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Your Guide to Malta and Gozo - Church of the Nativity of Mary

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 Church of the Nativity of Mary

 Il-Knisja ta' Marija Bambina

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Joy and jubilation erupted in Malta on 8th September 1565 when the Ottoman flotilla besieging the island turned in its tracks, demoralised and defeated. This date coincided with the annual commemoration of the birth of the Virgin Mary. Perhaps taking this as a sign of divine intervention, the Sengleans decided to erect a new church to honour of the Nativity of Mary. The church was completed in 1580. Whilst the identity of the architect has not been established, it seems likely that it was Vittorio Cassar, son of he famed Girolamo who undertook this role. A mere one year later, Senglea was declared a parish, independent of Birgu.

Don Salvatore Bonnici made a case for the elevation of this church to the dignity of a collegiate. This proposal was met with much opposition. Don Salvatore would not be daunted and on 27th January 1783 he presented his request to Pope Pius VI. Opponents, clergy and lay people alike traveled to Rome to vehemently air their counter-views. With the backing of the Bishop of Malta, Mgr. Vincenzo Labini and the Grand Master de Rohan, the Pope conceded to Don Salvatore's request and on 21st May, 1786 the Pope proclaimed the elevation of the church to the status of a collegiate. Can. Geoffredo Lubrano and Dun Mauro Inguanez spearheaded a campaign to have the title of Basilica bestowed on the church.This culminated in Pope Benedict XV declaring the church a basilica on 3rd January, 1921. 1921 would have been a year to remember as the Sengleans had further cause for celebration on 4th September when Bishop Angelo Portelli solemnly placed a crown made of solid gold studded with precious stones on the head of the much beloved titular statue of Marija Bambina.

It must have been heart-wrenching to the Sengleans to see their church converted into a large mound of rubble when it was destroyed by enemy action in the Second World War. The devout parishioners salvaged whatever works of art they could. A sorry sight indeed it must have been. The temple may have been destroyed but the spirit of the Sengleans would nay be dampened, for out of the ashes sprang forth a new church, the construction of which commenced in 1946 under the direction of architect Giuseppe Caruana. A majestic marble statue of Mary Queen of Heaven designed by Emvin Cremona was proudly hoisted onto the pinnacle of the church's façade in 1954. This new church was consecrated on August 24th 1957 by Bishop Michael Gonzi.

The titular statue is said to have been a galley's figure-head recovered from its wreckage in the Adriatic Sea by the Knights of St. John around the year 1618.

The Nativity of Mary Church is also home to a much venerated effigy of Christ the Redeemer, famed for its allegedly miraculous nature. This notion was reinforced in 1813 when Senglea was spared the plague which wreaked havoc all over Malta.