Confraternities and Festas

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By Dr Mark Agius


Anyone who visits Maltese Festas will be aware of the banners or Gonfaloni of the Confraternities which participate in the procession of the Patronal Saint of the Parish. Also , during the Easter, festivities, other Confraternities are to be seen, leading both the Good Friday processions, and those of Our Lady of Sorrows and of the Risen Christ.

Fratellanzi3.jpgAny Parish Community is made up of a number of groups of persons , and some of the first groups to develop in parishes historically are the Confraternities , which developed within the parishes. The purpose of this paper is not only to describe the Confraternities of Malta, but to argue that these confraternities are part of a worldwide system of organised Christianity, which first developed to provide basic needs of Christian Parishioners from birth till death, including their needs for sustenance,  for health and wellbeing, and finally for Christian Burial and prayer after their death. While each confraternity is to some degree autonomous, with its own governance responsible to the Parish Priest and the curia, the confraternities are also part of a Europe –wide , and indeed World –Wide movement of social involvement and prayer, which have been working within the Church since at least the 13th century, and is still active. This will be demonstrated in Malta very clearly in 2020, when a large group of European Confraternities will meet in Valletta for their regular convention. Far from considering Maltese Confraternities a relic of the past, I will argue that our confraternities can be active, and be mobilised to lead Our Church Today.


The Development of Confraternities across Europe; Some General Rules.

So, beginning in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, groups of like- minded persons within parishes began to meet together within the churches, in order to pray together, to do penance, and perform works of charity. The  clergy and Religious Orders would organize the faithful into confraternities—brotherhoods or sisterhoods—to help them lead a more spiritual life. Some of these confraternities also performed charitable works, such as the famous confraternity of the Miserecordia in Florence was organized eight centuries ago to care for the sick and still runs the city’s  ambulance service(1). One example of these  Ancient Confraternities is that  of the Battuti Di Modena,which  dates from around 1300, and was based in a Church run by the Carmelite friars.

Many Medieval  Confraternities became Guilds of Tradesmen, as happened with the London Guilds, or also, if the work of mercy they performed was teaching, became known as Colleges and developed into the colleges of Universities such as those in Oxford and Cambridge .Here the word – Collegium- referred to the group of persons- teachers and students, and not simply the building. These  ‘Trade’ or ‘Guild’ Confraternities had a patron saint of their Guild, whose feast they celebrated (4). They would have a chapel or an altar in a Church where the celebrations could take place.

Other confraternities were organized as penitential brotherhoods or, more rarely, sisterhoods.  They often held processions in which they went through the streets barefoot and half naked, carrying crosses, scourging themselves, and even wearing crowns of thorns. From these confraternities , which are known in Spain as ‘Cofradias or Hermandades de disciplina or de Penitencia’(2) , are descended the confraternities which organise , in Spain, Italy and Malta, the Good Friday Processions.

Still other confraternities—the most common type—were called laudesi or praise-singers. Another word for them in Spain is ‘Hermandades De Gloria’.(3) They would meet for devotional services in the church, in which they would sing an office of hymns in the vernacular language and listen to a sermon.  These confraternities were very important in Europe during  the Middle Ages and many continued up until the French Revolution. Many of the Laudensi Confraternities which exist today developed under the tutelage of the Mendicant Religious Orders and were very often dedicated to a devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and celebrated her feasts.

Another sort of Confraternity are the Confraternities of the Blessed Sacrament, in Spain referred to as ‘Sacramentales’, whose main aim was to Honour The Blessed Sacrament. These Confraternities  became important after the Council Of Trent , since their role was to implement the teaching of that Council on the Blessed Sacrament. These Confraternities of the Blessed Sacrament  were introduced into Malta in the Apostolic Visitation of Mgr. Duzzina, in 1575. He established this Confraternity in every Parish,  including Porto Salvo Parish, Valletta. The main feast that they celebrated was Corpus Christi, but in Malta, because a Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament existed in each parish, as well as organising  the feast of Corpus Christi, the Confraternities of the Blessed Sacrament came to organise the feast of the Parish Patron Saint, and some may be involved in other celebrations of the Eucharist, thus, for example, they may , as in the Blessed Sacrament Confraternity of Porto Salvo, Valletta, Malta, be responsible for the ‘Last Supper Table’ which celebrates the founding of the Eucharist, as well as the visits to the Altars of Repose on Maundy Thursday  and the delivering of the Viaticum  to the sick (5).

What we have said can give us a method for classifying confraternities according to function; these are those which are linked with the patron saint of a trade, there are Penitential Confraternities, linked with Holy Week, there are Laudensi Confraternities, which give praise to God, Our Lady, or the Saints and do works of Charity, there are Sacramental Confraternities whose main aim is to worship the Blessed Sacrament. Often, the confraternities may have more than one main function; thus the Taranto Confraternity of Our Lady of Mount Carmel organised the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, but also the Good Friday Procession of the ‘Misteri’, that is the procession of the set of Good Friday statues (6)(7).

All Confraternities are bound by a statute. Some statutes are of venerable antiquity; for example the Roman ‘Venerabile Arciconfraternita del Santissimo Sacramento e di Maria Santissima del Carmine in Trastevere’ dates to  1543. In Spain, during processions, the book of the statute is carried in procession for all to see.  They have an Oratory, or Altar for their celebrations, and in some countries, such as Spain, have a ‘House of the Cofradia’, where they meet for discussions, works of charity, and social events. All Confraternities carry out works of charity, such as distributing food to the poor. All Confraternities work to promote the spiritual good of their members, such as spiritual exercises in Lent, and all celebrate masses for the souls of deceased members and have graves for the burial of poor members. Indeed, many persons in Malta today join confraternities so that they can have a grave in which to be buried. It is thus evident that the work of confraternities extends through the whole year, and not simply during the feast of the Parish or Confraterntity.

The Mendicant Orders, that is the Franciscans, Augustinians, Carmelites, Servites, and Dominicans, who, unlike monks, worked among the townspeople, valued the  Confraternities greatly(1).   They saw  confraternities as a  way of associating the laity with  the mission and ministry of these Orders(1).  It is true that  the Mendicants all had their Third Orders where the laity actually became members of the Order, but not all those who wished to associate with the Orders wanted to, or were able to, make this level of commitment(1).  The Confraternities became a way by which the faithful  could become  incorporated or  affiliated  to the Orders without giving them full membership(1). Therefore, from the fourteenth century, all these orders set up Confraternities in their churches(1). The idea of affiliating lay persons to the order had begun when important lay persons had given the Orders large sums of money as donations in order to support them, or had otherwise supported or protected the Orders in various ways. For example, John of Gaunt , Duke of Lancaster, had become a member of the Confraternity of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in London; he left the friars several donations in his will and had written to the pope in support of their claim to be ‘The Brothers of Our Lady’. Now, over the centuries, this affiliation through Confraternities became a ‘mass movement’ in the Church. The members of these Confraternities would meet regularly at the Church of the Order to which they were affiliated for prayers and to receive pious instruction from the friars.  At their meetings, they often wore a habit that was similar to the habit of the Religious Order to which they were affiliated.   The confraternities  had certain rights to participate in processions and ceremonies in the friars’ churches.  The members  usually also had certain rights about being buried in the church as well, or having the friars assist at their funerals.

Thus, by the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, most churches of the mendicant Orders would have had one or more confraternities that met there. It was important that the Order gave the person being enrolled in its confraternity a token of his enrolment in the confraternity and his affiliation with the Order. The Carmelites and their scapular confraternities give an excellent example of this. In the case of the Carmelites, when the stories of Simon Stock’s vision and the promises which Our Lady had made to the Carmelites began to spread at the beginning of the fifteenth century, the scapular became desired badge of affiliation to the Order. The scapular is , in fact , a piece of cloth worn over the shoulders and hanging in front of and behind the wearer. One can still see the brown scapulars worn by the Confraternities of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Valletta and Zurrieq. Such confraternities were known as scapular confraternities and persons enrolled in the scapular were said to be enrolled in the Confraternity of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. The Confraternity members would have met regularly, participated in devotions together, and had a sense of identity with one another and identification with the Order(1).  By the Fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, Confraternities of the Scapular, were also organising the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel (1) on the sixteenth July , because the General Chapter of the Order had decided that this feast should be  organised in every  Carmelite Church in which the Confraternity was established(10). This feast included a procession.

Similar sets of circumstances occurred with the other Mendicant Orders. Each order had a particular devotion to Our Lady which it promulgated. Thus, the Dominicans promoted devotion to Our Lady of the Rosary,and the symbol of affiliation was the rosary beads the enrolled person wore. The Franciscans, encouraged by the writings of their great Theologian, John Duns Scotus, promoted devotion to the Immaculate Conception, the Augustinians promoted devotion to Our Lady of the Cincture, with a black belt as the symbol of enrolment,  while  the Servites promoted devotion to Our Lady of Sorrows. Hence, all these Confraternities developed in numerous locations in Europe, including in Malta. The founding of a Confraternity in a location or Parish would have to be authorised both by the local bishop and  by the Prior General of the respective Order , and the local confraternity would usually be aggregated to a Confraternity in an important Church of the Order in Rome. This was also true of the Confraternities of the Blessed Sacrament, which, in Malta , depended on the Dominican Order, and so were authorised by the Prior General of that order and were affiliated with the Confraternity in Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, a Dominican church in Rome. The Roman Confraternities to which local Confraternities were aggregated were called Archconfraternities, as were local confraternities from which other confraternities were founded. It is important to bear these associations in mind when discussing the present state of confraternities in Malta.

In the eighteenth century, under the influence of the Enlightenment, many of the religious orders, were suppressed in various places in Europe (1) (8), however , while the religious were banished, the local Confraternities were often able to continue.  Often,  they  took responsibility for the churches where they met, and which  had once belonged to the various orders(1). As a consequence, without the direction of the religious, the Confraternities achieved a certain independent identity (1). This suppression  of Religious Orders became  even more widespread after the French Revolution, and , with similar laws being passed after the unification of Italy , this suppression continued into the nineteenth century(1). However, in Malta, because religion was protected by the presence of the Knights of Malta, and later by the arrival of the British, our convents and monasteries were never suppressed (11), and , particularly in Valletta, the Three Cities, Mdina, and Rabat , the close relationship between the Confraternities and the Mendicant Orders continued till the present day. On the other hand, as the Villages grew into towns, the Confraternities there focussed around the parish churches, where the Confraternities of the Blessed Sacrament had been first founded by Mgr. Duzzina in 1575 (5)  . It became traditional that whenever a new parish was founded, at least two confraternities should be set up; that of the Blessed Sacrament and that of the Rosary, as well as a system for teaching religious doctrine – often known as the Confraternity or Sodality of Our Lady of Christian Doctrine-Tad-Dutrina. These Confraternities of the Rosary were established in all parishes of Malta by Bishop Tommaso Gargallo in 1588, and were second in precidence to the Confraternities of the Blessed Sacrament (12). This arrangement was according to the dispositions of the Council of Trent. Since the Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament was the senior confraternity in the locality, it, as well as organising the feast of Corpus Christi( its own Confraternity feast)  , it became also responsible for the Feast of the Patronal Saint of the locality (9).

Confraternities were a uniquely European phenomenon and never caught on much in the United States and Canada, though they spread—and even thrived—in Latin America.


The Habit of Confraternities

Most Confraternities wear a habit during church functions or processions. The habit worn by Maltese confraternities is similar to that of many Italian Confraternities. It basically consists of a white sack, known in Malta as a konfratija (13) , with a cord or ċinglu around the waist, which might be of different colour according to the confraternity. From the cord would hang a rosary, especially in the case of the Rosary confraternity. In the case of confraternities of Our Lady of Mount Carmel or of Consolation, a leather belt would substitute the cord. They would wear a short cape or muzzetta, which would be of different colour depending on the patron of the confraternity; red for the blessed sacrament, white for Our Lady of the Rosary, blue for Saint Joseph, green for Saint Michael or Saint Roque, violet for Our Lady of Sorrows, Black for Our Lady of Consolation, a light blue for The Immaculate Conception. Some Confraternities, such as those of the Guardian Angel, Saints Crispin and Crispinian, Saint Agata, would wear a medal instead of a cape. In the case of Confraternities of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, they wear a Great Scapular over their Shoulders. Confraternities can also wear a hood called barnuż on their heads, although this is not very frequent any longer, except in penitential processions, such as Good Friday or San Girgor, when the barnuz would be used to cover the face, and so would have two holes for the eyes, in order to preserve anonymity. Sometimes, there would be a small emblem of the confraternity woven and sewed onto the muzzetta. There are many divergencies from these general rules, and we will mention them later.

During processions, the confraternity is led by a large embroidered banner of the same colour of the muzzetta , called a gonfalone.  The man who carries this may be flanked by several boys in traditional dress called zimarri. The  gonfalone  is followed by a cross, (in Malta this always has a sculpture of the crucified Christ in silver or polychrome) , accompanied by two lanterns also silver. In Spain, the cross is called the ‘cruz de guida’ , since it leads the procession. The confraternity members carry large candles in procession. One member, who orders the other members in the procession, carries a silver staff, called ‘surgentiera’ . The head of the confraternity, or rector, stands at the end of the procession, between his assistants , and wears a large silver medal on his chest. At the rear of the procession, during a patronal feast organised by a confraternity is the statue of the patron saint of the confraternity, carried shoulder high by members of the confraternity in full dress.


The First Confraternities in Malta.

In the middle ages, there were two important settlements in Malta. One was the town of Mdina in the centre of the Island , with its suburb of Rabat and The castle of Saint Angelo and its suburb of Birgu in the Grand Harbour area.

All over Europe, Confraternities tended to develop in towns, rather than the sparsely populated countryside. So it was also in Malta.

Thus, the two first Confraternities in Malta were firstly that of Saint Joseph in Rabat, which was set up in the Church of the Friars Minor in 1345 (4), and whose members were carpenters and other wood-workers, and the secondly that of the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary, otherwise known as that of the ‘Kandlora’, which was first founded  in the chapel of the Castle of Saint Angelo (the church of Santa Maria in Birgu), and later was moved to the church of the Dominicans in Birgu (4), whose members were merchants and sailors. This  confraternity was founded in 1441 (4), while the third  one was that of Santa Marija, set up  in the village  of Attard , set up to consolidate this relatively new settlement in 1541 by bishop Cubelles, even before it became a parish (4)(14) (23) .

There is another important ancient confraternity in Birgu, which has an altar in the Parish Church of Saint Lawrence as well as an Oratory  ( which originally was the Church of Our Lady of Damascus). This is the Confraternity of Saint Joseph of Birgu. Its members were usually wood–workers. It is said in the past to have attended the needs of condemned persons. Uniquely among confraternities of Saint Joseph, it has a white Gonfalone and a very pale blue muzzetta. It is said to have been founded in 1103 , before that of Rabat, and to be affiliated to that of Rome, which was founded by Pope Urban II in 1098 (4) (15) . The date of foundation in Birgu of 1103 is quoted in a plaque above the Oratory door (4).

Thus there is some difficulty as to which of the two Confraternities of Saint Joseph , that of Birgu or that of Rabat is the older. In general, however, it is usual that the one of Rabat is seen as being given seniority among the  Confraternities of Malta (4) . Some documents of the Confraternity quote the foundation as 1345 (16), however it may well have been founded earlier at an unknown date (17).

It is here worthwhile saying some more detail about this Confraternity of Saint Joseph, which is still functioning effectively. It traditionally includes wood-workers, and it elected the consuls , or representatives of this trade in the Universita of Mdina. In the middle ages it used to meet regularly for prayer and penance in its chapel or oratory.  It became responsible for the first Good Friday Procession in Malta, which continues till this day. It organises its patronal feast in March with a procession. It wears the blue muzzetta and has a blue Gonfalone. As the most senior confraternity in Malta, it accompanies the Cathedral Chapter in Processions such as the Imnaria (feast of Saint Peter and Saint Paul ) and the San Girgor (Saint Gregory) procession (18). In its oratory it venerates the ancient statue of ‘San Giusepp ix-Xih’, which is said to be the figurehead of a Carrack of the Order of Saint John . Another confraternity of wood  workers was founded in Cospicua in 1805 (4).

Apart from the Confraternities of Saint Joseph of Rabat , and Birgu, there is another Confraternity of Saint Joseph there is another Archconfraternity of Saint Joseph which woodworkers join, and which appointed Consuls to oversee their work. It is the one set up in the Basilica of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Valletta. This was founded in 1632, after the foundation of Valletta (19)(22). This confraternity continues in full vigour, and continues to celebrate the feast of their patron in March.

Many other confraternities of Saint Joseph exist in Malta . These were founded much later, in the nineteenth century, when Saint Joseph was declared patron of the Universal Church in 1870 (20). Thus they were founded in Attard  in1746, Birkirkara in 1884, in Gharghur in 1751, in Ghaxaq fl-1750, in Kalkara in 1878, in Mellieha in 1907, in Msida in 1895, in Mosta in 1673, in Naxxar in 1866,in Qormi in 1848, in Saint Julians in 1918, in Siggiewi in 1745, and in Zebbuġ in 1738 (20).All wear the blue muzzetta and have a blue Gonfalone.  In Senglea the confraternity of Saint Joseph was reformed in 1808 .(4) In Ghaxaq and Zebbug, as well as Kirkop, the Patronal feasts of the Confraternities of Saint Joseph are Secondary Feasts of the Parish. In Kalkara, the Confraternity of Saint Joseph is amalgamated with Those of the Blessed Sacrament and the Rosary.

To return to the late middle ages, in Rabat there was another Confraternity, that of Saint Mark, to which belonged the cobblers and which met  in the Church of Saint Mark (4).


Mons. Duzzina ‘s Pastoral Visit and the Confraternities of the Blessed Sacrament.

Mons. Duzzina carried out a pastoral visit to Malta in 1575. He introduced the Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament in all the parishes which then existed (4).

The Confraternities of the Blessed Sacrament,  in Malta , depended on the Dominican Order, and so were authorised by the Prior General of that order and were affiliated with the Confraternity in Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, a Dominican church in Rome. This Archconfraternity of the Blessed Sacrament of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva  was founded in 1538  by the Dominican Tommaso Stella to increase cult to the Blessed Sacrament and to accompany the Viaticum (47). The Roman Confraternities to which local Confraternities were aggregated were called Archconfraternities, as were local confraternities from which other confraternities were founded. It is important to bear these associations in mind when discussing the present state of confraternities in Malta.

In Rabat, Mons Duzzina found the two ancient confraternities of Saint Joseph and Saint Mark(4). He united them into the Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament in the Parish Church of Saint Paul, rather than their own churches. After some time, however, they returned to functioning individually, in their churches, although the Rabat Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament remained.

These confraternities looked after the main altar of the parish churches. They held Eucharistic Processions on the third Sunday of every month (13), and initiated the forty hours of adoration in parishes (13). Their patronal feast was that of Corpus Christi , and this, to this day is celebrated with great pomp, and two processions, in the morning and afternoon in Rabat.   The Confraternities of the Blessed Sacrament, as the most senior Confraternity in the parish , also organised the patronal feast of the Patron Saint of the Parish (9). The Confraternities of the Blessed Sacrament also provided the Viaticum , escorting the Blessed Sacrament to the sick and dying. I well remember in the Porto Salvo Parish in Valletta the formal Viaticum in the week after Easter (5). It would be led by a small red gonfalone . It is described that , when the Viaticum was required , a church bell would ring and members would leave their work and run with their candles to accompany the Blessed Sacrament. The small red gonfalone which leads the Patronal Feasts in several parishes is in fact the Viaticum Gonfalone.

Actually, the first Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament to be founded by Mons. Duzzina was that at the Dominican Parish of Our Lady of Porto Salvo (5). This confraternity is still active. Its beautiful Oratory houses the first ‘Last Supper Table’ in the Maltese Islands during Holy Week. Thus, they also celebrate the founding of the Blessed Sacrament (5).

The confraternities of the Blessed Sacrament have a red Gonfalone, with gold thread embroidery and a red muzzetta.

Although the Confraternities of the Blessed Sacrament were founded in all parishes which existed at the time of Mons. Duzzina, some confraternities only have documentation which starts some time later;  Zahra gives the following dates for the oldest documents of these confraternities; Balzan 1669, Xewkija 1690, Senglea 1715, Luqa 1734, Mosta 1735, Qrendi 1756, Cospicua 1767, Qormi 1773, Lija 1779, Ghaxaq 1797, Marsaskala 1820, Mellieha 1844, Naxxar 1858, Dingli 1865, Msida 1867, Safi 1875, Kirkop 1878, Gharb 1880, Hamrun 1882, Saint Julians 1895, Kalkara and Marsaxlokk 1898, Imgarr and Imsida 1899, Paola 1911/12, Birzebbuga and Marsa 1913 (13) .

There are also Confraternities of the Blessed Sacrament in  Birkirkara ,Hamrun,  Zurrieq, Gzira, and the Stella Maris, Sacred Heart of Mary, and Saint Gregory parishes of Sliema, dating from the foundation of the parishes. Usually, the Confraternity of the sacred heart of Mary Parish (Sacro Cuor) did not wear a mozzetta, but used to wear a red cord and a medal of the Blessed Sacrament Instead, however, today, they have begun to wear the red muzzetta.

In Zurrieq and in Saint Paul’s Parish Valletta , the Confraternities of the Blessed Sacrament are also Confraternities of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. As a result, the Confraternity at Saint Paul’s Parish Valletta does not wear a muzzetta , but have their sack tied at the waist with a red cord and wear a badge of the sacred Heart of Jesus on their breast, while that of Zurrieq does wear the red muzzetta , but also a red medal of the  Sacred Heart of Jesus over it. There is another Confraternity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Mosta. It has a white Gonfalone lined with red and  the confrers wear a white muzzetta lined with red.

Confraternities linked with Trades.

Many confraternities which are linked with particular trades are based in Saint Paul’s Parish , Valletta.These are :

  • Of Saint Omobonus for Drapers, Taylors and seamstresses (founded in 1611 , but also quoted as 1783, wearing a dark blue muzzetta and gonfalone) (4)(13) (42). In the past there was a similar Confraternity of Saint Omobonus in Saint Lawrence Church Birgu (4).
  • Of Saint Agata for Weavers Taylors and seamstresses (founded 1804 white gonfalone and cord; no muzzetta and a medal of the saints) (4) In the past there was also a similar Confraternity of Saint Agata in Cospicua founded in 1804-1805 (13).
  • Of Saint Crispin and Crispinian for Shoemakers(founded 1804, although the group of shoemakers had looked after the altar since 1607. This confraternity uses an orange gonfalone and cord; no muzzetta and a medal of the saints (4) (13) (42).In the past, there was a similar one in Birgu and also in Saint Paul’s Church Rabat (4).
  • Of Saint Michael for Greengrocers (Founded fl-1695, green gonfalone and cord; no muzzetta and a medal) (13) (4) (42)
  • Of St. Martin for Tavern keepers (founded in 1620,no habit or gonfalone) (4) (42)

All of these have altars in the church, and the feasts of the saints are still all celebrated at these altars.  In the past , in the same church, there also existed the confraternity of Saint Eligius (founded 1600), for foundry workers  (their altar is now that of the Blessed Sacrament) and that of saint Helen (founded between 1607 and 1611) for gold and silver smiths (4)(13) (42) , which later fused with the Confraternity of our Lady of Charity.

There also exist in Malta several other Confraternities of Saint Michael. These include in Rabat and Qormi both founded in 1739 (13) ,Cospicua ,founded in 1805 (4), as well as Balzan and Zabbar.   They wear a green Muzzetta and have a green Gonfalone. The present author remembers in his childhood the procession which the Confraternity of Saint Michael used to hold in Valletta through Saint Paul’s Street and Merchant Street for their patronal feast in September which now no longer takes place. Up to recently, the author knows of such a procession in Balzan. The altar of Saint Michael in Saint Paul’s Church Valletta is famous because it has an altarpiece which is a mosaic copy of Guido Reni’s painting of Saint Michael  made in (4).

Saint Andrew is the patron saint of Fishermen. A confraternity of Saint Andrew was set up in Cospicua in 1811(4). Another Confraternity of Saint Andrew, still extant, exists in Birkirkara. This should be no surprise to those who are aware that the boundaries of this parish included the coast from Msida to Saint Julians. Confraternities of Saint Andrew have a red Gonfalone and a red Muzzetta , with a saint Andrew’s Cross emblem on it.

The chaulers  (qlafat) had a confraternity of Saint Demitrius in Cospicua Parish Church which was founded in 1616, as did the pilots have a confraternity of Saint Christopher founded in 1649. Boatmen from Cospicua had a confraternity of Saint Elias founded in 1812  in the Discalced Carmelite Church of that town.

Another trade confraternity which is still seen in processions in Malta is the Confraternity of Saint Catherine in Birgu , which is that of the rope-makers, founded in 1643 . It has a red gonfalone and wears a red muzzetta, with a cloth badge with a ‘catherine wheel’ emblem of Saint Catherine sown on it (4) (13) (21).

In the past, other trades had confraternities , including Saint Louis for Barbers , in the Church of Ta’ Giesu, Valletta founded in 1797, Saints Cosmas and Damian , in the Church of Saint Francis , Republic Street Valletta for Doctors founded in 1635, Saint Luke for artists , founded in 1671 in the Church of Ta’ Giesu, Valletta , of Saint Christopher founded 1634, in the church of Saint Augustine , Valletta, and Saint Ivo for Lawers. (4)

The Sodality of Priests was a confraternity of priests within a parish , which existed so that they could help each other. The Sodality of Priests was founded in  Senglea in 1660,and in  Valletta in1664, while  it was founded in the Gozo Matrice , in Gharb, Żejtun, Tarxien, Żabbar, Gudja, Għaxaq, and  Luqa in 1689. It was founded in Vittoriosa, Rabat, lmqabba, Kirkop, and Safi in 1752.(4)


Confraternities of the Agony and of the Holy Souls.

The Confraternities of the Agony or of the Holy Souls date from the sixteenth and the seventeenth century . They have died out in Malta, but some, such as the one in Cospicua, have developed into those of the Crucifix or of Our Lady of Sorrows, however some of this type of Confraternity still are active in Italy. Their main aim was to pray for the souls of their members who were dying; a bell would ring when a member was dying , and special prayers would be said before the Blessed Sacrament. They also would arrange prayers in the month of November for deceased members. Confraternities of the Agony might also look after the burial of persons who died in epidemics. The first Confraternity was founded in Zebbug in 1640. Other confraternities were founded in 1610 in Corpicua,in1649 in Ghaxiaq,  in 1653  in  Qormi, in 1658 in Mosta and in Żebbuġ, in 1669 in Gharghur,Gudja, Żejtun and Żabbar, in 1671in Attard, in 1673 in Senglea. in1674 in Tarxien, in 1676 in Birkirkara, in 1687in Żurrieq, in1691 in Imqabba and Valletta, in 1718in Xaghra, in 1725 in Balzan,  and in 1751 in lmdina .

We mention these confraternities here because they developed into other confraternities , particularly those of the Crucifix and of Our Lady of Sorrows, which exist today. Their altars were usually dedicated to either the Crucifix, as in the case of Imdina and Qormi or to Our Lady of Sorrows, as in Ghaxiaq. Later, these confraternities developed into those of Our Lady of Sorrows, as happened by 1684 in Ghaxiaq.

Marian Confraternities : The Confraternities of the Rosary.

The Confraternities of Our Lady of the Rosary , with their white muzzetta and white Gonfalone are the second in seniority in Maltese Parishes.  In Mosta , the confraternity has a white gonfalone lined with blue as also is their muzzetta. In Senglea, the muzzetta is white with a ‘nome di Maria’ emblem embroidered on it. They wear a set of rosary beads from the cord round their waist. Many of these confraternities still organise the feasts of Our Lady of the Rosary in October, and in Gudja it in one of the ‘secondary feasts’ of the parish.

According to Dominican tradition, in 1206, St. Dominic was in Prouille, France, attempting to convert the Albigensians back to the Catholic faith. He  had little success until one day he received a vision of the Blessed Virgin, who gave him the Rosary as a tool against heretics (26). While Mary’s giving the rosary to St. Dominic is generally acknowledged as a legend, the development of this prayer form owes much to the followers of St. Dominic, including the 15th-century priest and teacher, Alanus de Rupe, who spread the devotion(25) (27). Alanus de Rupe had arranged that all the Confraternities of the Rosary be linked together into one Archconfraternity, and this includes the Maltese Confraternities. From the time of Pope Pius V,Confraternities of the Rosary can only be founded by the Authorisation of the Master General of the Dominican Order , since according to Pope Leo XIII, ‘the confraternity belongs to the Order as if it were its own inheritance’ (45).

The Confraternities of the Rosary were promoted by the Dominican order in order to promote the devotion of the rosary. The Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, formerly known as Our Lady of Victory and Feast of the Holy Rosary, is a feast day of the Roman Catholic Church, celebrated on 7 October, the anniversary of the decisive victory of the combined fleet of the Holy League of 1571 over the Ottoman navy at the Battle of Lepanto (25) in which many Maltese who were sailors in the navy of the Order of Saint John had taken part (4).This is the patronal feast that these confraternities celebrate as their feast, with a procession. Bishop Tommaso Gargallo promoted their founding in every parish in 1588 (12).

In many parishes , this confraternity looks after a large order in a transept of the parish church , with impressive stone carving and paintings which depict the 15 mysteries of the rosary. The most senior of these Rosary Confraternities is that of Valletta, otherwise known as the ‘Ruzarianti’ founded in 1576 (45) . It was amalgamated with that of the ‘Misericordia’, founded by some knights of Saint John, and for some time met in the Oratory of Saint John’s Co-Cathedral, but later returned to their Oratory linked with Porto Salvo Church in Valletta. Its members came from the most distinguished members of the Community. It used to look after prisoners who were to be executed, and their burials, and before an execution they would go out in the streets to collect money to say masses for the criminal, wearing their ‘barnuza’ over their face and wearing a “Trespicos” hat over their ‘barnusa’. There still exist two small paintings on wooden handles of Christ and Our Lady which they would hold before the criminal during the execution. This confraternity own an old statue of Our Lady of the Rosary which is dressed in real clothes in Spanish style. This confraternity does not wear a muzzetta.

Here are listed the foundation dates of several of these confraternities of the Rosary; 1585 Siggiewi (23),1578 ll-Matriċi of Gozo, 1588 Gudja, Zurrieq and Zebbug (Malta)(23), 1594 Mellieha and Naxxar, 1596 Ħal Kirkop and Imqabba, 1599  Lija, 1601  Qormi, 1612 Mosta, 1602 Cospicua (23), 1634  Luqa, 1608  Gharghur, 1628  Għaxaq, 1682 Xewkija, 1690 Xagħra, 1705 Nadur, 1716 Żebbuġ (Gozo), 1721  Sannat, 1857 Ghajnsielem, 1689 Gharb, 1698 Dingli (13), 1598Senglea in Porto Salvo Church- Transferred to Parish Church in 1669 (23), 1615 Attard (23), 1659 Balzan (23), 1601 Birkirkara (23),1616 Qrendi (23), 1601 Safi (23), 1597 Tarxien (23), 1617 Zabbar (23), 1597 Zejtun (23).

By the end of the 16th Century, all Maltese Parishes existing by that time had both the Blessed Sacrament and the Rosary Confraternities established within them , since , from 1575 this was the normal procedure (23) . The members of these confraternities used to meet to have mass together and celebrate a small procession within the church precincts on the first Sunday of the month (23). The patronal feast of Our Lady of the Rosary was, and still  is in many places, celebrated on the first Sunday of October with a procession, as was, often, the feast of Our Lady of the Roses on the first Sunday of May (23).

Apart from the one in Valletta, the two ancient Domenican Convents of Malta , that of Vittoriosa and Rabat have Confraternities of the Rosary. The Vittoriosa Confraternity  existed at the time of the battle of Lepanto , at least in 1572. (45)

The Confraternity of the Rosary in Rabat , Malta , founded around 1574,  owns a statue of Our Lady of the Rosary definitely sculpted by the famous Melchiorre Gafa(45).

Marian Confraternities : The Confraternities of Our Lady of the Cincture.

The devotion to Our Lady of Consolation or of the Cincture is linked with a vision in which the Blessed Virgin gave St. Monica a black leather belt and assured her  that she would take under her special protection all those who wore it in her honour. In turn, Monica gave it to her son, Augustine, who later changed his ways and eventually became one of the saints in the Roman Catholic Church. There were two separate confraternities founded in the 15th century, the Confraternity of Our Lady of Consolation and the Confraternity of the Cincture of St. Augustine, but these were later united into one by the power of a papal bull and formed an archconfraternity which has affiliations all over the world. In March, 1575, it was ordained that all confraternities of Our Lady of Consolation  should be aggregated to the archconfraternity at Bologna, Italy. (24)  Many Indulgences were given to Confraternity Members by a Papal Brief of Pope Clement X of 1675 (23).  To set up this confraternity,  in a parish, Parish Priests would first receive the Bishop’s Permission for there to be an altar set up in the Parish Church, often by rededicating an existing altar,(23) and then ask the permission of the Prior General of the Augustinian Order, who would aggregate the Confraternity to the Archconfraternity of Saint James in Bolognia (23). The Augustinians began this Confraternity of Our Lady of Consolation in Valletta in 1612, and it is now present in several parishes in Malta. Hence it was founded in Attard and Żebbuġ in 1720, in Mosta in 1721, In Rabat , saint Mark’s Church in 1722,in Gudja and  Lija in 1727, in Qormi between 1736 and 1747(23), in Żejtun in 1734,in Qrendi in 1736, in Vittoriosa and Żabbar in 1737, in Għargħur and Zejtun in 1747 (23), in Tarxien  and Siġġiewi in 1770,Rabat (Gozo ) in 1611 (46) and in Cospicua in 1771. It is also established in Luqa in 1720(23) (37). In Gudja it is also a secondary feast in the Parish. Many of these confraternities hold a procession for their patronal feast on the Feast of Our Lady of Consolation, which liturgically is the  Saturday after August 28 . All of the confraternities wear a black Muzzetta and wear the black leather belt at their waist. Most  have a violet Gonfalone, except the Valletta Confraternity , which has a white one, and the Rabat Confraternity , which has a red gonfalone, which was the colour of the old Saint Mark’s Confraternity , and this gonfalone is marked with the symbol of the Tau, which is the symbol of Saint Anthony the Abbot, whose feast this confraternity also celebrates with a procession and the blessing of animals. The Luqa Confraternity has a blue Gonfalone.

Marian Confraternities : The Confraternities of  The Immaculate Conception.

The Franciscans were promoters of the confraternity of the Immaculate Conception, given that their great theologian John Duns Scotus was one of the great promoters of this attribute of Our Lady. Drawing on the work of John Duns Scotus, Pope Pius IX solemnly defined the Immaculate Conception of Mary in 1854. John Duns Scotus, the “Subtle Doctor,” was beatified in 1993 (28). The patronal feast of these confraternities is on 8th September. These Confraternities has a light blue muzzetta (except for the one in Valletta, which has no muzzetta, but wears a medal of the Immaculate Conception instead) and a light blue Gonfalone.  Zahra reports that some of these confraternities used to be called ‘Of Our Lady of Help’ -“tas-Sokkors” (13) and this is no surprise given that the “tas-Sokkors” appellation was gradually changed into the Immaculate Conception across Malta, for instance , the original Church and altarpiece of Cospicua was originally called -“tas-Sokkors”  referring to an ancient story of a vision of Our Lady there, where she was seen driving away the devil from a small boy ,(23) and this dedication changed over time to the Immaculate Conception . It is recorded that the Statutes of the Valletta Confraternity were approved by the superiors of the Franciscan Conventuals in Rome in 1638 (44). Confraternities were founded in Cospicua in1581and Senglea some time between 1581 and 1646,in Valletta (Franciscans, Republic Street) in1636,  Vittoriosa in1646, in Rabat, Gozo in1663 (44), Tarxien in 1668, Rabat, Malta (in the parish Church, and not in the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Health (44)) in1731, lmqabba in1772, and Żebbuġ in1777 (13) (23). The confraternity of Imqabba has a statue of our Lady with an angel which holds a lily, to indicate Our Lady’s purity. Hence it is known as ‘Our Lady of the Lily’ –Tal-Gilju, and the patronal feast celebrated by  this Confraternity is a secondary feast of the parish (29). In Qrendi, the confraternity of Our Lady of Lourdes , founded in 1878 (30), has a similar muzzetta and Gonfalone to those of the Immaculate Conception, but also wear a medal of Our Lady of Lourdes. Our Lady had announced herself at Lourdes as ‘The Immaculate Conception’. The feast of this confraternity is also a secondary feast of the parish.

Marian Confraternities : The Confraternities of  Our Lady of Mount Carmel.

The Carmelites established confraternities of Our Lady of Mount Carmel during the seventeenth century.  Since the 15th century, popular devotion to Our Lady of Mount Carmel has centred on the Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Mary is said to have given the Scapular to Saint Simon Stock, an early Carmelite. The scapular  formed part of the Carmelite habit after 1287. In Simon  Stock’s vision, Mary promised that those who died wearing the scapular would be saved. The scapular is recognised by the church as  a devotional sacramental signifying the wearer’s consecration to Mary and affiliation with the Carmelite order. It symbolizes her special protection and calls the wearers to consecrate themselves to her in a special way (35) (36). The liturgical feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel is celebrated on 16 July (32)(33).

The First Confraternity of Our Lady of Mount Carmel was set up in the Priory of Mdina in 1664 (23).

The Confraternity of Our Lady of Mount Carmel was established in the Carmelite Church and Convent of Valletta in 1622 (10) (22). The Confraternity took part in the Procession held on the patronal Feast on the 16th July, the first of which started  on 16th July 1622 (10). The confraternity acquired the first statue of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in 1657, and then acquired another in 1780 (10). However this was replaced by the present statue , owned by the Carmelite Community in 1781(22). The confraternity used to hold another procession on the Octave of the feast until 1790, when they ended this procession and instead asked that a novena be held leading up to the 16th July feast (23).

The Confraternity of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Valletta held weekly meetings on Wednesdays(10) . Every second Sunday of the month the Valletta Confraternity would hear mass in the Oratory, and then hold a Eucharistic Procession from the Oratory to the Church (10). The Confraternity of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Valletta is still active, as well as its devotionms to Our Lady, it annually celebrated the feast of Christ crowned with thorns , organises the feast of the Sacred Heart with a procession, organises spiritual exercises, and distributes food hampers to the poor.

It is worth adding that the Confraternity of Our Lady of Mount Carmel of Valletta, and also the Confraternity of Saint Joseph in Valletta in the same church are officially affiliated with the Carmelite order, although they are not part of the Order itself, unlike the Carmelite Tertiaries.

There was a confraternity of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Senglea founded in 1722 (13)(23), which now appears to be linked with that of the Rosary. and another is mentioned in Zabbar in  the pastoral visit of 1758 (13) (23), which may have eventually developed into the Carmelite Parish of Fgura. At Zabbar , before 1781, it was customary to sing the litany of Our Lady in front of the statue of Our Lady on the eve of the Feast of the 16th July, which Bishop Labini abolished because of the revelry which accompanied this (23). There was another confraternity set up in Siggiewi in 1745 (23).   In Zurrieq the Confraternity of Our Lady of Mount Carmel was established in 1801, by Giovanni Maria Borg, a member of the Valletta confraternity who had moved to Zurrieq because of the siege of the French in Valletta at that time (23)  (31). There was also a confraternity of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Birkirkara at St Helen’s Basilica. When the Discalced Carmelites came to the locality, the confraternity at St Helen’s changed its name to that of ‘The Holy Souls’, so that a Confraternity of Our Lady of Mount Carmel could be set up at the Discalced Carmelite Convent.

The Valletta Confraternity wears a brown suttana with a brown leather belt and a brown great scapular. It has an off-white muzzetta, which has attached a small hood, and a similar coloured Gonfalone. The Zurrieq confraternity has a violet Muzzetta and Gonfalone. There is a badge with a picture of Our Lady of Mount Carmel sown on the Muzzetta. They wear a brown great scapular over their konfratija, and a brown leather belt. The Holy Souls Confraternity has a white Gonfalone and muzzetta.

Marian Confraternities : The Confraternities of Our Lady of Charity.

There are also Confraternities of Our Lady of Charity. They used to distribute bread to the poor, adminiser legacies which enabled poor girls to have dowries to get married, buries the poor dead, and even provide ransoms for Maltese who had been taken into slavery (13). The Valletta confraternity still is fully functioning. It was founded in 1610 (13) (23). It is based in Saint Paul’s Parish Church in Valletta. It wears no muzzetta, only a confratija which is bound by a red cord. It has a white gonfalone.  I remember when the procession of Our Lady of Charity came out of the church in the feast of Our Lady of Charity in May. The confratelli would also wear the white Barnuza , but with their faces uncovered. They would also use this in the Parish feast of Saint Paul. Between the pairs of confratelli in the May Procession, would walk pairs of boys, in red zimarri, each carrying a tray of small loaves to distribute to the poor. The statue of Our Lady of Charity also features an angel carrying a similar tray. Unfortunately, this procession no longer takes place. It is worth noting that for a long time the Confraternity of Our Lady of Charity in Valletta had Discalced Carmelite Friars as their Spiritual Directors , and till today they look after the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Fawwara (23).

Confraternities of Our Lady of Charity exist in Senglea, founded in 1615 (later united with the Confraternity of the Crucifix into The Krucifiss u Karita Confraternity in 1715) , Ghaxaq , founded in 1655, Rabat  Gozo ,founded in  1619, Żebbuġ , founded in 1695 (23), and Żejtun , founded in1589 in the church of the Holy Ghost (23) (13). The Zebbug  confraternity has  a white Mozzetta and Gonfalone.

An important  Confraternity of Our Lady of Charity existed in Vittoriosa from 1580, but ceased to be mentioned after the second world war(13). It organised the procession of Our Lady of Charity similar to the one in Valletta, and the boys in this procession carried “baċiri” , which were trophies decorated elaborately with loaves (13). This confraternity venerated the icon called the Madonna Elemosiniera, which was later taken to the Greek Church in Valletta (13).

All the Confraternities of Our Lady of Charity in Malta were aggregated with the Confraternity of ‘San Gerolamo della Carita’ in Rome (23). This had been founded in 1518 by Cardinal Giulio de Medici , the future Pope Clement VII.(48)

Marian Confraternities : The Confraternities of  Our Lady of Doctrine .

In the eighteenth century confraternities of Our Lady of Doctrine were set up in several confraternities in order to promote the teaching of Catholic doctrine. They were eventually replaced by other organisations such as the M.U.S.E.U.M.,(13) however one such confraternity in Tarxien  survived , and its patronal feast in July became a secondary feast in that parish. It has a pale blue gonfalone, and the members wear a white konfratija, tied with a blue cord, and a medal of Our Lady of Doctrine.

Thus, in 1724  confraternities Of Our Lady of Doctrine  were founded in Żebbuġ and Valletta.  Confraternities were founded in Żurrieq  and Safi in 1727, in Żabbar in 1728, in Naxxar and Tarxien in 1748, in Rabat Gozo, Żebbuġ Gozo, Gharb,  Sannat, Nadur,Xewkija, and Ghasri in 1751, in Senglea 1774 (4) and in Vittoriosa and Lija in 1777 (13) .

Marian Confraternities: The Sodalities of the Assumption.

The Jesuits introduced into the Maltese Islands a Confraternity, otherwise known as a Sodality , of Ou Lady Assumed into Heaven. The first such sodality was in Vittoriosa , founded in 1604 , where it had a chapel of the Assumption (4)(13) (23). Another sodality was set up in Valletta in 1614. It was known as ‘the Onorati’. , because the altar of its chapel contained the Holy Body of Santa Onorata, martyr (4)(13) (23).This was a sodality of distinguished persons, and , up to quite recent times it held meetings with mass every Sunday (4)(13) (23).The present writer remembers well how the the Onorati used to accompany the Blessed Sacrament, wearing morning coats and a Marian medal rather than a Confratia, during the Valletta Corpus Christi Procession from Saint John’s Co-Cathedral. Another sodality of the Assumption was set up in Senglea in 1620 (4)(13) (23).


Other Marian Confraternities

In 1810, the confraternity of the Madonna della Catena , with a white Gonfalone was established in the parish of Senglea (4).

When the parish of the Sacred Heart Of Mary was founded in Sliema , a Confraternity of the Sacred Heart Of Mary was founded, both to promote this new devotion and to bring the new parish community together. Up till recently, the members did not use a confratija, and used a banner with the face of the statue of Our Lady in processions, but recently they began to wear a white confratija and blue muzzetta and to use a blue Gonfalone.


Confraternities of the Crucifix and of Our Lady of Sorrows.

In the seventeenth century, there developed a number of Confraternities of the Crucifix. Some had originally been Confraternities of the Agony, and the confraternities of the Crucifix are of the type which in Spain are called ‘De Penitentia’. They were important in introducing Good Friday Processions into Malta, (although the oldest  such procession was , and still is , organised by the Archconfraternity of Saint Joseph of Rabat.) Some Confraternities of the Agony developed into confraternities of Our Lady of Sorrows.   The confraternities of the Crucifix were founded in Valletta in 1691, Vittoriosa, founded in 1712, Senglea, founded in 1714 and Cospicua Founded in 1674 (38).  The Valletta Confraternity, founded in Ta’ Giesu Church, has a Violet Gonfalone, wears a black Mozzetta and a beige Konfratija  made of Sack-cloth  tied with a cord , and the members wear medal of Our Lady of Sorrows with a violet ribbon on their muzzetta. They also wear a barnuza of sack-cloth. The medal is worn because this confraternity is two confraternities in one- that of the crucifix and that of Our Lady of Sorrows. Apart from Good Friday and the Procession of Our Lady of Sorrows on the preceding Friday, their patronal feast is the Finding of the Cross on the third of May , and in Valletta the confraternity of the Crucifix holds a procession on that day, accompanying a relic of the true Cross and a Statue, and with the confreres carrying candles decorated with wreaths of artificial flowers. The Senglea confraternity also has a violet Gonfalone, as has that of Vittoriosa, but while the Senglea confraternity wears black muzzetta beige Konfratija  and barnuza ,the Vittoriosa confraternity wears a violet Konfratija and Barnuza, or, at least did so till recent years, when the Konfratija was changed to white. By Contrast, the Gonfalone , konfratija and Barnuza of the Cospicua Confraternity is black, which is explained by the fact that it developed from a Confraternity of the Agony. The Confraternity of the Crucifix of Cospicua is affiliated (40) to the Archconfraternity of the Crucifix of San Marcello al Corso in Rome  (41).

It is of interest that the two Confraternities of the Crucifix of Vittoriosa and Senglea participated in the devotion to Our Lady of Sorrows by dedicating their Oratories to her, and the one of Valletta, which was linked to the Franciscan order , developed within it a confraternity or sodality of Our Lady of Sorrows , linked to the Servite order, and  denoted by the medal with violet ribbon which they wear fixed to their Konfratia (23).

The devotion to Our Lady of Sorrows is a very ancient one in the Catholic Church. In 1232, seven youths in Tuscany founded the Servite Order  or the “Order of the Servants of Mary”. Five years later, they made  the sorrows of Mary, standing under the Cross,  the principal devotion of their order (49) (50). The Servites developed the two most common devotions to Our Lady’s Sorrows, namely the Rosary of the Seven Sorrows and the Black Scapular of the Seven Dolours of Mary. The Black Scapular is a symbol of the Confraternity of Our Lady of Sorrows, which is associated with the Servite Order(51).

The confraternity began to develop around in the 13th Century, soon after the founding of the Servite order in 1223. Groups of laypeople wished to share in the life and spirit of the order  moved to live near the monesteries. In 1374, the prior general of the order  allowed the  members of these groups to participate in the spiritual merit of the order. Pope Paul V  promulgated new regulations regarding the ordering of confraternities in 1607. It was then that small cloth devotional scapulars became the symbol of confraternities associated with Religious orders. The Confraternity was confirmed  as it is now by Pope Innocent X in 1645 (51).

The feast of the Our Lady of Sorrows originated with  a provincial synod of Cologne in 1423. Until  the sixteenth century this feast was limited to the dioceses of North Germany, Scandinavia, and Scotland. After 1600 it became popular in France and was set for the Friday before Palm Sunday. In  1727, Pope Benedict XIII extended it to the entire Latin Church(49).

In 1668 a second, separate feast was granted to the Servites, for the third Sunday in September , in order to commemorate  the seven dolours of Mary.In 1814, Pope Pius VII extended the celebration to the whole of the Latin Church. In 1913, Pope Pius X established the feast to September 15 , which is the date it is observed  today (49).

In 1969 the Passion Week celebration was removed from the General Roman Calendar but it remains a very popular feast  in Malta, and also in Italy and Spain today (49). In fact today, in Malta, both feasts are celebrated.

The Consequence of the development of this feast are that many Confraternities were set up in Maltese parishes so that the members of the parishes would be able to benefit from the association with the Servite order which this Confraternity offered. This was often done by rededicating an altar which previously had another dedication (23).

There are Confraternities of Our Lady of Sorrows in Many Parishes. They all have white konfratija, white Barnuza when worn, violet Gonfalone and Muzzetta.  The places where these confraternities exist include Żurrieq, founded  in1646,  Ghaxaq, founded in  1684(23), Qormi  (Saint George Parish ),  founded in 1653 (23), Attard, founded in 1665, Gharghur, founded in  1668, Żabbar , founded in 1669, Siġġiewi, founded in 1671, Tarxien, founded in  1674, Balzan, founded in  1676, Gudja and  Qrendi  , founded in 1678, Mosta , founded in 1686, Rabat, Gozo, founded in 1728, Naxxar, founded in 1750, Luqa founded in 1755, Lija  and Żebbuġ, founded in  1758, Mdina Cathedral ,founded in 1743(23) (13). One should add the Confraternity of the ‘Virgen de la Soledad’ established inSaint James Church , Valletta in 1646. (23) Another Confraternity of Our Lady of Sorrows is that of Gzira, whose chapel in the parish church clearly shows its links with the Servite Order, which promulgates the devotion of the Seven Sorrows of Our Lady. A number of these confraternities were founded by the faculty granted by the Father General of the Servite Order (23).

Other Confraternities in Honour of  Christ, the  Angels, and Saints.

Zahra reports that ,there existed a confraternity of Saint Anna in Ghaxaq founded in 1669, and that in Vittoriosa there was a confraternity of Saint John the Evangelist, founded in 1739 as well as a Confraternity of the Child Jesus , founded in 1731 (13).

In Valletta, still in existence, is the Confraternity of the risen Christ, which has a red gonfalone, and wears a white konfratia with a medal of the risen Christ  (13) . It organises the popular procession of the risen Christ in Valletta in the evening of Easter Sunday. It was founded in 1659.

Another Confraternity of interest is that of the Via Crucis in Vittoriosa, which was founded in 1876. Initially this confraternity was mostly composed of seamen and boatmen. They still can be seen in the processions of Saint Lawrence and Good Friday. They have a unique habit, consisting of a red Cassock with a black Muzzetta with a golden cross emblazoned on it and a red barnuza. They have a red Gonfalone (43).

In Valletta in 1592,  after an epidemic of plague, a confraternity of Saint Roque was founded, as was another in Vittoriosa in 1598 (13) . These confraternities both held processions with a  statue  . These are  is no longer in existence, however in Zurrieq, another Confraternity of Saint Roque was founded in1606  and still exists to this day. The Confreres wear a green Muzzetta embellished by a badge of a scallop shell and a cross sewn on the Muzzetta, and the confraternity has a green Gonfalone (39) . It celebrates its patronal feast with a procession in September.

In 1625 the Confraternity of the Blessed Trinity was founded in Senglea Parish. It has a white Gonfalone and Muzzetta embellished with the blue and red Maltese Cross of the Trinitarian Order. It owns a statue of the Blessed Trinity within this Church but no longer goes out in Procession except for the feast of Maria Bambina (4).

In 1748, the confraternity of the Guardian Angel was established in the Carmelite Church of Valletta. The members wear a white konfratija and no muzzetta, with a white cord round their waist, and a medal of the Guardian Angel. Their Gonfalone is white. They no longer hold their own procession but participate in the procession of the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel (22).

Also participating in this procession is the Confraternity of Beato Franco, funded in the Carmelite Church of Valletta in 1806. They wear a violet muzzetta and have a violet Gonfalone.(22)

There is Mention of a Confraternity of Saint John the Baptist in Zebbug in 1742.(23)


The Confraternities of Malta do indeed give much colour to the Festas of Malta, with their bright Gonfaloni and Muzzettas. They have a venerable history, many going back centuries. However they are much more than that. With the links of many of them to the major religious orders- the Dominicans, Augustinians, Carmelites and Franciscans and Servites, they have the potential of bringing into parish life the deep and broad streams of spirituality which these Religious Orders have characterised in the Western Church, elements of profound spirituality which are very much needed in the Christians of today.  These elements of spirituality, at their most deep, are not only about belonging to a particular group in a parish community, but describe important elements of meditation and contemplation within a life of prayer, as typified by the orders we have mentioned, with their scapulars, rosaries, and cinctures, of Eucharistic adoration, as promoted by the Confraternities of the Eucharist, and indeed the sanctification of day to day work, as the guilds which are linked to a specific trade have always done.

An important problem in the implementation of this is that the Confraternities are often overlooked….everyone focuses on the beautiful statue, but often no one gives a thought to the equally beautiful Gonfaloni which have gone before….they are there but hardly, or not seen.

In this article, I have first attempted to show some common rules about confraternities, to show that they belong not to a single Parish, but are part of a lay movement stretching across Europe and backwards towards the Middle Ages. I have tried to propose a rough classification of Confraternities- those of Penance, in Malta represented by those of the Crucifix and of Our Lady of Sorrows, and those of Joy , represented in Malta by most Marian Confraternities and those of the saints, with a subgroup of those related to the patrons of Individual Saints, and Finally the Sacramental Confraternities, which worship the Blessed Sacrament. I have then discussed the history in brief of the different Confraternities , and described them as they appear in ceremonies and processions so that they can be recognised. I have attempted to demonstrate that they have a potential to deepen the spiritual lives of the members of parishes.

However, the key to using the Confraternities effectively in the parish is the formation of the members. This means that firstly it has been necessary to ensure that the statutes of the confraternities are effective, hence the basic statute which has been given to all the Confraternities since it was promulgated in 2007.

But once the statutes of the Confraternities have been updated, the next step must be that each of the confraternities must  look to its spiritual roots, so that members of each confraternity, over time, come to understand , to the best of their ability, the implications of a particular family within the Church; thus Members of a Carmelite Confraternity need to think about the meaning of the Scapular and about how to deepen their spiritual life, Members of Rosary Confraternities need to promote the Rosary and hence deep meditation on the life of Christ and the Blessed Virgin, Members of Eucharistic Confraternities need to promote further prayer and adoration of the Eucharist, and so on. Meanwhile the basic statute has also proposed particular works of Charity that members of the various Confraternities can contribute to the parish.

All this means that it is important that as well as their statutes conforming to a common basic requirements, each confraternity should be well aware of its roots and individuality in the church, and of the stream of spirituality which it contributes to the parish, thus a Confraternity of Our Lady of Mount Carmel confraternity should ensure all its members are enrolled in the Brown Scapular, a Confraternity of Our Lady of Sorrows ensure all its members are enrolled in the Servite Black Scapular and so on. Equally, the confraternities dedicated to a saint need to understand the teachings of that saint and how that saint’s example  can improve the spirituality of the members. In the case of the confraternities linked with trades, one should reflect that, through them, work itself is made holy.

Not only this, but in order that the members of confraternities can understand the spirituality of the Orders from which the confraternities arose, it is important that their spiritual directors explain to the members the history of the relevant devotions, the lives of the saints of relevant orders, and so on. This means the need for lectures, spiritual exercises, the producing  of books and articles, and much educational work. It is possible that different confraternities of the same type could collaborate together to produce such materials for national use. It means also that the confraternities will become a source for spreading devotions and forms of spirituality to the whole parish , and, where there is more than one confraternity in the parish, the understanding that different confraternities are complementary to each other in the life of the parish, and not in competition with each other. This is a far cry from the present situation of the confraternities in Malta, but it is a challenge which must be faced. One needs to accept that not all the members will learn at the same time or to the same extent. However, it is also true that the present functions of the confraternities will need to be maintained. Also many confraternities have a major artistic patrimony, and the maintenance of this becomes one of their duties, and can be an onorous one, however this too is an educational opportunity which can also in itself deepen the spiritual commitment of the members.

So the Confraternities stand between popular culture and important spirituality within Our Parishes. They have a major part to play for the Lay people in the Church in Malta. Let us enjoy the Colours and sounds of our Festas when we celebrate our saints, but let us , more importantly, use the confraternities to help us improve our lives as Christians so that our relationship with God can be deepened and our lives and relationship with others  can be more fulfilling .


(1) Father Sam Anthony Morello, OCD and Father Patrick McMahon, O.Carm A Catechesis on the Brown Scapular;( )Meditations from Carmel 2000

(2)Jose Sanchez Herrero et al. Las Cofradias de Sevilla Historia, antropologia, arte. Universidad de Sevilla. 1991.

(3) Juan Martinez Alcalde Hermandades de Gloria de Sevilla. Boletin de las Cofradias de Sevilla1988.

(4) Karmenu Ellul Galea Fratellanzi u Xirkiet tas-Snajja.Stamperia Il-Hajja.1981.

(5) F. Mallia. Il-Fratellanza tas-SSmu Sagrament fil-Parrocca ta’S.M. tal-Portu Salvu,il-Belt. Malta 1975.

(6) Nicola Caputo I giorni del Perdono 1995 Scorpione Editrice Taranto

(7) Nicola Caputo e Alfredo Majorano Nunziato 1998Mandense Editore  Taranto

(8) P.Valentin Borg Gusman, P Ewgenju Tonna L-Erbghat ta’ l-Udienza 1979 Malta.

(9) Jeremy Boissevain Hal-Farrug A Village in Malta. Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1969 New York

(10) P.Valentin Borg Gusman Marian Devotion in the Maltese Carmelite Provence during the 17th and  18th Centuries in Marian Devotions in the Islands of Saint Paul (1600-1800) Ed Vincent Borg 1983 The Historical Society Malta.

(11)  Mark Agius . Kif ikkontribwiet Malta matul iz-zmien biex issalva s-siti ewlenin tal-Karmelu madwar id-Dinja?  Program tal- Festa tal Madonna tal-Karmnu Valleta 2018. p.33.

(12) Mark Micallef Perconte , Andrew Borg  Ilwien il-Festi Maltin Vol.8 p.255 . 2018.

(13) Lorenzo Zahra Taghrif dwar xi fratellanzi li kellna f’dawn il-gzejjer.

(14) Arthur Bonnici . History of the Church in Malta Vol. 1 (Malta 1937) , p.26

(15) Achille Ferris. Descrizione Storica delle Chiese di Malta e Gozo

(16) EB Vella ‘Arciconfraternita ta’San Guzepp, Rabat (Malta)

(17) Storia ta l-Arcikonfraternita tal-Patrijarka S.Guzepp Imwaqqfa  fil-knisja ta’Giezu ta’l-Imdina’ Anglu tal-Paci 1932:14;45-46

(18) G. Scerri, Monografia Storica dell’ Antichissima Arcikonfraternita del Glorioso Patriarca San Giuseppe (Malta 1890)



(21) Lorenzo Zahra Qima Lejn Santa Katarina fil-Belt Vittoriosa l-Armar ; Feata ta’ Santa Katerina Zejtun ;1997 29-31.

(22) P.Lawrenz M. Sammut O.Carm Is-Santwarju tal –Karmnu 1952.

(23) Vincent Borg Marian Devotions in Maltese Diocesan Churches. Marian Devotions in the Islands of Saint Paul (1600-1800) Ed. Vincent Borg The Historical Society Malta 1983.






(29) Charles Farrugia Tal-Gilju: Il-Banda u s-Socjeta fl-Imqabba.1995.



(32)Bede Edwards, OCDS. “St. Simon Stock—The Scapular Vision & the Brown Scapular Devotion.” Carmel Clarion Volume XXI, pp 17–22, July–August 2005, Discalced Carmelite Secular Order, Washington Province.

(33)Scapular Devotion.” July–August 2005, Discalced Carmelite Secular Order, Washington Province.

(34) Andrew Jotischky (2002). The Carmelites and Antiquity. Mendicants and their Pasts in the Middle Ages. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 37–38.





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(42) Lorenzo Zahra Il –Fratellanzi Tas-Snaja.

(43) Lorenzo Zahra  Il-Fratellanza tal-Via Sagra fil-Birgu.

(44) Alexander Bonnici Mary Immaculate in the churches of the Franciscan Minor Conventual in the XVII and XVIII Centuries. In Marian Devotions in the Islands of Saint Paul (1600-1800) Ed Vincent Borg 1983 The Historical Society Malta.

(45) Philip Mallia The Dominican Order and the Blessed Virgin in Malta till the end of the 18th Century. In Marian Devotions in the Islands of Saint Paul (1600-1800) Ed Vincent Borg 1983 The Historical Society Malta.

(46) Henry Schembri The Augustinian friars and Devotions to Our Lady in the Maltese Islands . In Marian Devotions in the Islands of Saint Paul (1600-1800) Ed Vincent Borg 1983 The Historical Society Malta.









Author: Joe Farrugia

Segretarjat għal-Lajċi.

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