Aknowledgements: Mr. Anthony Bezzina
In the village of Qrendi, besides the Parish Church, one finds six other small chapels.
Chapel dedicated to St. Matthew
The smaller of the two chapels dedicated to the Martyrdom of Matthew the apostle; located on the edge of the Maqluba dolite is believed to be one of the oldest crypts on the island.
The age of this tiny place of worship annexed to a much larger 17th century chapel is difficult to assess with certainty, but could be easily assumed to have been built prior to the 15thcentury. However this crypt was not included in the list of such buildings compiled for the Bishop Senator de Mello by the four commissioners of the Cathedral Chapter, Matteo Zammit, Andrea de Turri, Nicola Lombardo and Antonio de Astis. As this list included only prebends, cononriers, parishes, and benefices, the “San Mattew” crypt, not being beneficed was therefore omitted.
Inquisitor Mgr. Duzzina recorded the first mention of this crypt in the report of his pastoral visit to the Maltese Diocese between 1574 and 1575. In this report, Mgr Duzzina describes the crypt as void of all ornaments and decorations but well provided with the necessities for celebrating Holy services. As it had no rector, the chapel’s care was entrusted to Nina Zammit, a widow from Mqabba, who in turn for a plot of land was to provide for the celebration of Mass and the singing of vespers on the Saint Matthew feast day.
The outside wall surrounding the “San Mattew iz-Zghir” crypt, well weathered with age, stands in a relative good condition and is typical of such buildings with its rear wall well supported with a sloping buttress. This wall, together with that situated to the east of the crypt, are pierced by window openings which were either added or widened at a later period as the earlier Maltese chapels lacked elaborate windows, save solely for narrow shafts or circular opening above the main doors.
The crypt’s facade is plain with its wall housing a square entrance devoid of any decorations. A small bell free having been sited above this entrance, known from photographic evidence dating back to 1934, is today missing. This structure could have been removed following structural damage sustained during W.W.II.
The interior of the crypt is a simple rectangular shape with one altar and a little apse decorated with a well-preserved fresco of a scallop shell. This Christian symbol is probably 17thcentury or later and also features in the early Christian catacombs as well as a small Phoenician necropolis on the brow of the Maghlaq valley in Qrendi
The altar which is carved and decorated in globigerina limestone bears an inscription dating 1897, above which is a surmounted by a terracotta statue of Saint Matthew. This chapel was reported to have had a painting of the saint to which it is dedicated to, this is now untraceable.
The crypt’s flooring as reported by the historian Abela, being covered with flagstones covered by a coating of lime mixed with a coating of ground tiles. More recent interventions have left no trace of this flooring, as the present flagstones seem to be modern.
The size of this crypt has been drastically reduced following the construction of a stairway leading upwards into the larger St Matthew chapel and an adjacent sacristy.
Construction of the larger chapel, also dedicated to the martyrdom of Matthew the apostle started in 1674 and was completed in 1682. It was blessed by Dun Dumnik Formosa Parish Priest of the newly formed parish of Qrendi that together with the hamlets of Hal-Lew and Hal-Manin were dismembered from the larger Zurrieq parish.
The main painting inside the chapel is also dedicated to the martyrdom of Matthew the Apostle and has been attributed to one of the leading artists of the time, Mattia Pretti. It is said to have been commissioned by the French Commendatory Nicola’ Communette. Several other paintings, those of the Ascension into heaven of the Madonna and the Madonna of Rosary of unknown artists also decorate the chapel’s walls
The chapel consists of a simple rectagonal shaped building with a sole altar despite its considerable size. Entrance into the chapel is by means of three doors, one at the façade and the further two at each of the chapel’s sides. The chapel is connected to the smaller crypt and a sacristy that was built at a later date through two small doors at the sides of the main altar. Above the main door, one can find organ galleries build by benefactors Dun Mikiel Zammit and Dun Gio Anton Spiteri that bears the date 1834.
On the 12th April 1942 the larger St Matthew chapel sustained considerable structural damage to its facade following a direct hit by cluster bombs dropped by enemy aircraft. As the damage posed a danger to the chapels structure and its congregation, intervention was recommended on the facade to eliminate any mishap.
Under the guidance of Engineer S. Privitera, A. & C.E., the central cross on the top of the chapel’s facade was replaced with a similar smaller version that was flanked by the construction of two belfry towers. The decorative window on the facade was also enlarged and its height lowered considerable allowing the chapel to benefit from better lightening. The decorative masonry above the main door was also replaced. Both entrances at the sides of the chapel have evidence of later interventions as the rectagonal doorways are strengthened by arched construction.
A staircase consisting of stair corbels protruding from the chapel western side, presumably to enable one to climb on its roof have also been removed. Adjacent to the eastern side entrance, one also finds what is believed to be the doorway of a planned entrance to an underground crypt that might have served for funereal purposes. The date of this intervention seems from photographic evidence, to have occurred after 1934. Another interesting feature is the niche located at the outside rear end of the chapel. whose purpose is unknown.
In 1998, when Fr. Ray Toledo was serving his term as parish priest of Qrendi, the parish community embarked on the restoration and embellishment of these unique places of worship in the Maltese Islands, These restoration works were part of the Millennium celebrations.. The martyrdom of Matthew the Apostle painting stolen in 1984 and recovered some time later was restored and cleaned and is now hanging again in the chapel.
With the introduction of kitchen and sanitary facilities within the sacristy, the chapel was now proven due to its serene surroundings, as the ideal place for spiritual retreats.
Chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Grace
On the brow of the hill, to the side of the road that leads from Qrendi to Hagar Qim, one can find the chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Grace. Built in 1658 by Angelo Spiteri, who financed the singing of vespers and the celebration of the Holy Mass during the feast day.
The façade of this chapel is most plain and void of any features or decoration. Two very small windows with kneeling blocks infront flank the main entrance with a smaller window above this entrance that provides light to the chapel. A small parapet is raised above the street level and gives the chapel a more spiritual aspect. The chapel has only one altar and has no paintings or decorations. A small stone crucifix can be found on top of the façade with two water sprouts at each of the chapel’s sides.
This chapel was formerly dedicated to Our Lady of Victories, whose feast is celebrated on the 8 September.
Chapel dedicated to Our Saviour
On the 9th February 1575, Mons. Pietro Duzzina visited all the chapels in the village of Qrendi which at the time consisted of only forty-four houses. The first chapel visited, was that dedicated to our Savior or as it is better know as “Is-Salvatur”. which consisted solely of an altar and void of anything else. As the chapel had no income, it consequently had no rector to tender to its needs. However a certain Vincentius Aquilina who owned land known as ‘Il-Calcarti”, occasionally paid for the celebration of Holy Mass and the singing of vespers on the feast day.
The present day chapel was built in 1658 at the expense of Beneditto Camilleri. This chapel was erected on the same site as the previous chapel bearing its same name. The benefactor of this chapel was Dun Galanton Camilleri who was later nominated Archpriest of the “Matrici” of Gozo. This priest left a considerable amount of money to go towards the celebration of Holy Mass and the singing of Vespers on the feast day. The beneficiaries of this chapel dues were to be the heirs ordained into the priesthood or the most elder village pastor, as the case may be.
The ‘Is-Salvatur” chapel has one altar. The main and only painting was oval shaped showing the upper body of Christ the Savior, with his hands protecting the world. Under the picture Bishop Labini (Bishop from 1780 to 1807) granted a forty day indulgence to those reciting a “Holy Father” in front of this image. Unfortunately, today this painting is untraceable.
On entering the chapel’s front door, a stone gallery built on stone pillars and bears the date 1876. Due to the small size of the chapel the only access to this gallery is by means of a wooden ladder.
A curiosity of this chapel are the protruding corbels, stagger and on different courses at the rear of the chapel. These corbels start at approximately three meters above the street level and lead up to fifty centimeters from the rooftop The purpose for this construction could have could have well been to allow easier access to the rooftop, which is of considerable height. Allowing these sets of corbels to protrude at the minimal height of three meters would have served the purpose of eliminating unauthorized passage to the chapel’s rooftop.
During the early sixties, this chapel was utilized as a parish hall where prayer meetings, religious education and fund raising activities were held. Its steps in former times, were the village’s rendezvous as the chapels surrounding formed part of the public transport terminus, a place where the elders would sit in the shade during hot summer months. In 1999, the chapel was beautifully restored to its original glory, offering the ideal place for religious meditation where the Blessed Sacrament could be daily exposed for adoration.
Chapel dedicated to Saint Anne
The St Anne Chapel or as better known, Kappella ta’ Sant’ Anna, was built in 1565 by Gianni Schembri to fulfill a vow made following the invasion of the Turks during the Great Siege of Malta in 1565.
The chapel’s facade is impressive with two windows at the sides of the main door and another above, providing natural light to the interior.
A small belfry at the top of the chapel calls devotees to religious worship services.
Two sculpted pillars at the facade’s sides support a decorative lintel above.
The Chapel has a main altar dedicated to the mother of Mary, Sant’Anna. The main altar is adorned by two small side altars, and is decorated by a fine prospective that surrounds the Titular painting of Sant’Anna,
Above the altar a sculptured representation of the Holy Ghost and marble representations throughout, add to the spiritualism of this monument.
A simple band at the altar’s sides supports numerous silver “Ex-Voto’s” icons, consisting mainly of a high amount of “newly born” figurines complimented with other customary “illness” representations that are significant of the devotion the chapel processed.
In front of the altar, the silver gilded frontal (Ventartal) is clear evidence of the chapel’s devotion.
In the chapel’s interior and above the main door, one can find a wooden choral galley, accessible only by a ladder through a trap door beneath, allows greater use of the limited chapel’s space below,
A small sacristy was added to the chapel’s side at a latter date.
Saint Anna and Sant’Rokku are further represented in triumphant statues in Qrendi main squares, evident of their local devotion.
In the Notary acts of Giljan Briffa dated 17th September 1585, beneficiaries were left in favour of the San t’Anna Chapel. The Sant’Anna Chapel was restored in 1796 under the title of Sant’ Anna, the chapel was blessed by Very Rev Fr. Anton Mizzi and its procurator, Rev Gianni Borg.
The chapel was more recently again restored to its original glory by Parish Priest Father Ray Toledo, as part of the Qrendi Parish Millennium project.
Chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Mercy
The Madonna tal-Hniena chapel (Our Lady of Ransom) has long been held in great veneration. It has been built in the thirteenth century when the hamlet of Hal Lew still formed part of Zurrieq. When Zurrieq became a parish, the tal-Hniena chapel served as a vice-parish church caring for the spiritual needs of the people from this outlying area.
In 1575, the tal-Hniena was in a bad state, and was deconsecrated by Mgr. Dusina. In spite of this measure, the devotion of the faithful continued unabated and the chapel was rebuilt in the year 1650 at the time when Dun Gammari Camilleri was parish priest of Qrendi.
The new parish of Qrendi had been formed on the 15th February 1618, when Bishop Cagliares dismembered the hamlets of Hal Lew and Hal Manin from the parish of Zurrieq.
The chapel often referred to as Chiesa Della Misericordia, has three altars from which a spiral staircase, at the side of the right hand side altar, leads onto the roof. Above the entrance to this place of worship one can find a wooden choral gallery accessible by only by ladder through a trap door at its side.
In 1668, a simply but interesting small sacristy with a barrel vaulted ceiling was added in which one can witness numerous decorative stone carvings. Above the sacristy’s window is a highly impressive stone prospect of Almighty God that trails a decorative carved braid where the Bailiff of Brandenburg, Fra Wolfgang von Guttenberg’s coat of arms, features prominently.
The titular painting is that of the Madonna and Child seated on the moon surrounded by angles. Saint Gaetano, book in hand and lilies at his feet liesat her lower right and two souls at her lower left. The work is attributed to a well-known Maltese artist, Guzeppi D’Arena.
To the left of the main altar, a candelabra sculpted in wood is identical to that found at the St.John’s Co cathedral in Valletta.
A small wooden niche with a life-sized statue of the Madonna lies to the right of the main altar. The Spanish style statue of the Madonna was donated by Fra Wolfgang von Guttenberg and is dressed in an authentic wedding gown.
Chapel dedicated to St. Catherine
According to historians, the Santa Katerina tat-Torba Chapel was built a little distance away from the original chapel known as Bieb iz-Zejtunija. Constructed in 1626 by a certain Benedito Camilleri, who in the notary acts of Notary Gio Duminku Gatt on the 14th June 1625 provided beneficiaries known as “ta’ Wied il-Hofra” in favor of this chapel.
The facade of this chapel is “split” into two storey, by the projection of a horizontal decorative masonry band.
Adjacent windows with the date 1626 incorporated in the decoatative masonry flank the chapel’s main entrance. The upper part of the facade bears striking symmetrical to its lower storey.
A small stone “Balcony Type” decorative masonry feature above the chapel’s entrance, gives a refreshing addition to this otherwise plain facade, possibly adding a more spiritual dimension.
A stone crucifix, at the extreme upper part of the chapel is adorned by a set of smaller features flanked by a further set of stone pillars at its top corners. The chapel’s architecture is most uncommon of the times.
The chapel has only one altar elevated from the tiled floor, and is decorated by a prospective with sculpted angels in stone, supporting the titular painting of Saint Catherine. The ceiling is barrel shaped
It seems beyond reasonable doubt, that the newly built chapel could well have been a mere extension of the pervious structure found on the same site rather than the complete reconstruction as interpreted by historians over the years.
Examining the barrel shaped ceiling from within the chapel, evidence of this theory can be clearly witnessed in the different outer rows of the ceiling arch supports. One can come to the conclusion that the façade of the chapel was actually extended out onto its parapet making the chapel larger in size rather than being built completely.
The inside of the chapel may also have at a time been reduced in size with the reallocation of the main altar from its original position. A maneuver brought about the forming a small sacristy. A storey high wall segregates the altar and the sacristy with two entrances connecting the two areas.
Two identical beautifully decorated coat of arms sculpted in stone, presumably belonging to one of the chapel’s benefactors, decorate each entrance.
The coat of arms could possibly belong to a noble family that may have commissioned works within this chapel who may have resided in Qrendi during the time of the knights stay in Malta.
The Qrendi Parish Priest, Father Ray Toledo assisted by numerous volunteers from within the Qrendi Parish restored the Santa Katerina tat-Torba Chapel in the year 2000 as part of the Millennium celebrations.