Written by C. Rolé
Our parish celebrates a number of secondary feasts throughout the year, amongst which is the feast dedicated to Saint Joseph. The origins of this feast date back to approximately 250 years and was founded by Rev. Giuseppe Testaferrata (1673-1745), one of the most prevalent benefactors of our church. In his testament and 3 codicils, Rev. Testaferrata gave the Church a number of lands and obligated the parish to celebrate a feast dedicated to Saint Joseph on every 19th March. Testaferrata insisted that a cantata mass is celebrated on this day and on the 18th of March, the vespers had to be sung. All these celebrations had to be accompanied by the pipe organ, which at that time was recently installed (a work of art by Donato del Piano). Rev. Giuseppe in his testament also obligated the parish to decorate the painting of Saint Joseph with the old sanctuary lamp whenever the new silver one (donated by himself) was used on the main altar (Mangion, 1999).
The feast of Saint Joseph used to be celebrated on the altar dedicated to Our Lady of the Rosary, which today is dedicated to the Holy Cross. On this altar, a painting showing Saint Joseph holding baby Jesus was present, a piece of art dating back to 1747 as demonstrated in the Parish Archives specifically in the report written during the third pastoral visit of Bishop Alpheran. This painting is attributed to Francesco Zahra, whose skills were highly appreciated by our community. Most probably, this painting was donated by the generous benefactor Testaferrata and is now exhibited on the altar dedicated to the Holy Trinity (Mangion, 1999).
Through the years the devotion towards St Joseph increased exponentially so that a Novena, (which means a 9-day preparation for the feast) was being undertaken. Thanks to the Parish Priest Rev. Gużepp Agius (1766-1792), the parish could set up a confraternity dedicated to this saint. A recourse, signed by 24 people representing the Żurrieq community was presented to the Archdiocese of Malta on the 12th of April 1779. This recourse was approved and signed on the 12th of May of the same year by the vicar canon Gaetano Grech who in those days was acting as 'locum tenens' in the absence of the Bishop Pellerano. Two years later, the confraternity of St Joseph became part of the Arciconfraternity of St Joseph in Rome. This occurred thanks to the issue of 'bolli' in 1781 which were presented and registered at the Archdiocese of Malta a year later thanks to Rev Indrin Magri. Historical documents show that the light blue 'mazzetta' which is worn by the members of the confraternity was already established in 1783 (Żurrieq Parish Church, 1860).
Our church is in possession of a marvellous statue of St Joseph holding baby Jesus. This statue was financed by the benefactor Rev. Gużeppi Spiteri who also donated a number of lands so as to be rented and hence provide the necessary financial requirements to organize the Novena and feast to Saint Joseph. Through the procurator and parish priest Rev Carlo De Giovanni Inglott, Rev. Spiteri made an agreement with Mariano Gerada, a well known artist, to work out a statue made of wood showing Saint Joseph. This statue had to be ready within 10 days before the feast of 1823. The contract was signed by the notary Pietru Pawl Farrugia on the 30th June of 1822. In this contract, Mariano Gerada was also commissioned to do the painting, gilding, work out a 'bradella' and a 'pedestal', and also some other works. The cost for this project was of 500 skudi. Mariano Gerada presented a sketch of the statue to the parish priest Rev. de Giovanni, but unfortunately he passed away before completing the statue. Rev. Spiteri also passed away before the completion of this project, therefore Rev. Spiteri's heir, Rev. Franġisk Bonnici, who was also the procurator of the church at that time took over the project. The statue was then worked out by Vincenzo Dimech though it is not clear whether Dimech continued on the works of Gerada or started a new statue from scratch. The statue was completed before the feast of 1824 and was brought to our parish from Valletta on the 14th of March. Throughout the years, some modifications on this statue were performed, notably the modification done in 1926 included its reguilding by Francesco Coleiro, during which period, Rev. Gużepp Zammit Falzon acted as procurator, and Vincenzo Grixti acted as rector. During this period some modifications to the base of the statue were also performed (Mangion, 1999).
Since its foundation, the feast dedicated to Saint Joseph was always celebrated in a solemn way. Old documents in the parish archives demonstrate that some fireworks were also used as part of the festive environment (Żurrieq Parish Archive, 1860). Till some years ago, the feast also involved a number of sacred liturgical ceremonies which included the primary and secondary vespers, laudi and matutin. The cantata mass also involved a panegyric (known in Maltese as 'paniġierku'. By the mid 19th century the feast of Saint Joseph was transferred from March to the first Sunday of May (Mangion, 1999).
The confraternity of Saint Joseph is also in possession of a number of artistic works which include a number of silverware. These include lanterns and the rector's medallion. One can also notice the beauty of the main banner which is used in the feasts of St Joseph, Corpus Christi and Saint Catherine (Mangion, 1999).
Mangion, A. (1999.). Il-Qima lejn il-patrijarka San Ġużepp fil-Knisja arċipretali taż-Żurrieq. Madonna tal-Karmnu Żurrieq festa 1999. Qrendi (Malta): Bestprint Ltd
Żurrieq Parish Archive (1869). Conf. S. Guiseppe 1783 - 1860.