the main strength of this city-fort is its faith in God and
deep love for the Virgin Mary. Since its earliest documented
existence, it seems that Cospicua always had the Virgin Mary
as its prime patroness. Its rise to fame started inside a rock.
An early centre of devotion was a cave dedicated to Our Lady
of Help (Succour), known as St. Helen (Santa Liena).
The devotion to this saint, responsible for the name of the
nearby gate, is probably due to the corruption of Chantereine (Santarena),
which sounds like Santa Liena. This underground chapel was
revealed during the clearing operation from the war rubble.
The chapel appears to have been troglodytic with the chancel
and the apse cut into the side of the cliff.
the first parish church dedicated to the Immaculate Conception
of Our Lady consisted of a small chapel on the hill known
as L-Għolja tal-Ġonna (The
Hill of the Gardens). It was subsequently enlarged and
embellished, especially after 1627 – 30. During the term
of office of parish priest Gian Maria Barbara, around 1680,
a new church started to be built on the same site. In 1686
architect Lorenzo Gafa` was commissioned to design its
steeple. Owing to various problems, including the bad effects
of the plague of 1676, years of drought and poverty, as
well as delayed decisions about some side chapels, this
church took years to build. In fact it was only completed
by 1732, when it was solemnly consecrated by Bishop Alpheran
great benefactor who contributed generously towards the building
of the church was Rev. Diego Ciantar. Later on, on 17 July
1822, Pope Pius VII proclaimed the erection of this parish
church into a Collegiate Church. Its titular painting is
the work of painter Pietro Paolo Caruana, who was inspired
by Mgr. Ludovico Mifsud Tommasi, a poet theologian that paid
for the canvas and then donated it to the parish church.
It is now framed within the opulently designed marble façade
executed by the Italian Federico Bonetti. Quite apart from
its rich theological contents, it has been well and truly
observed that this painting bears a prophetic iconographic
detail in that Our Lady is shown in a white dress with a
light blue sash around her waist, exactly as she was to appear
to Bernadette Soubirous at Lourdes in 1858. Blessed Rev.
George Preca had a special devotion for this painting, which
inspired him to write a litany in honour of the
1905, as delegate of Pope Pius X, Cardinal Domenico Ferrata
crowned this titular altarpiece, which was further embellished
by a silver halo of stars in 1955, when the Archpriest of
St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, Cardinal Federico Tedeschini
came to Cospicua to lead the festivities of the Marian Year
on the first centenary of the Proclamation of the Dogma of
the Immaculate Conception by Pope Pius IX in the mid-nineteenth
century. In the heart of the citizens of Cospicua, and in
effect of all Maltese, the Collegiate Church of the Immaculate
Conception has continued to enjoy a special place.
parish church stands majestically on the hill, where, according
to pious legend, the Blessed Virgin appeared to free a little
child from the devil’s clutches. A true gem and a rich repository
of artistic treasure, the present parish church is renowned
for sumptuous silver artifacts, such as candlesticks, apostle
motifs, missals, antependia, a monstrance packed with diamonds
and a refined monstrance throne, its artistically executed
altarpieces and the gold-embroidered velvet altar cloths
that adorn its numerous altars on feast days. Besides its
titular altarpiece, this church also flaunts several other
paintings by well known past masters, notably Alessio Erardi,
Gian Nicola Buhagiar, Francesco Zahra, Rocco Buhagiar, Virginio
Monti and Giuseppe Cali`, who painted the remarkable figures
of the four main Old Testament Prophets on the pendentives
underneath the main dome, and the pictures on the vault of
asserts that the original processional statue of the Immaculate
Conception was sculpted in wood around 1680 by Suor Maria
De Domenicis, a Carmelite Tertiary and a pupil of Mattia
Preti and later on in Rome, of Carlo Maratta, head of the Accademia
di San Luca. She carved the statue from the trunk of
a carob tree, on which Our Lady is said to have appeared.
However, practically nothing of the original statue exists
today, for in 1905 it was sent to Milan at the Firm Antonio
Ghezzi e Figlio – then a highly quoted firm – to be totally
covered in silver, except for the head, hands and feet. Cospicua-born
Abram Gatt (1863 – 1944) was responsible for this almost
complete transformation of the statue, for the design on
which the Italian firm worked was prepared by him.
this church possesses other noteworthy statuary by some of
the most eminent sculptors from the nineteenth and twentieth
centuries. Also by Abram Gatt is the wood statue of St.
Joseph (1903), which is considered
as his masterpiece. The statuary group of the Baptism
of Jesus (1814) and St. Michael (1819) are both
by Mariano Gerada who, though of Tarxien, spent most of his
working life at Cospicua. Our Lady of the Rosary (1828)
and St. Agatha (1846) are both the work of Pietro
Paolo Azzopardi, whereas St. Andrew is the work of
Salvatore Psaila. The oldest piece of wood sculpture in this
church surely remains the famed Crucifix of Candia,
probably a late medieval work, brought to Malta after the
Siege of Candia in Crete in 1669. Such was the tremendous
devotion that it enjoyed in the past, that a spacious chapel
was purposely built for it.
with the parish church is the Oratory of the Crucifix,
which was built between 1731 and 1735. It contains four sculptural
groups, namely Christ in Gethsemane, the Flagellation, the
Crowning with Thorns and Christ with the Veronica. They were
executed by Francesco Fabri and Pietro Paolo Zahra. The altarpiece,
by Francesco Zahra, features Christ’s Descent from the Cross.
has numerous secondary churches.