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Bahrija and the Feast of San Martin

Within the limits of Rabat one finds a hamlet called Bahrija, an area which definitely deserves a visit by those who relish countryside walks.

View from Migra l-Ferha towards Bahrija

According to some interpretations the name "Bahrija" is a corruption of the word "Rahbija" an archaic Maltese word meaning monastery. Such an interpretation has been suggested due to the name of two spots in the surrounding zone; Wied ir-Raheb and Ras ir-Raheb. In the neighbouring island of Sicily one can find the town of Bagheria which, pronounced in old Sicilian as Baaria, may have a common etymological thread tying it with Bahrija. Whatever the origin of the name, Bahrija is ideal for all those who wish to immerse themselves in tranquillity whilst enjoying some of the most beautiful countryside views offered by the nearby cliffs.  Amongst these one cannot fail to mention Il-Qlejgha with its Bronze Age village site and Migra l-Ferha, with its famous legend of the Norman landing in the 11th century. 
Of particular note is also a chapel dedicated to St Martin, a saint who does not feature in many Maltese churches, but whose name is so popular in Maltese culture. According to tradition, Martin was a young soldier in the Roman army and deployed in Gaul (today France). While stationed in Amiens, he was approaching the gates of the city and met a scantily clad beggar. Pitying the poor man, Martin cut his own military cloak in half and shared it with him. That night, Martin dreamed of Christ wearing the half-cloak he had given away saying: "Here is Martin, the Roman soldier who is not baptized; he has clad me." (Sulpicius, ch 2). Martin was then baptized, and dedicated his life to Christianity.
St Martin's feast, celebrated in November is famous especially with children. In fact, on the 11th of November parents and grandparents remind their young ones of this saint by giving them a very particular present: a small bag filled with nuts and fruit. This gift is reflected in the popular rhyme "Gewz, lewz, qastan, tin - kemm hu twajjeb San Martin" (lit. translation "Walnuts, almonds, chestnuts, figs - so kind is St Martin").   The following Sunday marks a fair organized in Bahrija, famous mostly for its agricultural and animal products.

The above mentioned chapel situated in Bahrija is mentioned already in a 1643 document as being constructed on the same spot of a previous church. As suggested by the Dusina report of 1575, this earlier church was not fit to be a sacred space and thus was eventually desecrated and closed down by Bishop Cagliares in 1615. This meant that those who wanted to see to their spiritual needs had to walk sizeable distances to reach chapels of the surrounding communities, till a proper church was set-up once again. This phenomenon was not so uncommon during the abovementioned period. Dusina's report shows how checking out the condition of churches was of prime importance. Many were those wayside chapels who were completely stripped of any decoration or furniture - some did not even have a door - mainly due to pilfering by corsairs and due to poverty amongst villagers, which made it impossible for them to pay for repairs of what had been destroyed.       
Clay Slopes at Bahrija, MaltaThus, a walk in Bahrija (eight kilometres away from the Seashells Resort at Suncrest  and around 25 minutes' drive) and the surrounding areas is a very interesting excursion which takes the visitor to sites linked to Maltese history, nature, legends and culture, as well as offering exciting views to photography enthusiasts.    

Readings: Malta Countryside Walks: Bahrija Walk - pamphlet issued by the Malta Tourism Authority in October 2002 (text by Joseph Borg) Il-Bahrija u l-Knisja ta' San Martin - pamphlet by Joseph Galea printed by Malta Empire Press in 1957

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