It’s Maundy Thursday today and there is no doubt that if you’re visiting Gozo during these two days, you’ll be stumbling into an array of traditions that are essentially rooted in the Roman Catholic religion. Even restaurants might have special menus that have been planned with the fasting and ‘no-meat’ tradition of Good Friday!
It is typical for the Catholic community to attend the Maundy Thursday service that commemorates the Last Supper of Christ. During this service, the main celebrant usually washes the feet of the Apostles. The service ends with a procession after which there is the institution of the Altar of the Repose. This altar, where the Eucharist is exposed for adoration is adorned and presented in diverse ways in different churches and chapels. Later on during the evening up until midnight, many devout Catholics will make the Seven Churches Visitation, an antique tradition which involves visiting seven different churches to pray at the altar of the Repose. In Gozo, engaging in this tradition is very easy as one can travel from village to another by car. The other option is to do the Seven Churches Visitation in Rabat on foot. This year, Gozo’s oldest Good Friday procession issuing forth from St. George’s Basilica will be held on Maundy Thursday. This procession is not only the oldest but possibly one of the most devout and this can be seen from the number of hooded men and women dragging chains and carrying crosses in token of repentance or as an act of thanksgiving to the Lord. No one goes home without the Apostles Ring, a sweet-bread ring that many people often purchase from the hawkers stationed outside of the churches.
Whilst the live re-enactment of the Lord’s Supper at Ta’ Passi fields is a recent addition to events for Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, it surely deserves a mention. The re-enactment which presents Jesus sharing his final meal with his apostles before his crucifixion also incorporates a live kitchen where traditional Passover food is prepared.
Solemn Good Friday is a day of fasting. Traditionally the church bells are tied and no ringing is done as a sign of mourning. Similarly, altars are left bare. The Church’s service for the day, known as the Adoration of the Cross is held in the afternoon to mark the death of the Christ. Hundreds of people attend the service to hear the narration of the crucifixion and to kiss the cross. Following this service, it is customary for people to attend the Good Friday processions held in villages like Żebbuġ, Xagħra, Nadur or Rabat. The processions move solemnly to the tune of funebrial marches and typically include people dressed up as Biblical characters, Roman soldiers and a set of statues representing the main stations of the Cross. Of particular mention are the set of statues and tableaux of the Gozo Cathedral Church, dressed in fine clothing according to Siculo-Spanish tradition.
On a lighter note, Good Friday is also a day for putting on the finishing touches on the Figolli. For those who prefer nature to culture and tradition, the beaches and countryside beckon and there is no doubt that a day in the countryside or by the sea is the ultimate spring therapy for stress relief.