guzepp Borg was the procurator of the altar from 1929 to 1932. The Solemn Mass with a sermon was still being held on St Demetrius’ feast day and in 1929 it fell on the 9th October. The Fraternity was also still celebrating the feast of St Catherine on the 25th November. Afterwards it does not look that the feasts were celebrated but Mass was still being said for the deceased members of the Fraternity were funds have been left for such service.


     During the period that Dun Gwann Sladden was Archpriest we have it on records that some expenses were incurred to clean up the graves used by the Fraternity of St Demetrius. The year 1974 seemed to be the end of the line of the Fraternity.


     The artistic painting of St Demetrius was still on top of an altar up to the end of the Second World War. It was situated on the second altar on the right hand side of the aisle. Today this altar is dedicated to the Blessed Holy Trinity. The paintings of St Demetrius and of the Holy Ghost have lost their original place in the church.


      Nowadays, the masterpiece of Guzeppi Cali is hanging up in the sagristy. The red standard of the Fraternity was lost during the war. These days the Fraternities are no longer functioning as they used to and the Fraternity of St Demetrius is one of the defunct ones. Moreover the work of the caulkers is not a lost trade and so this trade is no longer being practiced. Hence the connection between the caulkers and St Demetrius has also come to an end.



   Procession of Good Friday with the statue of Jesus Christ the Redeemer only

      A war-time wish which did not materialise


     The 16th January 1941 is an unforgettable day in the history of the people of Senglea. A horrifying air raid killed twenty one persons; caused a lot of damage to the parish church; destroyed the capitular’s hall and caused lot of damage to the chapels of the Sacrament and the Oratory of the Crucifix. Fortunately the statues of Our Lady of Victories (Marija Bambina) and that of Jesus Christ the Redeemer, both highly loved, escaped undamaged. These two statues were taken to the Parish Church of St Helen in Birkirkara for safe keeping.


     We are going to have a look at that period in time when the harshness of war stated to abate. After the 8th September 1943 Malta did not suffer further air attacks. The Fraternity of the Crucifix continued to hold regular meetings up the 4th February 1940. For four whole years no meeting was held owing to the terrible times Malta was going through.


     An important meeting was held on the 27th February 1944 not in Senglea but in Valletta. The meeting was held at the headquarters of the Catholic Action Movement in Valletta at 39 Bakery Street. This was a unique meeting for the Fraternity and was advertised in the local media of those days, namely the Lehen is-Sewwa, il-Berqa and the Time of Malta.


     The Director of the Fraternity was Can Frangisk Abela who explained to the members what the Arch Priest of Senglea, Canon Manuel Brincat, had in mind. The Archpriest expressed his desire that the venerated statue of Jesus Christ the Redeemer be transported back to Senglea. This proposition, in those terrible times, would surely cause a lot of interest all over the island. The Archpriest wished that on the 7th April of that year, for the procession of Good Friday, only the statue of Jesus Christ the Redeemer would be carried out in the procession. The statue of Our Lady of Victories (il-Bambina) had already been taken back to Senglea and during the procession held on the 8th September 1943, it was publicly announced that Italy had surrendered.


    Since the Oratory of the Crucifix, where the statue of Jesus Christ the Redeemer was usually exposed for the veneration of the public during normal peace days, was considered as autonomous from the parish church, the Archpriest had to ask the Fraternity’s permission to hold this procession as he intended. Both the parish church and the oratory were completely destroyed. The statue of Our Lady of Victories was being held in the Church of St Philip in Senglea. During this historical meeting, Canon Paul Borg stood up and said that he was summoned by the Arch Bishop Michael Gonzi who asked for an explanation of the adverts in the papers and Can Borg explained to the Archbishop why this meeting was being held. The Archbishop replied that since the statue of Jesus Christ the Redeemer was an old statue and he said that he was not of the opinion that it should be transported just now in case some damaged is caused to it. Once the war was over it could than be transported back to Senglea together with the other statues which at that time were being held at the Church of St Helen in Birkirkara. Canon Borg asked the Archbishop whether he could communicate his wish to the Fraternity and the consent was given. The Archbishop also expressed his wish that a Commission be set up to take care of the reconstruction of the oratory of the Crucifix.


     During the meeting, the Fraternity decided to abide with the Archbishop wish and also set up a Commission to supervise the rebuilding of the oratory. The Commission was made up of Canon Pawl Borg, Pietru Pawl Camilleri and Carmelo Tabone. It was also decided that if the Archpriest decided to organise the Good Friday procession the Fraternity was ready of offer another statue instead of the Jesus Christ the Redeemer, but the Archpriest decided not to hold the Good Friday procession.


     During another meeting held on the 11th June 1944, it was decided to transport back from Birkirkara the statue of Jesus Christ the Redeemer and take it temporarily to the parish church of Paola. There three days of prayers were organised on the 6th, 7th and 8th July 1944, as thanksgiving because the war was finally over. On Sunday 9th July 1944, a solemn pilgrimage was held from Paola to Senglea. Canon Vincenz Camilleri on behalf of the Fraternity was in charge of reorganising transport. The pilgrimage ended at the Church of St Philip in Senglea which as from the 6th March 1944 was being used as a temporary parish church. After the thanksgiving service was over the statue was taken to the church of St Julians, also in Senglea, where it was exposed for the devotion of the faithful for some years.