Lent and Easter is a unique time to visit Gozo because it allows you to witness the faith and devotion of the local communities and to experience deep-rooted religious traditions. In the run up to Easter, this small island hosts a range of religious events; from religious processions, street-based Passion productions through to more personal pilgrimages.
Each year during Lent church authorities organise a ‘Pilgrimage of Penance’ on Ta’ Għammar Hill, which is opposite Ta’ Pinu sanctuary – a route known as Via Crucis or The Way of the Cross. If you’ve never walked this path for yourself, then Ta’ Għammar hill is an emotive and dramatic pilgrims’ way (good walking shoes and a bottle of water are also essential).
According to local folklore, the route originated because of Frangisk Portelli from Għarb, a devout man, who in the late 1800’s claimed he’d heard a voice coming from the holy picture of the Virgin Lady of Ta Pinu asking him to start a special devotion through pilgrimage. By the end of World War II, devotees began making personal pilgrimages up the hilltop as an act of repentance. Eventually, this path was established as a Via Crucis for pilgrims.
As travellers make their way from Ta Pinu Sanctuary and climb the winding path to the top of Ta’ Għammar Hill they encounter 14 white marble statues depicting the final hours in the life of Jesus Christ. These statues were installed along the route in the early 1980’s and are based on the designs of the late great Gozitan sculptor, Alfred Camilleri Cauchi.
The ‘Pilgrimage of Penance’ happens at dusk with candles and torch lights to illuminate the participants’ path, adding an extra poignancy to this sacred journey. This year’s event begins at 4.30 pm on Sunday 7th April and is led by H.E. Monsignor Mario Grech, the Bishop of Gozo.
Around Holy Week, Gozo’s streets come alive with religious dramatisations and sacred processions. An important event held during Lent is the passion re-enactment L-Imsallab fi Triqatna produced by Għaqda Dilettanti Ġimgħa l-Kbira – Għawdex.
This year’s passion play takes place on Saturday 6th April, 2019 at 7.00pm from St Augustine’s Square, Victoria, Gozo.
It was almost 300 years ago when Pope Benedict XIII declared that Our Lady of Sorrows feast must be honoured by the Church worldwide; nowadays this religious event is a long-served tradition in Gozo. These processions traditionally happen the Friday before “Good Friday”.
Għaqda Drammatika Għajnsielem are a theatre group from Għajnsielem who for over 30 years have been producing biblical re-enactments centred around Holy Week.
Many of their ‘live’ performances take place at Ta’ Passi fields in Għajnsielem, where their live Bethlehem village is staged every December. However, during Lent, Ta’ Passi fields will host a modern Way of the Cross, a live Passion production as well as a live re-enactment of The Last Supper.
Their Our Lady of Sorrows procession with actors performing scenes from around the time of Jesus’s death leaves Għajnsielem Parish church at 6.30pm on 12th April 2019 and passes through the main streets of Għajnsielem.
Good Friday processions started on the Maltese islands around the 16th century with Spanish and Sicilian influence. Victoria, Nadur, Xagħra, Xewkija, Qala, Ghasri and Żebbuġ commemorate the Passion of Christ with a very solemn procession of statues. Each of these statues represents a particular episode in the Passion of the Christ which is carried by pallbearers. In some of these events chained and masked or cross-bearing ‘penitents’ take part.
This particular aspect of the ceremony (which can sometimes look rather ominous to a newcomer) actually dates back to the 18th century and to Malta’s oldest city of Birgu, when slaves and forzati (subjects condemned for various reasons to wear chains) took part in this event.
Easter Sunday is the climax of the Holy Week events – celebrating the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. The peal of church bells ring out throughout Gozo welcoming Christians into their churches for the Easter Mass services. Some parishes follow this service with a traditional march parading the statue of our risen Christ, which is usually accompanied by local bands.
For more information on Easter 2019 events taking place throughout Gozo – click here
With thanks to Għaqda Drammatika Għajnsielem and Għaqda Dilettanti Ġimgħa l-Kbira – Għawdex