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The Establishment of the Parish


Saint Lawrence Chapel

This chapel was situated on the same site where the parish church now stands. Before this chapel was built, the region was called Ta'Cangura but from this time onwards it became known as San Lawrenz. The exact date of the chapel's origin is not known but its foundation is associated with Francesco Palmieri. Besides building this chapel Palmieri left some land known as tal-Habel and tal-Blata. The income from this land was used for the celebration of a mass and the distribution of four tmiem of bread to the poor on the feast day. The feast was celebrated on 10 August.

The first written record of this chapel dates back to the Pastoral Visit by Bishop Domenico Cubelles in 1545. In the early sixteenth century the chapel was neglected, but after the Turkish invasion of Gozo in 1551, the chapel was renovated in such a way that in 1566 it looked as if it were newly built. However Mgr. Pietro Dusina, who made his memorable pastoral visit in 1575, found the chapel to be in need of repair. In front of it there was a cemetery. This ancient chapel collapsed and was rebuilt more than once.

When Bishop Michele Balaguer visited San Lawren on 24 May 1657, he observed that the church was in a disastrous state; the roof leaked, the walls were damp and the floor was not paved. Profanation was inevitable. Enthusiastically the locals set out to rebuild it. Tradition has it that in the process of building this chapel, a miracle occurred. A great difficulty, with which the builders had to contend, was the procurement of water, which had to be carried from distant cisterns. This involved extra work and also lot of money. While digging, the villagers were astounded when a stream of water unexpectedly seeped out. Those present uttered exclamations of joy because this act of Divine Providence would greatly facilitate the completion of this chapel. To everyone's amazement the stream dried up as soon as the building ended. The villagers took this as a sign of God's intervention.

The writing on a stone on the chapel's facade informs us that the chapel was finished in 1665. However Bishop Balaguer had sanctioned the use of this chapel a few months before he died in 1663. This chapel owned an oil painting of the Virgin Mary, another of Saint Lawrence in the habit of deacon and another one of Saint Joseph. It had also a cemetery and a small sacristy. Its main door faced Southeast.

The chapel has been subjected to many pastoral visits and it is from these that we have the most information about it. For example, when it was visited by Bishop Giacomo Canaves, he found the chapel in a good condition. However there were no relics of Saints, which were essential in order to celebrate the holy mass. The chapel had no priest who could take of it although a certain Pawlu Cauchi acted as a sexton.

This chapel started to gain importance as time went by. Although masses were rarely celebrated during the year, vespers were sung on 9 August and a mass was celebrated on the feast day the next day. In this mass participated the clerics and the villagers of Gharb who came to San Lawrenz in a procession. It is said that this procession was held as an expression of gratitude towards God because He had helped them to defeat an invasion of rats and insects which had infested that fields with dire consequences on their crops, on which their livelihood depended. Those participating in this procession from Gharb to San Lawrenz had to visit other chapels on the way. The stops were called stazzjonijiet. Once in San Lawrenz, a mass was celebrated and the procession continued back to the church of Santa Marija tal-Virtu in Gharb.

According to the report left by the Bishop Paul Alpheran de Bussan in 1728, the chapel possessed a silver chalice and other sacred objects but these were held in the parish church of Gharb. This shows tat hardly any masses were celebrated in the chapel. The main reason behind this might have been the lack of clergymen in the area.

Founding the New Parish

A religious processionIn 1809 during his pastoral visit, Mgr. Ferdinand Mattei noticed that the people of San Lawrenz had started to form a separate community. The people were becoming more reluctant to go to Gharb. For the first time the bishop ordered that a mass should be celebrated in the chapel dedicated to Saint Lawrence every Sunday and on feast days.

On 18 January 1869 during the reception held on the occasion of the possession of the new archpriest of Gharb, Dun Saver Portelli, this new archpriest expressed his wish to build a larger church in the contrada of San Lawrenz. He also wanted o build a spacious parish square in front of it. This plan was immediately approved by Doctor Felic Mercieca. In those times a mass was celebrated daily in the chapel by Dun Gwann Formosa. In 1886 the first Missjoni l-Kbira took place. Everyone agreed that a larger church was essential. The only problem was the money. The rector of the Missjoni l-Kbira, Dun Joseph Hili received 102 scudi from a certain Peter Paul Galea in Valletta which about 137 scudi were collected from the villagers themselves.

The land was bought from the Government for Lm4. The plan was designed by Dun Guzepp Diacono. The foundation stone for this new church was laid and consecrated by the Bishop Peter Pace on 21 November 1886. The relic of Saint Lawrence was placed under this stone. Everyone participated with great enthusiasm in the building of the church. Every Sunday. The men under the lead of Peppu and Vitor Portelli helped to build his church while the women and children tried to assist them. Every morning at 10 o'clock the women carried a load of stones while another one was carried by the men at sunset. Whenever more stones were needed the bell was rung and the villagers left their work in order to cut out stones from the quarries. In 1889 the building was completed and on 28 April of the same year this church was consecrated by the Bishop Mgr Giovanni Marija Camilleri. In the evening the Way of the Cross was consecrated. The titular painting (1889), the work of the famous Maltese artist Giuseppe Cali was put in place two months later. The church was left in the hands of the young Dun Salv Portelli who among other obligations had the duty of celebrating a mass every day and to give lessons of catechism to children.

Now that the church was finished, the next step was to become separated from the parish of Gharb. In 1892 the villagers signed a petition addressed to the Bishop of Gozo, Giovanni Marija Camilleri, in which they expressed their wish to make the contrada of San Lawrenz a parish on its own. Before doing this, the bishop had to see that all conditions were fulfilled. The first condition was the need for a causa lusta, meaning that there had to be a good reason. The second one was the need of a locus congruous, meaning that the village there must be a chapel or a church. The next condition was the consensus Parochi which obligates the bishop to hear the opinion of the parish priest. The last one was the need of a dos congura, which means that the new parish priest should have enough land or possessions from which to earn a living. After these conditions were fulfilled the bishop of Gozo made his request to the Vatican authorities.

On 15 March 1893, the area of San Lawrenz was made a parish by means of an Apostolic Letter issued in the name of Pope Leo XIII. The new village plan was designed by the architect Pascal Calleja. On 7 May 1893 San Lawrenz was officially declared a parish by the Charncellor of the Curia. Dun Joseph Portelli. A few days later Dun Salv Portelli, who had not yet turned twenty nine years old, was sworn the first parish priest. The parish of San Lawrenz was the fourteenth one founded in Gozo. The first marriage was celebrated on 26 June between Guzepp Tabone and Marija Grima while the first baptism was that of Marijanna Cassar on 25 July.



The Present Church

San Lawrenz ChurchWhen Dun Salv Portelli became parish priest, the church was almost bare. As years when by the church was gradually decorated by pieces of art, such as the four paintings by Giuseppe Cali depicting Christ on the Cross (1892), Our Lady of Pompeii (1893), San Michael (1891) and Saint Joseph (1892). The pictures of Saint Pius X and the Sacred Heart of Jesus, over the altars in the right and left transept respectively, were painted by Ganni Vella. The lateral paintings in the choir, representing scenes from the life of Saint Lawrence, are of Attilio Palombi.

More recently the church was adorned by six paintings, the work of Paul Camilleri Cauchi. These paintings represt Saint Orentius, Saint Patience, Saint Francesco Salesio. Claudio de la Columbier, Saint Anthony of Padova and Saint Gregorey. Another painting by the same artist Camilleri Cauchi was added in 1993 to adorn the ceiling of the choir area. This portrays Saint Lawrence flanked by main saints being triumphantly welcomed by the Holy Trinity. Two years later, as a part of the centenary celebrations, the paining of the dome was inaugurated. The artist Paul Camilleri Cauchi divided the dome into sixteen parts each depicting a saint.

Soon after the establishment of the parish in 1893, the parish priest Dun Salv Portelli and his villagers sought to procure a statue of the saint. They reached an agreement with the renowned firm Ramat Statuaire of Marseilles. The longed-for statue reached Gozo on August 4, 1895. Many villagers went to assist to the arrival of the statue at Mgarr. The life-statue was carried from Mgarr on shoulders by various men. Saint Lawrence,, in a deacon's attire, a dalmatic over an alb, contemplates heaven with his slightly raised angelic face. In his right hand, he holds a silver palm, which is the symbol of martyr's distinction in the militant, suffering and triumphant Church. His left hand rests on a silver gridiron - upon which, according to popular tradition, he was roasted to death. The who composition seems to convey an idea of the glorification of the saint in heaven. Most of the statues found in the church were also made in Marseilles such as that of Our Lady of Sorrows (1898), the Sacred Heart (1901) and that of Saint Anthony (1910). The statue of Saint Joseph was brought from Lecce (1924) while that of the Redeemer was sculptured by the Gozitan artist Paul Aquilina (1993).

In this church we find three altars: that of Saint Lawrence, that of Saint Pius X, and that of the Sacred Heart. Recently the main altar which was made of wood was replaced by another on made of marble. The latter was designed by Michael Camilleri Cauchi and sculptured by Ronald Pisani. The altar consists of two angels. One is holding ears of wheat and the other one a bunch of grapes, the symbols of the Holy Eucharist. In the centre there is a pelican feeding its young ones. Christ is compared to the pelican that tears off parts of its body to feed its young ones. Since the church was first constructed, it underwent many changes to accommodate the needs of the villagers. The church was becoming too small for the increasing community and in 1952 the parish priest, Dun Gregory Vella, set out to enlarge it. The work was completed in 1957. The ceiling, dome transepts, choir and aisles were all constructed on the design of architect Giuseppe Damato. It is worth noting that instead of collecting money in difficult times, the parish priest collected the necessary funds by buying chickens, growing them and then selling them to the villagers.

With the passage of time the church has been furnished with many precious works such as the font for baptism, the confessional, marble paving and other artistic pieces so that today it has become one of the most beautiful baroque churches on the island.

Parish Priest of San Lawrenz


 

FROM

TO

Salvatore Portelli

1793

1837

Celestinu Galea

1938

1941

Gorg Debrincat

1942

1950

Gregory Vella

1950

1975

Michael Borg

1975

2004

Daniel Xerri

2004