Our Lady of Carmel
The titular altarpiece is probably the work of Bormla-born Rocco Buhagiar (1725-1805) although some attribute this painting to Francesco Zahra.
Can. Rev Joe Abela in his book “The Parish of Zejtun through the ages” writes:
“When the new parish church of Zejtun was being constructed, the residents wanted to manifest their devotion to Our Lady of Carmel by instituting an altar to her honour.”
The altarpiece features the Virgin Mary and the Child Jesus giving the scapular to St. Teresa of Avila and to St. John of the Cross. In the lower corner are displayed the Holy Souls of Purgatory.
The Titular Painting
The painting is a copy of another which is of greater artistic value since it is the work of Mattia Preti. Preti’s painting is found at the church of Santa Caterina d’Italia, in Valletta. This painting depicts the saint looking calmly upwards with the executioner drawing out the sword to behead the saint.
Up to some years ago, the painting at Zejtun used to be attributed to Stefano Erardi, however one should say that it is not up to Erardi’s artistic level.
According to the research carried out by Can. Joe Abela, this painting was done at the same time when Pietru Pawl Zahra and his son Francesco were decorated the choir, this was between 1728 and 1732. Can. Abela has found at the parish archives reference to payments made to Giovanno Antonio Mamo who was an artist working together with the Zahras. Can. Abela attributes this painting to him. One should also refer to the fact the the Zejtun painting is proportionally longer than the one in Valletta and thus an extension was done to its upper part.
The painting at Zejtun is not the only copy after Preti’s. In fact there exists a similar copy at the Basilica Church of Birkirkara although to much a smaller size and the titular painting a the Basilica Church of St Catherine of Alexandria at Pedara in the province of Catania, Sicily.
ABELA. J. Can, The Parish of Zejtun through the Ages. Midsea Books. 2006