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Your Guide to Malta and Gozo - The Mellieħa Sanctuary

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Sanctuary of Our Lady of Mellieħa

 
   

Whilst popular tradition holds that the Madonna and Child, painted directly onto the wall of a natural cave is the work of none other than St. Luke, there is little to support this claim. Whatever the true origin of this image may be, it is held in high esteem by the faithful – the Virgin in this painting has been revered and supplicated; she has been credited with interceding on behalf of Malta during times of national calamity and a deluge of miraculous cures have been attributed to her intervention. Recipients of purported divine favours have often left ex-voto itemsin acknowledgement – these may be seen cluttering the walls of the passageway that leads to the sacristy. An amusing legend claims that a Turkish invader brandished a sword at the painting and suddenly fell seriously ill. On understanding that this was his punishment for his evil deed, he regretted his actions and asked for forgiveness. The Madonna heeded his plea and he recovered his health. On another occasion, the Madonna was credited with breaking a three year drought following a pilgrimage in 1470. Gran Master Perellos was proclaimed incurbly ill by his physicians. It was only thanks to the interession of the Divine Lady of Mellieħa, he believed that he recovered his health. In thanks, he donated a silver lantern to the sanctuary.

The natural cave was completed into the church that we know today with the addition of a nave and four chapels. It has been adorned with several works of art, notable amongst which is the depiction of a group of Mitred Bishops, painted by Salvatore Bonnici. This painting underwent rerstoration in 1886 at the hands of Vincent Busuttil and again in 1973 by Samuel Bugeja.

Over the years, several important personalities have paid homage to the Madonna, including King Ferdinand IV in 1373, King Martin in 1408 King Alfonso in 1432, Viceroy Lupo Ximenes in 1432 and Ferdinand d'Acuna in 1490. Gran Master Alof de Wignacourt was a frequent and regular visitor and the Maltese fondly remember Pope John Paul II's visit in May, 1990.

Bishop Peter Pace, accompanied by Gozitan Bishop Camilleri and Auxiliary Bishop Saviour Gaffiero crowned the image on 24th September, 1899 some four years after obtaining permission to do so from Pope Leo XIII.