Hamrun Marian Site

Church of Our Lady of Atocia (Tas-Samra)

The Church of Our Lady of Atocia in Hamrun was built in 1630, to replace a small medieval church nearby, dedicated to St Nicholas which was abandoned and declared profane in 1575.


The church was built on a quasi-square plan. Its façade appears Spanish in style. A wide portico is made up of three large arches, which define the ground-level part of the facade. The roof of this portico is framed with a stone balustrade. Above the portico is a triangular pediment on which two bell-cots are placed. In 1947, the bells were brought from the Taylor foundry and consecrated by Archbishop Gonzi.

Within the portico is a plain wall which includes a central doorway. The doorway is framed with a baroque frontispiece, made up of superimposed Tuscan pilasters with a plain entablature, and crowned with a broken triangular pediment. Small rectangular windows with a plain entablature are seen on either side of the doorway. The parvis occupies a small area and is fenced off with a low parapet wall and iron railing.

Inside, at the height of the ceiling the church walls are adorned with an entablature on which nine arches rest. These hold up the ribbed vault of the church. On each side of the main altar are doors leading to the sacristy.

The church contains a main high altar and four side-altars. These are dedicated to St Lawrence, St Nicholas of Bari (the old titular of the medieval church), St Joseph and the Holy Family, and St Carlo Borromeo. The altars are placed in deep arched niches which are adorned with a pair of columns at their sides. In the 1950s, the church floor and presbytery were paved in marble replacing the older flagstone flooring.

A number of ex-votos presented in thanksgiving are found inside the church. Some of the paintings at the chapel are by the French knight Fra Antoine Favray (1706-1798) and the Gozitan artist Paul Camilleri Cauchi (born 1940). A plaque inside the church marks the burial locations of the church benefactors Giuseppe and Isabella Casauri.

The high altar painting of Our Lady of Atocia is painted in the antique Byzantine and is based on the mid-sixteenth century original found in Madrid. The painting was brought to Malta in 1630. It was installed at the main altar of this church in 1935. The titular of Our Lady of Atocia portrays the Virgin Mary with dark skin earning the name in Maltese ‘Tas-Samra’.

The original miraculous image of Our Lady of Atocia is found in the Royal Chapel at the Dominican convent, having been brought from Antioch. A copy made in 1555 and first found in Madrid, is believed to have been procured from Saragozza in 1603 by Giuseppe Casauri, a merchant living in the Maltese harbour town of Birgu. Casauri’s future wife, Isabella, had miraculously survived the Great Siege of 1565. She was still an infant at the time, when her house collapsed burying her under the debris. It was Casauri’s wish that the image he brought from Spain be placed in a church where Our Lady of Atocia could be venerated.

The European Union co-funded project, focussed on conservation actions to ensure the long-term preservation of this historic church and its bell tower. The interventions sought to reverse and mitigate deterioration sustained through weathering, and pollutant processes. This was leading to the loss of the aesthetic qualities of the building as well as putting at risk its structural integrity. These actions are ensuring the long-term protection and enjoyment of this historic building lying in the heart of the community.

Refer to parrocci.knisja.mt/parrocca for full details.

Refer to Malta Public Transport website: www.publictransport.com.mt