The week leading up to Easter is a good time to be in Malta. Whether you are a believer or not is of little significance as the religious celebrations at this time of year can be enjoyed on so many different levels whatever your other-worldly persuasions. Many locals still flock to the activities out of a genuine sense of faith, even though the grip of the Catholic Church is very much diminished in a society becoming increasingly secular as time goes by.
Perhaps the best known celebrations are the Good Friday processions held in a number of towns and villages in both Malta and Gozo. These processions attempt to tell the tale of human salvation as seen through Catholic eyes, with characters representing personalities from the Old and New Testaments, and a number of life-size statues depicting episodes from Christ’s passion. People who take part in such processions normally hail from the village organizing the pageant and do this with great pride, sometimes even doing so as a means of showing gratitude for perceived holy interventions. Notable and popular processions take place in Valletta, Qormi, Zebbug, Mosta and all three of the Cottonera towns. The popularity of the processions with tourists has somewhat dented the sombre air these manifestations were once associated with.
Not meant to be sombre at all are the Easter Sunday processions, which take place amid fireworks and the mad ringing of bells and where the statue of the Risen Christ is frequently made to “run” by its bearers and cheered on by the crowd – admittedly something quite spectacular to watch.
Personally I love Maundy Thursday and its air of expectancy, when at dusk the locals traditionally visit seven different churches to pray at the Altar of Repose in each church. Regrettably this tradition has also become quite commercialized with food stands making their appearance for a quick profit in a number of towns.
One place that has escaped the marketplace feel and remains a personal favourite on this day is oddly enough Valletta. Whether you are a believer or not you will enjoy the sombre mood in the streets of the capital as worshippers in small groups make their silent way from one church to the next. An added bonus is that practically all the churches remain open till late – most of them dimly lit to reflect the commemoration of the Last Supper and the events which were to follow. A number of churches are must-sees on this evening starting with St. John’s Cathedral – certainly the city’s premier church. Other churches are Ta Giezu in St.John’s Street where the statues for the morrow’s procession are on display, the parish church of St.Paul and the Jesuit Church in Merchants Street.
Non-Catholic denominations also commemorate this evening in their way, and there are Scripture readings at the Anglican Cathedral, The Scots Church in South Street as well as the small Greek Orthodox Church in Archbishop Street. A number of band and social clubs also put on Holy week exhibitions, and though admittedly these are of varying quality, they nonetheless add to the atmosphere of this particular night in Valletta.
All in all Maundy Thursday remains quite a unique experience in the capital, and one I seriously recommend.
Author: Steven Bonello