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How was your Easter?

Easter on the island of Malta is filled with colourful processions and feasting

By on Monday, 25 April 2011

How was your Easter?

How was your Easter?

In the Maltese islands it passed off, I am told, with its traditional fervour. The Good Friday processions that take place in most villages are something that I remember from my youth. A series of tableaux representing the Passion of Our Lord are carried through the streets by members of confraternities dressed in special costumes; because the tableaux are so heavy, the men carrying them have perfected this rather strange staggering walk. Every few feet or so they have to rest, and the tableau is placed on special stilts. The processions are solemn and slow, as befits Good Friday. They are accompanied by a band playing mournful music, and the clanking of chains that belong to penitents, who, hooded and masked, either carry large crosses, or else process on their knees, dragging their chains behind them. You can see these processions here and here

They take place in most Maltese villages, and these videos come from Mosta, the village with the world famous Dome. The elaborate bier containing the body of the dead Christ at the end of each video is an impressive piece of popular baroque art.

I have a vivid memory, as a child of four or five, of watching the procession from a balcony in Merchants’ Street, Valletta, as a guest of the late Professor Vassallo; because the procession was so slow it was a pretty long afternoon, particularly for my young self, and even though it was lunchtime, there was nothing to eat, as the fast was being strictly observed. As a public holiday, it also meant that all shops were closed, including Blackley’s in Kingsway, which in those days (and perhaps still) sells Malta’s best doughnuts. Here you can see mthe statues that I watched pass by all those years ago. Some of them date back to the eighteenth century. The musical accompaniment is very Godfather-ish, and typical of Good Friday.

Easter Sunday processions are less well known, and very different. There is no staggering along under a heavy burden. Rather the statue of the Risen Christ is carried through the streets at a run. Have look at this and this

Our Risen Lord holds in his hands the flag of the Order of St John, and the practice of running with the statue is supposed to recall the triumph of the Maltese and the Knights over the Turks in the Great Siege of 1565. The videos come from Birgu or Vittoriosa, the heroic city that resisted the Ottoman assault. In some villages the Risen Christ carries a palm – it is said that this was substituted so as not to upset the French, who drove the Knights out in 1798.

The high point of any Maltese feast comes when the statue returns to the Church. If you are feeling down in the dumps, do look at this

It will cheer you up no end!

Easter joy to all readers!