The first chapel in this area was built in 1600 by the nobleman Giovanni Maria Xara on one of his lands. It was dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary of Hodegitria and had a small cemetery in front of it and was properly maintained.
In this chapel there was one stone altar, and on it was a painting of Our Lady of Constantinople. It had a bronze bell, but it lacked anything else. The feast of Our Lady was celebrated on the third Sunday after Pentecost. The Bishop ordered that a door be made for it and that it be equipped with all that was necessary to enable mass to be celebrated for the farmers and villagers who lived in that locality. The heirs were instructed to continue the obligations they had inherited.
This church was somewhat neglected and completely obsolete and was about to fall into ruin and in 1658, Bishop Molina desecrated it. However in 1680, Giovanni’s nephew, Baron Stanislaw Xara, who was the master of the Rod of Mdina between 1671 and 1673, decided to finance the demolition of this tiny church, and rebuild it into a larger one by using the same stones and adding some other stones; and so was built this beautiful chapel which we see today, a little larger than the other, and a little farther from where the former church was situated.
Baron Stanislaw Xara promised and established a benefit of a patronage, attached to the old church, and pledged all his wealth in Malta and Gozo to make up for this. He undertook that if the church falls and another is built in its place with the same title and close to the same place, all the benefit and equipment will be transferred to this new church. He maintained only the condition that this church and every other one in its place should be released from the parish priest and the parish and be subject only to the Bishop of the Diocese.
This chapel was dedicated to Our Lady of Hodegitria. A Hodegitria, or Virgin Hodegitria, is an iconographic depiction of the Virgin Mary holding the Child Jesus at her side while pointing to him as the source of salvation for humankind. In the Western Church this type of icon is sometimes called Our Lady of the Way.
In fact there were several chapels dedicated to the Hodegitria, including the chapel which was located near the Greek gate in Mdina. Over time, this devotion was lost, and today all that remains here in Malta is only this chapel that bears this title.
In 1722 Bishop Gori Mancini found the new church very well equipped with the same titular painting as before and with the lamp light in front of it. The foundation of the mass made by Baron Stanislaw Xara was being held regularly. After this church he went to see the remains of the old church which according to canon law, had to be surrounded by a stone wall with a wooden cross in the middle.
The chapel was always well maintained by the wealthy Xara family and their heirs and continued to be served by a priest for mass on Sundays and religious feasts. The bishops visited this church in pastoral visits because it was a church linked to a benefit. They always found it to be well-kept regarding the things needed for the mass and the records of the mass, as ordered by Bishop Cocco Palmieri.
In 1870, Countess Maria Antonia Sant founded the stations of the Via Sagra with the approval of the Pope, granted by decree of December 28, 1870.
Outside The Chapel
The chapel consists of the church, a small sacristy built on the side of the church, and which has an outside door, and a small room above the sacristy, which served as a resting place for the priest who used to go to sanctify it. It is clear that the sacristy and the room above it were built afterwards, as the roof beams are made of steel.
This chapel is built on the edge of a rock, where the Binġemma Valley runs below. Just below this chapel is a Punic tomb dug into the rock, the outside of which, some time ago, was torn down by the locals to form a cave. This cave was used by the priest who would come up from Mosta on a donkey from Saturday evening, to have a place to rest this animal for the night.
The church has a very nice little parapet, with four steps in the middle, from which one enters the church. At the main door of the chapel there are two windows one in each door so that one can be extended into the church even when the door is closed. The façade is simple, with a slightly protruding edge. On the door is a round window, and on this window is a coat of arms with three trees of Baron Stanislaw Xara, who built this church. There is an arched bell tower with a cross on the church. In the bell tower there is a bronze bell. In the corners of the façade, at the top, there are triangular stone designs that give the chapel its characteristic imprint and make it immediately recognisable.
Inside The Chapel
The chapel inside is very simple in sacred art, like the other churches in the heart of the countryside, but it is very sweet. It has one stone altar, and in front of it is a small altar in the shape of a wooden table. There is also the Via Sagra and there is also an ex-voto painting. On the round window above the door we find a tombstone on which is written in Latin:
“Aedem in honorem bvm de Itria Gio Maria Xara Alibi Aedificatam 1600 Baro. Stanislaus Xara nepos dotavit 1680 ed ad hvnc transtulit locum ac amplioriem formam a fudamentio erexit”
commemorating the erection of the first chapel in 1600 and the rebuilding of the new chapel nearby by Giovanni Maria Xara and Stanislaw Xara respectively. The church has a slanting roof and next to the frame of the titular painting there are two very small windows, to give more light inside the chapel.
The titular painting in the chapel today is simply a photograph, a hard copy of the original painted by Stefano Erardi in 1681. This painting depicts Our Lady and Baby Jesus seated on a throne held in the lower part by the saints St. Paul, St. Francis of Assisi, St. James, St. Dominic, St. Anthony of Padua and St. Rose. who are great saints who devoutly follwed Jesus. The original painting is in the museum of St. Agatha. It seems that this painting was removed from this chapel due to the fear that it could be stolen, as unfortunately what happened to other paintings in other country chapels.
Activities In the Chapel
In the year 2000, on the occasion of the beginning of the new millennium, a statue of Our Lady with the Baby Jesus was placed in the field in front of the church, nicknamed the Millennium Statue.
The titular feast of this chapel is still very much celebrated on the last Sunday of October. The festivities also include three days of triduum, followed by a traditional bonfire in front of the chapel on Saturday eve of the feast. On the feast day the chapel will be open all day, and in the afternoon there will be a small procession accompanied by a band where Marian Hymns are sung and the Rosary is said. Afterwards there is a tradition where everyone brings something of food with them to then make a small feast to close the feast.