Home > Europe, Malta > EASTER WITH THE KNIGHTS OF ST. JOHN

EASTER WITH THE KNIGHTS OF ST. JOHN

Destiny arrived at Grand Harbor Marina in Malta on Maundy Thursday.  We needed a spring “shake down” cruise and heading south 50 NM from Destiny’s winter home in Marina di Ragusa, Sicily to spend Easter weekend in Malta seemed perfect. 

Our sails are full once again. . .

and Kent is a happy captain.

Malta and neighboring Gozo are steeped in history being situated at the cross roads of Europe and the African continent, but are best known for the several hundred years that the Knights of St. John occupied the islands.

Destiny is berthed at the end of Dock C which leads directly to the Maritime Museum at Grand Harbor Marina, Malta. . .

which is currently undergoing an expansion.

In 1565 the Knights of St. John and Maltese residents, vastly outnumbered by the forces of Suleiman the Great defeated the Turks and their planned take over of the islands.  The Great Siege as it is known was a turning point in the island’s history and resulted in even more fortifications being built by the Knights.

Fort St. Angelo sits at the entrance to Great Harbor Marina and was part of the Great Siege.

Most of the Maltese population is Catholic and Easter is a particular cause for solemnity and joyous celebration on the island.

On Good Friday, it is tradition for the parish churches to stage elaborate processions that include life size statues depicting the Passion Play being carried through the streets.  On the waterfront of Grand Harbor in front of the marina is the Church of St. Lawrence (or San Lawrenz, as it is known to the Maltese).

The Church of St. Lawrence is to the right of the Maritime Museum and adjacent to the marina.

San Lawrenz Church. . .

raises colorful banners on Good Friday morning.

After a several hour service commemorating the crucifixion and death of Christ, the parishioners take to the streets at 6 p.m. carrying massive wooden structures on their shoulders that portray Christ’s life in the final days of his life. 

People gather outside the church waiting for the procession. . .

and mingle with participants. . .

in Biblical dress. . .

and Roman finery.

Even with up to eight barrel-chested men carrying each structure, there are frequent rests stops.

The first float of the procession is carried by. . .

eight strong men.

There were a hundred or more people who participated in the procession, including small children. 

The life size statues of Christ are carried down the church steps and through the streets. . .

as onlookers line the streets. . .

watching the pagentry.

Both adults and children participate. . .

all with solemn expressions.

The Good Friday procession ends with Christ on the cross, and the expressions of the faces of everyone in the procession is mournful and sad.

As the sun sets. . .comes the most solemn part of the procession. . .as Christ on the cross is carried through the streets

preceded by Roman sentries.

 We were told that the roles played in this annual Passion Play are passed down from generation to generation within each parish.  The amazing thing is that nearly every parish on the island will stage the similar procession.  In Malta Good Friday is a national holiday. 

And then it was over. . .until next Good Friday.

On Easter Sunday we attended St. Paul’s Pro Cathedral in Valletta, built between 1839 and 1844 within the fortifications of Valletta.  St. Paul’s is one of only two Anglican Churches on the island of Malta, and most of its parishioners are expats from the United Kingdom & Ireland.  The Cathedral’s spire, which is quite distinctive on the skyline of Valletta escaped serious damage in the heavy bombardment during the Second World War when Malta was an Allied base.

Spire of St. Paul's Co-Cathedral. . .the Anglican Church in Valletta.

The interior simplicity of the Cathedral is in striking contrast to the opulence of the various Catholic parish churches we saw in Malta, not to mention St. John’s Co-Cathedral. 

St. Paul's Co-Catheral was simply decorated. . .

with candles. . .

and white calla lilies.

The architecture of the building was dramatic but not ornate, and the congregation very welcoming.

We stopped at St. John’s during the Easter service there and were overwhelmed by the ornate decoration of the building and the profusion of white flowers.

St. John's Pro-Cathedral, Valletta, with its simple lines belies the ornate interior.

After the church services we had Easter lunch at a restaurant on a large square just in front of the Grand Master’s Palace.

Malata Restaurant has outdoor tables or cozy interior space in a cave-like room.

We can highly recommend the French Lamb Shank in red wine reduction. . .and Fresh Grilled Swordfish

After our scrumptious Easter lunch, we toured The Grand Master’s Palace, built in the late 16th Century after the Great Siege when Valletta was founded.

Overlooking the courtyard at the Grand Masters Palace. . .

is a clock tower that also tells the day, month and phase of the moon.

The palace was occupied by the Grand Master of the Knights of St. John until 1798 when Napoleon invaded the island.  The Knights all but vanished after that, but the Palace State Rooms and Armory are open to the public and provide a glimpse back in time.

The Grand Masters Palace is filled with decorative surfaces. . .

The Grand Masters Palace is filled with decorative surfaces. . .

and coats of arms set into the floor. . .

that are cordoned off from footsteps in the Grand Hall lined by knights armor.

Being in Malta on Easter weekend and observing the intersection between the island’s religious and military history was particularly interesting.   The religious traditions date back hundreds of years to the Knights of St. John, but are very much a part of Malta’s modern identity.

But there is more to Malta. . .next post.

Categories: Europe, Malta Tags:
  1. SY TaraDevi
    April 19th, 2012 at 12:51 | #1

    Sounds great, and wonderful pictures! Hope we can also participate once in the years to come! It’s experiences like this that make sailing in the Med so highly enjoyable for us.
    Looking forward to your next blog.
    Love
    Renata

  1. No trackbacks yet.