There are lots of lovely things to see on the island of Gozo, and in the city of Victoria, Gozo its capital, in particular. One thing I noticed with particular delight, walking along Palm Street last Sunday was the sight of the Catholic Herald on sale, and the fact that most of the houses in the oldest part of the city have little reliefs of the patron saint next to their front doors. The saint in question is Saint George, and it is to him that the parish church is dedicated.
Saint George in Victoria is one of the loveliest churches I know. It is a collegiate basilica, but at the same time it is quite small, though beautifully proportioned, and every surface is covered with marble, gilding or fresco. This is just the sort of church I grew up with, and the sort of church I like. You can get a good idea of its interior thanks to the new Liturgical Movement’s website, which has an illustrated account of the feast of St George here.
The Bishop in the picture is Monsignor Mario Grech, Bishop of Gozo. He is head of the collegiate chapter of St George’s but his Cathedral is up the hill in the Citadel overlooking Victoria, and that too is a most lovely church. As a matter of fact I know the bishop. Some years ago, with a couple of friends of mine who wished to get married in Gozo, we decided to call in at the curial offices, to ask about forms and things like that. The priest downstairs said to us: “Look, you had better go upstairs and speak to the bishop.” I said that we would hate to waste his time, or words to that effect. But despite our protests we were ushered into the bishop. He heard what we were there for, stood up, and said: “What a pity we don’t have any champagne! Otherwise we would open a bottle right now! Congratulations!”
He was warm, kind, welcoming, everything a pastor and a Christian priest should be. Needless to say there was no difficulty in getting dispensations for that marriage!
But back to Saint George. The basilica has an interesting series of frescoes about the life of the saint, or more accurately, the after-life of the saint. In the apse, we see him as he is now, in glory with God, crowned as a martyr in heaven, indeed not just a martyr, but a megalomartyr, as one of the inscriptions has it.
To the left of the sanctuary, we see Saint George leading the Maltese army during the Great Siege of 1565, and repulsing the Turks from his place in heaven, assisted by the Madonna. On earth, a Franciscan holds a crucifix before a mortally wounded Turk.
To the right of the sanctuary, we see Saint George banishing the plague from Gozo in the year 1765. This nineteenth century fresco, like the one opposite, shows a lively and delightful imagination in its treatment of costume, in the rich array of saints in heaven, and priests, clerics, peasants and gentry on earth.
Finally on the retrofacade, we see Saint George in glory surrounded by the representative figures of all the countries of which he is patron. There on the far left is a splendid and colourful Britannia, but much closer, indeed next to the Saint, are Melita and Gaulos (Malta and Gozo).
I was left reflecting that we in England do not do enough for our patron saint. Most people are a bit sniffy about his life on earth, saying that we do not know enough about him. But his life in heaven should most concern us. Unlike the people of Gozo, we have neglected him, and that is a shame. I wonder what we should do to right this?