Written by C. Rolé
St. Catherine's Parish Church in Żurrieq is decorated with a number of paintings, some even dating back hundreds of years. Amongst these paintings, one can find a beautiful painting dedicated to Our Lady of Mount Carmel. This work of art was made by Tonio Zammit, a local painter and sculpture, who studied under Vincenzo Cardona and Guiseppe Calì. This painting was inaugurated in 1908 by the Parish Priest Rev. Manwel Mifsud and one can still admire its beauty as today it is situated on the altar dedicated to Our Lady of Mount Carmel (Camilleri, 2009).
Our Lady of Mount Carmel's Altar
The altar dedicated to Our Lady of Mount Carmel has been present in St. Catherine's Parish Church for a number of years. In fact, first reference to this altar could be found the report compiled by Bishop Baldassare Cagliares during his pastoral visit in January, 1630. This altar was set up thanks to the hard work carried out by Antonio Zammit who served as the church procurator between 1624 and 1634. During his pastoral visit in Żurrieq (1747), Bishop Fra Paul Alpheran de Bussan, made reference to this altar, stating that this altar was decorated well and kept in good order as required by the church standards (Camilleri, 2009).
The old altarpiece
During the beginning of the 20th century, the Parish Church of Żurrieq went through an extension process. This extension involved the addition of the naves to the church. Before this extension, the altar of Our Lady of Mount Carmel had an altar piece much older than the one present today. Most probably, this altarpiece was replaced with the new one as the canvas of the former one was deteriorated, mainly due to the fumes produced by the candle sticks that decorated the altar. Another possible reason why this altarpiece was replaced might be the fact that since the church was going through an architectural restructuring, those in charge of the altar might have preferred an altar piece which reflected this new architectural features. However, the reason why the altar piece was replaced is still unknown. The old altarpiece measured 10 feet tall by 7 feet wide and depicted Our Lady holding Baby Jesus in her hands, both holding the Brown Scapular, together with Saint Simon Stock, a general of the Carmelite Order, St. Anthony together with a number of putti and other figures. This painting was rediscovered a number of years after it was replaced and due to its poor conservation state, the Confraternity of Our Lady of Mount Carmel decided to contact Alfred Briffa in order to restore this painting and limit as much as possible the damage. During the restoration works carried out on this painting, the restorer came to the conclusion that the painting might be attributed to Francesco Zahra, a popular artist who left a number of paintings in the Maltese Island's churches. Studies conducted on this painting show that most probably this work of art was created towards the end of the 17th Century (Mamo, 2004).
The new altarpiece
The new altarpiece depicting Our Lady of Mount Carmel depicts Our Lady sitting down on a cloud with her head inclined downwards. The painting also depicts Baby Jesus standing up on his mother's lap blessing St. Simon Stock, who is depicted standing on his knees with great devotion. Two angles and a number of Cherubs are depicted on the upper part of the paintings. When analysing this painting in an artistic way, one can immediately note the similarities between this painting and the painting of Our Lady of Mount Carmel present in the Parish Church of Isla and that of Our Lady of the Rosary present in the Parish Church of Mosta (Camilleri, 2004).
In the backdrop of this painting, one can immediately notice a very suggestive scene that recalls the Holy Land. This scene is used as an indication of Mount Carmel located in the Middle East. One can also note that the upper part (depicting Our Lady and Baby Jesus together with the angles) and the lower part (depicting Saint Simon Stock with the Holy Land as backdrop) come together at the Brown Scapular indicating the connection between holiness and the human being nature. In turn this is an indication that human beings can find salvation through the intercession of Our Lady of Mount Carmel (Camilleri, 2004).
Camilleri, A. (2009.). Il-kwadru tal-Madonna tal-Karmnu fil-Knisja taż-Żurrieq. Madonna tal-Karmnu Żurrieq festa 2009. Qrendi (Malta): Bestprint Co. Ltd.
Mamo, A. (Ed.). (2004.). Jinstab il-kwadru l-antik li kine fuq l-artal tal-Madonna tal-Karmnu. Madonna tal-Karmnu Żurrieq festa 2004. Qrendi (Malta): Bestprint Co. Ltd.