Senglea Marian Site

Parish Church of The Nativity of Our Lady

The Parish church of Senglea was rebuilt between 1946 and 1956, as it was almost destroyed during WWII. Its architecture was planned by the Maltese designer Victor Anastasi (1913-1992). The church is over the site of the original church built in 1580 as a monument to the victory of the Great Siege of 1565.


The church facade comprises a wide central axis flanked by two bell-towers and a dome. It is raised on an elevated plinth that runs across the entire façade. At the centre of the middle bay is the temple-like frontispiece with two pairs of Corinthian columns resting on the plinths. Above is an entablature and a classical triangular pediment which ties the entire facade together. Below the frontispiece is the large portal crowned with a balcony supported on two corbels. On the balcony is a large window crowned by a broken segmental pediment and set within a semi-circular niche with columns at its side.

On the cornice spanning the entire width of the church is the inscription MONUMENTUM INSIGNIS VICTORIAE AD. MDLXV, in commemoration of the victory of the Great Siege of 1565.

A parapet wall on the roof joins the two belltowers. Their belfries rest on a rectangular base and is adorned with Corinthian pilasters on all its faces. It includes seven old bells which were saved from the ravage of war.

At the centre above the church, is a marble statue of the Virgin Mary, Queen of Heaven. This statue is thirteen feet high was made in Italy in 1955, to a design by Emvin Cremona (1919-1987).

The Presentation of Mary in the Temple, is the first of two paintings executed in 1741 by the Maltese artist Francesco Zahra (1710-1773), portraying episodes in the life of the Virgin Mary. They are placed on the lateral walls of the choir, above the wooden choirstalls.

The Presentation of the Virgin in the Temple forms part of the cycle of the Life of the Mother of God. She is shown as a young girl, kneeling at the feet of a High Priest of the Temple. Behind her are her mother St Anne, and her father St Joachim, while onlookers witness the scene. The theme illustrates both earthly and divine moments. While the presentation of Mary in the temple fulfilled the requirements of Jewish law concerning the firstborn, it is also seen as a symbol of Mary’s consecration as the chosen one to give birth to Christ.

The horizontal format of the painting allowed for the inclusion of prominent architectural columns and sculpture, as well as other figures to convey the crowds that gathered at the Temple.
The painting of The Annunciation is the second of two paintings executed in 1741 by the Maltese artist Francesco Zahra (1710-1773), portraying episodes in the life of the Virgin Mary. It faces Presentation of the Virgin in the Temple on the lateral walls of the choir.

The protagonists in the painting of the Annunciation are depicted prominently, illuminated by means of a divine light which emanates from heaven. To the left is the full figure of the Angel Gabriel, bearing a lily as the symbol of Mary’s purity, and accompanied by putti. To the right is Mary as she kneels with bowed head, in acceptance of the message ‘You shall conceive and bear a son, and you shall give him the name Jesus’. Above, a dove descends through parted clouds on a slanted ray of light, representing the moment of Christ’s incarnation. Around Mary are symbols of the Old Testament, such as the Mosaic tablets of the Ten Commandments at the feet of the archangel, as well as the symbols of the Passion of Christ such as the cross, lance, crown of thorns and the note INRI held by another angel.

The horizontal format of the painting allowed for the inclusion of other figures as well as symbols which are usually associated with the role of the Virgin Mary as the Mother of God.

The nave’s barrel vault, which was previously embellished with coffering, is now void of decoration except for the rib intersections. Between the ribs are windows giving light across the nave.

The cupola is divided into 8 sections with paintings by the Maltese artist Frank Portelli. They each portray the Virgin Mary as the Queen of Angels, Patriarchs, Apostles, Confessors, the entire Creation, Virgins, Martyrs and Prophets. The pendentives under the dome are also by Portelli, who painted them in 1995. They represent the four biblical heroines, Esther, Sarah, Deborah and Judith. At the choir’s apsidal cap is the painting depicting the triumph of the Knights of St John and the Maltese in the Great Siege of 1565, which ended as a victory for the Order and the Maltese, on 8 September, the feast-day of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary.

The titular sculpture of the Virgin Mary is placed inside a niche at an elevated position on the choir wall behind the tribune. It portrays the Virgin Mary as a young girl, adorned in fine drapes gilt in gold and silver. She wears a gold crown, representing her role as the Queen of Heaven. Her hands are clasped in prayer, as she looks upwards towards heaven.

After the plague of 1813, a procession started to be held with the statue as thanksgiving for Senglea’s deliverance from the plague. Over the years it continued to be embellished. The silver-gilt divine rays (the gloria) was built by the Maltese sculptor Mariano Gerada and was installed in 1875.

In 1921, the statue of the Virgin Mary was solemnly crowned. The gold crown is adorned with diamonds and other precious stones. It was made from melted gold gifts presented by the people of Senglea. Under the niche is a marble plaque which commemorates the momentous event.

The European Union co-funded project, focussed on the conservation actions required to ensure the long-term preservation of the paintings. The interventions sought to clean, repair, consolidate and conserve, the deterioration and damage sustained to the pictorial layers and the canvas. These conservation actions shall ensure the long-term protection and enjoyment of this artistic heritage lying in the heart of the community.

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