Santa Marija is widely celebrated throughout the Maltese islands with many villages claiming her as the their patron saint. How has this feast come to mean so much to the Maltese?
The peak of the Maltese summer comes in August when everything except the temperature begins to wind down a little. The Maltese are known to take things a little easier come August, with very little getting done in the way of work over the middle two weeks of the month.
The Feast of Santa Marija takes place on August 15th, when the Assumption of Our Lady is celebrated in a number of parishes across Malta and Gozo. But how did Santa Marija come to be such an important day for the Maltese? While many people are happy to celebrate these long, lazy days in summer, few are aware of the hardships that led to a national holiday.
The feast of Santa Marija is the celebration of a miracle that saved the Maltese islands from starvation, and ultimate surrender to the Germans, at the end of the Second World War. As the United Kingdom’s only foothold in the Mediterranean, Malta was the only country stopping the Nazi’s invasion of North Africa. With Mussolini’s Italy in such close proximity, the islands were heavily bombed in the months leading up to August of 1942.
What this meant for Malta was that food, fuel and fighting supplies were reaching a critical level. From 1940 to 1942 the Axis conducted a siege where the islands were heavily attacked by sea and air, ensuring supplies could not reach the islands, which would force Malta into surrender when she could no longer fight back or feed her people. This was sure to happen by the end of August 1942.
However, Malta was not alone in this fight. Supplies were on their way by means of a convoy comprising of 14 merchant ships, led by the Ohio, a British-manned, American vessel in Operation Pedestal. When they were just a few days away, the convoy was bombed by bomber planes and submarines. With their hope waning, the Maltese turned to their faith and prayed to Santa Marija. On August 14th, three ships sailed into port, with no Ohio in sight. The Ohio was carrying a large supply of fuel which was critically low on the island. On the morning of the feast of Santa Marija, on the 15th, the Ohio made its way into the harbour, though she was half underwater, to the cheering of the desperate crowds waving both British and American flags. Seeing all this, the Maltese firmly believed it was divine intervention.
Not long after, the ships became known as the Convoy of Santa Marija and while this story is but a memory, celebrations of the feast became more and more important, with fireworks and Catherine wheels dominating the night skies in many villages as well as religious processions, food stalls, horse races, bands and parades.
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If you’re looking for somewhere to celebrate, Victoria in Gozo holds a pretty impressive celebration with all the usual religious processions, parades, fireworks and merrymaking. What sets Victoria apart from the rest is the Wirja tal-Biedja u Snajja’, the annual exhibition of agriculture and craft.
Organised by the Agrarian, Industrial and Cultural Society of Gozo, the exhibition is a show of appreciation towards the local agricultural sector and aims at supporting and helping farmers and traditional tradesmen. Exhibits on display include vegetables, livestock, farm machinery, wines, oil, honey, and artisan work.
The three-day exhibition officially dates back to 1855, when it was organised in the schoolyard of Vajringa school, however, records show that prior to 1855, a similar exhibition used to be held on the steps leading to Ċittadella. The exhibition moved to the gardens of Villa Rundle in 1943. The show remains popular among the crowds, with thousands of people visiting every year.
© 2017 – VIDA Magazine – Rachel Zammit Cutajar