Rural Wardija celebrates one of Malta’s smaller feasts, which pays tribute to the patroness of Valencia

The devotion to Our Lady of the Forsaken started with Grandmaster Ramon Perellos, a Valencian knight of the Order of St John who, as bailiff, had the church built at the Ballut garden, overlooking the bay of Xemxija and St Paul’s Islands in 1689.

Rural Wardija celebrates one of Malta’s smaller feasts, which pays tribute to the patroness of Valencia
Rural Wardija celebrates one of Malta’s smaller feasts, which pays tribute to the patroness of Valencia

One of Malta’s smallest Catholic feasts takes place annually inside the rural hamlet of Wardija, a hilltop village that enjoys a serene seclusion rarely found on the Maltese islands.

But what is particular about the feast of Our Lady of the Forsaken (m. Il-Madonna tal-Abbandunati) is that the church was granted unto the patronage of the Manduca Piscopo Macedonia Zamit noble family, holders of the Mont’Alto and Buleben barony.

Motorists on the St Paul’s Bay bypass will have seen the unmistakable honey-yellow patina of the chapel jutting out on the hillside, but few may be aware of the week-long solemn celebrations that take place during the first week of June.

The devotion to Our Lady of the Forsaken started with Grandmaster Ramon Perellos, a Valencian knight of the Order of St John who, as bailiff, had the church built at the Ballut garden, overlooking the bay of Xemxija and St Paul’s Islands in 1689.

The devotion follows on that of the Nuestra Señora de los Desamparado, the patroness of Valencia depicted with a lily in one hand and in the other, carrying the baby Jesus who bears the cross in his arms. Her posture, characterised by a slight forward tilt, earned her the affectionate moniker of the hunchback.

Perellos commissioned the Maltese artist Stefano Erardi to reproduce a copy of the Valencian Virgin for the church’s altarpiece. Centuries later, Count Bernardo Manduca commissioned a processional statue of the Virgin from the Gozitan statue-maker Wistin Camilleri, which he completed in 1919 – again inspired by Erardi’s altarpiece. A faithful copy was also created by the Balzan statue-maker Wigi Muscat, again on Count Manduca’s commission when the latter moved his family to Villa Macedonia in Balzan, for a niche to house a statue of Our Lady of the Forsaken.

The religious activities of the week will kick off on Saturday 9 June, while the three-day Triduum observance starts on Wednesday 13 June, sung Mass and the First Vespers on the eve of the feast on Saturday 16 June, and the solemn High Mass and recitation of the Second Vespers on the day of the feast on Sunday 17 June.

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