Easter in Malta

Procession Good Friday

The image above is the last statue to be carried through the streets of Haz-Zebbug in the Good Friday procession but more about that later.

I came back to Prague last Tuesday after spending two weeks around Easter in Malta with Ann and her family. And for the last 5 days my parents joined us as well. It was again a really nice trip and great to see Ann and her family.

I’ve just finished uploading all my pictures and this time round Ann and I shot a lot of video that I hope to turn into 3-4 different videos. All that takes time but the videos will eventually come up over the next couple of weeks.

I’m used to celebrate Easter with bunnies, colored eggs, “gækkebreve” and with an Easter egg hunt as the highlight of the Easter dinner. Most of these Danish traditions have little if any religious content. This is in contrast to Malta where Easter, as the most important feast in the Roman Catholic Church’s calendar, is celebrated in many unique and colorful ways.

On Maundy Thursday we eat Qaghaq ta’ l-Appostli (the apostles ring bread) a sweet white ring of bread. I think it’s to represent the last supper (correct me if I’m wrong). For Easter these breads are sold everywhere from the back of cars and in the shops.

Qaghaq ta' l-appostli

There are also some sweets called Figolli which I will spend a whole blog post on some other day and Kwareżimal which are one of the few sweets that is suppose to be eaten during lent.

The night of Maundy Thursday a lot of Maltese people go out and visit seven different churches or go in of seven different doors of the same church saying seven different payers. So there is a lot of people in the streets as the towns are buzzing from people strolling around. In the churches the main cross and alter is covered or removed and instead the attention is directed to a side-alter where a display with a halo/sun as the centerpiece is made for this event.

Church#1Church#2Church#3Church #4Church#5

We went to Rabat/Mdina in the middle of the island and visited churches there. If you click on the pictures above you can see the special decorations made in churches we went to.

Good Friday was the day of Christ’s long suffering and this is commemorated with processions in Malta. We went to the processions in Haz-Zebbug. This is a parade of groups of people dressed up in various costumes from the times of Christ. Everybody looking sad or solemnly as they parade in front of us in very impressive costumes. Between the groups were life-size statues depicting the different stages of the Passion of Christ on big wooden boards carried by 8 men in white robes.

Roman officer in Haz-Zebbug
Old wise men?
The biggest statue of this procession
2009-04-10 Good Friday 011
Kids and parents at the procession
Colorful costumes
Jesus getting wiped
Hooded penitent people

The costumes where very detailed and it was fascinating to see them. For some reason I thought it would be over quick but because the statues they carry through the processions were so heavy they would walk some 20 meters and then take a break, so it took some hours for the whole procession to walk through the town.

On Easter Sunday there was another procession. This time to celebrate the Risen Christ so gone were the solemn face and now there was a band with the procession. The procession we went to had one statue and it was one of Jesus rising from his grave.

Risen Christ Procession
Risen Christ
The carriers of the big statue

The statue itself was very impressive but the most impressive by this event was when they ran with it, several times. This video shows them running with the statue and lifting it up at the end as paper confetti is thrown from the surrounding houses, the band playing in the background and people cheering:

I’m not a particular religious person and I find these displays a bit overwhelming in their expression compared to how private religion is practiced in Denmark. But the Easter celebrations in Malta are really impressive shows of devotion and I’m glad I finally got around to see it for myself. I had some great guides into the Maltese traditions by Bernard, Cecelia and Ann 🙂

Look out for the next blog post about our trip to Malta.

Fireworks, farm and forts

I recently returned from a week in Malta – my third visit to this pretty place, to see a pretty girl. On my two previous visits we covered a lot of places, sights and museums so this time round we took it easy on the touristy stuff. That meant that we spent more time at home, at the beach and in the neighbouring village where one of the two annual feasts were taking place.

Feast and fireworks
The Catholic religion plays a big part in many matters on Malta and one of the occasions where it really shines through is when it is time to celebrate the saint of the village. Every village on Malta will have at least one (sometimes two or three) patron saints that will be celebrated once a year with a week of festivities.

Blue flags in the next village

Above is the village of Mqabba seen from Zurrieq where Ann lives. Mqabba was celebrating the patron saint Lady of Lilies and raising with blue in her honour.

From I arrived on Wednesday until around Monday there was fireworks going off at the village, day and night. The Maltese seem obsessed with their fireworks in different shapes and sizes and I really got to experience it when we went to Mqabba for the big show on Saturday. First off was the single rounds where various shapes, sizes and colours. My fireworks pictures didn’t t turn out well so watch this video for a better impression.

Fireworks at the feast

Feast of our Lady of Lilies fireworks

Inbetween the single rounds was two acts of a so-called pyromusical – fireworks synchronized with music. This was very well choreographed and very impressive to watch. Here is a video of the second act of the pyromusical (Thans to superhuan for putting the video on YouTube):

After the aerial fireworks we moved into the streets of Mqabba where the ground fireworks where to be displayed. Maltese ground fireworks is made with loads of gears, chains, levers and and abundance of fireworks to make it all go around and light it up. Here is one of the installments before it is fired off and another one while on fire.

Intricate ground fireworks

Mechanised Catherine Wheel, Mqabba Malta

There were probably about 20 of these ground fireworks and each of them was more intricate and impressive than the previous. Again photos and videos doesnt do these devices justice but below is a picture and see a video of it as well (The one in the picture above is cool in action and is on the video at 8:08).

Fireworks at the feast

I cant remember how long the different segments lasted but the whole fireworks ordeal lasted about 4 hours – and this was just in a village with 3000 inhabitants. It was really impressive and I cant help to think of the amount of money and hours goes into creating these immense performances.

The connection between fireworks and a religious celebration is a bit lost on me but the next day we went back to the Mqabba for the procession of a statue of the patron saint. The streets and church were decorated, two bands were playing and then the procession passed in front of us with the statue of Lady of Lilies on a huge block carried by 10 men.

A statue of Lady of Lilies is carried through the streets

Quite an experience to see a Maltese feast. All through the summer the villages across the islands will have similar celebrations.

Ann’s grandfathers farm is a bit outside of the village where the family lives. One of Ann’s uncles and a couple of the aunts take care of the land and the animals – most of what is produced in the farm is distributed to the family. It’s not a big farm like what I know from Denmark but instead it’s a small stone building and some patches of land around it.

Vue across the fields

They have all sorts of animals on the farm. They have chickens, ducks, goat, rabbit and sheep and I counted at least five different breeds of dogs from rottweilers to the small thing below.

Tiny scared dog

The Knights of St. John build a lot of defences and fortifications around the Maltese island during their reign. This time we visited the two forts that played a crucial role in The Great Siege were 30,000 Ottoman troops attacked Malta defended by 500 knights and 3000 Maltese.

The Siege of Malta in 1565 was a clash of unimaginable
brutality, one of the bloodiest – yet most overlooked – battles
ever fought. It was also an event that determined the course of
history, for at stake was the very survival of Christianity.

If vitally strategic Malta fell, the Muslim Ottoman Empire would
soon dominate the Mediterranean. Even Rome would be in peril.

History’s bloodiest siege used human heads as cannonballs

Fort St. Elmo was small, cut-off and defended by only a small group of soldiers. It was the first to be attacked and see the full force of the Ottoman. The Ottoman general Mustapha Pasha had expected the fort to fall within
three but it held out for 30 days.

Soldiers outside Fort St. Angelo

After St. Elmo had fallen Fort St. Angelo and Birgu the adjoining peninsula was next to be attacked but eventually the knights and the Maltese prevailed and the Ottoman gave up their attempt to take the island. The image above is from Fort St. Angelo, three guys dressed in what I think must be a 16th or 17th century armour.

Normally the two forts are closed off for the public but the week I was there we got into both of them. Here is the view from Fort St. Angelo over Valletta, a city built after the great siege to improve the defence of the knights and Malta.

View from Fort St. Angelo

About a month ago I read Ironfire by David Ball describing the a couple of key persons in the Mediterranean leading up to and during the Great Siege. A great summer read for a week on the beach.

We went to Fort St. Elmo which now houses the Maltese police academy. Here we saw a reenactment of Napoleons arrival in Malta in 1798 where he kicked out the Knights of St. John. The French only stayed for two years untill they were kicked out themselves by the Maltese and the British.

Reenactment of French occupation of Malta

Another good week with Ann went by too quick and I am back in Prague now. Next is off to Roskilde Festival.