NEWS: Possible discovery of a lost medieval church

The research being carried out by Wirt iż-Żejtun on the Buleben Feudal Estate, with the assistance of a number of voluntary experts in different fields is yielding very positive results and unfolding the cultural and natural assets of this area in Southeast Malta, which till now was never studied in such depth.

During the past days part of our research was focusing on the history of the area.  Primary and secondary sources were being consulted, together with the collection of oral documentation from people who know the area.  What was being found in written documents was then investigated and possibly corroborated with what is found on site and vice versa.

The paper “F’Għeluq l-425 Anniversarju mit-Twaqqif tal-Parroċċa Matriċi ta’ San Leonadru: tagħrif minn sorsi ppublikati” written by researcher Kenneth Cassar in Festa San Leonardu 2017, published by the Għaqda Mużikali San Leonardu – Ħal Kirkop referred to the pastoral visit of Mons Pietro Dusina in 1575.  In this visit Mons Dusina mentions a rural church dedicated to St Leonard built on the feudal land of the Grand Master. It had one altar, no doors, no rector, no income and no decoration.  The feast of the saint was celebrated annually once by the Parish of St Catherine and the following year by the Parish of Birmiftuħ.  Mons Dusina warned and asked the Grand Master to take proper care of this church.  In the pastoral visit held by Bishop Baldassare Cagliares, there is reference to the fact that the church was abandoned and deconsecrated in 1615 and in the pastoral visit of 1627, the bishop wrote that this church was located in the area known as “Tal-Qassasa ta’ Buleben“.

In another publication, “Il-Knisja Parrokkjali ta’ Ħal-Tarxien 1610-2010“, published by the parish of Tarxien,  Mons. Profs Vincent Borg, gives further detail on this church.  He refers to the acts held during the pastoral visit of 1600 were it is reported that a certain Ganni Sammut from Birgu was taking care of the church.  During this pastoral visit the church was listed with the other rural churches within the parish of Żejtun.  It is also stated that in front of the church there was a cemetery and that there was a strong devotion to this church particularly by those who experienced a form of slavery.  St Leonard is the patron saint of slaves.

Following these two important publications, our research shifted to cartographic documentation.  This lead to the identification of a depicted church dedicated to St Leonard located between Zabbar, Tarxien and Żejtun on old 17th century maps.  However there was no mention of the place-name of “Tal-Qassasa” but the church was evidently an important landmark.  On studying more recent plans, namely the 1968 Ordinance Survey Sheet, the place name of “It-Taqsis” was found.  This area is yet undeveloped and is mainly characterized by terraced fields and a rural farmhouse along Triq il-Merħla.   This land is located less than 250m south-west of the rural complex funded by Grand Master Perellos which was also discovered some days ago.  When studying these place names there is high probability that they are the same site as both names have the same consonants and refer to the same skill.  Qassasa is a noun referring to the people who trim or cut, while Taqsis is the noun referring to trimmings or cuttings.

When looking over the wall along Triq il-Merħla onto the fields of It-Taqsis a particular structure drew our immediate attention.  At first we thought that we had actually found the lost chapel since the facade of this structure was architecturally similar to that of a small rural church.  After getting in touch with the farmer, a closer assessment of this structure was carried out.  Although the size of stone and construction methodology used on the facade and outer shell of this building could easily hint a very old structure, the farmer told us that that building was used as a shrine of Our Lady by the previous tenants.  The roofing methodology and construction is very interesting, but the internal space is too small for the building as is to be used as a church.

The area around this structure was inspected for any other possible remains and some pottery sherds scattered in the soil were collected and assessed.  Some of these sherds could be dated to the time of the Order of St John and others early modern.

Wirt iż-Żejtun feels that this area merits deeper archaeological investigations and more research as we are clearly talking about the possible discovery of a lost medieval church.



One response to “NEWS: Possible discovery of a lost medieval church

  1. Angelica Bossert (nee Attard-Baldacchino)

    Keep up the good work!

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