Religious Practice

The Maltese have traditionally been reputed to be very attached to their Catholic faith and, in view of Spain's Catholicism, there is in principle no reason to expect that they had any major problems fitting into the forms of religious practice prevailing in their host communities.

Our review of Spanish Inquisition records shows only isolated cases involving Maltese individuals. In the Barcelona Tribunal for example, there is only mention of one case in the period 1487 - 1820 and it refers to a priest.51 Considering that foreigners of all nationalities had formed just over 30% of all victims the Maltese are clearly under-represented.52 But we must not lose sight of the fact that the Maltese presence in Spain seems to have centred, in the main, on the eighteenth century, when the terror of the Inquisition was well past its peak. In Cadiz, the most important area of Maltese settlement, we have only encountered the case of one individual, Josef Grech, a carpenter, who in the 1770s was accused of bigamy.53 Only in Murcia and, more specifically, Cartagena, the Spanish Navy's main base in the Mediterranean, do we find a handful of cases involving Maltese men, spanning the period 1568 to 1776. All have to do with renegades, apparently captured on board Muslim shipping.54

So in overall terms we can conclude that there is no evidence that the members of the Maltese merchant colonies ever fell foul of the institution entrusted with watching over Spain's religious and moral orthodoxy, the Inquisition. If anything the evidence we have seems to point towards them being imbued with more religious fervour than most other foreigners in Spain.

Regrettably, because most migrants are already adults, we are not able to study aspects associated with the earlier life of a Christian such as baptism and perhaps early religious education, but we are in a position to shed some light on other areas of religious practice such as confradias, in their religious and lay functions, and the Maltese merchants' funeral arrangements.55

The picture that emerges concerning the religious behaviour of Maltese merchants is, in keeping with the age, one of devout Catholicism, both during their life and towards the end, when confronted with death.

Information concerning the earlier part of the century is very sparse. We have noted, earlier on, the devotion to the Holy Crucifix in Senglea, which led to the names of all brigantines departing for Spain being called the Santissimo Crucifixo and variations thereof, while the few references encountered indicate the maintenance of religious observance while away from the island. In 1759, Padron Francesco Cassar put down as part of the expenses of the expedition the payment of three scudi for masses celebrated by a Maltese priest while in Marseille.56

In Andujar, in 1763, Saverio Damato gave a Capuchin monk a gift of two handkerchiefs, in addition to paying him 15 reales for six masses and 12 reales for altra Cantata.57 But apart from these occasional references we have to rely on the latter part of the century for most of our information.

Some idea of what constituted being a good catholic in the eighteenth century can be obtained from the testimony given in connection with the admission of Maltese merchants as members of the Gremio de Mercaderes de Vara in Valencia.

In 1767, Juan Camileri, who had represented the Maltese merchants of Valencia in front of the Junta General de Comercio in the early 1760s, had been seen by Manuel Rodriguez, master tailor, "many times... in the convent of Merced and at the break of dawn going to Mass nearly everyday and saying the Rosary and other demonstrations, without ever having heard him swear, but on the contrary very modest and human with all those who went to his shop and as a consequence holds him to be a good Christian ''.58

These statements were echoed by Francisco Valero and Francisco Cambra, Maestros Torcedores, and Bautista del Pozo, Maestro Platero.59

Testimony along the same lines is given for other applicants. This is in addition to satisfying the Gremio's requirements concerning, "descending from a family clean of any bad race'' and "never having been punished by the Holy Office of the Inquisition or any other tribunal'', which were other requirements for entry into this Gremio and most others.60

An indicator of the fact that Valencia was becoming an increasingly important focus of Maltese trade was the establishment there, at some point before 1762 of a , "burial ground for the Maltese capital, which lies in the cloister which leads from the sacristy to the Virgin of Grace'' in the convent of Saint Augustine in the city of Valencia.61

Padron Felix Zara was buried there on 23 August 1762, "with the attendance of 20 beneficiaries (of his will) from the Parish of San Juan del Mercado where he was a parishioner''.62 The importance of Zara's burial lies in that it is the first mention of the chapel of Nuestra Señora de Gracia in the convent of Saint Augustine. The records are incomplete, but at least another six were buried there during the rest of the century whilst another nine, whose testament we have encountered, requested burial there.63

We shall be looking at funeral arrangements at a later stage and for now we propose to limit ourselves to looking at the "confraternity established in the said convent of Saint Augustine called Our Lady of Grace'', to which Joseph Ellul, who died in 1803, claimed to belong and which seems to have been a religious institution with which the Valencian Maltese had a close association.64

According to a report prepared in 1779, the Cofradria was established in 1669 65. In 1779 it had a total of 266 male and female members who made weekly contributions towards their funeral arrangements, but also met a minimum of once a month and on the 25 March of each year to celebrate the principal feast of their patron saint. During these meetings a range of religious services would take place including sung masses, sermons, lotteries of holy medallions, etc.

There also existed an Hermandad founded on 29 November 1716. There were 118 Hermanos in this, each paying 10 dineros and 2 sueldos weekly. In addition to a Burial Society role similar to the Confradria, it also had a medical insurance role "If a Brother is sick he shall be given six sueldos per day for 40 days and if at the end of these he continues to be ill he shall be given three sueldos during the next 40 days''.66

Burial services were also extended to the wives of members, and the Hermandad also held a range of religious services similar to those of the Confradria.

In 1807 Caruana and Ciappino paid 20 reales 10 maravedis on behalf of Benito Borg and Sons for the annual membership of the Confraternity of Our Lady of Grace, but there were payments to other religious institutions as well including Our Lady of Mercy, Saint Dominic etc.67

Luis Ciappino and Son seemed to concentrate on La Virgen de Gracia. Around 1804 they paid L1 6s. 7d for "a Rosary and responses to be sung at the chapel of Our Lady of Grace for the repose of the Souls of Purgatory'' as well as 5s 4d for alms to the same 68. Similar items of expenditure are to be found for Carlos Pscinga and Juan Maria Caruana, also associates of the firm Caruana and Ciappino.69 We have not come across evidence of affiliation to a specific Confradria, Hermandad or such like in Cadiz, the other great centre of Maltese trade, but there they had the benefit of their own chaplain.

The first we hear of the matter is in 1771 when, as a consequence of the disturbances of the Maltese in Cadiz resulting from the 1771 laws, three ring-leaders were imprisoned on their return to Malta. In a letter referring to these events dated 2 October 1771, the ambassador in Madrid said, "I trust that provision will soon be made concerning the number of shops and the appointment of a chaplain which is very necessary so that the Maltese may respect and obey the Consul'' .70 We are unaware of when the appointment actually came into effect, but we have information of Don Juan Bautista Camileri, Presbitero Capellan de la Nazion Maltesa, having denounced a certain Josef Grech for bigamy in 1773.71

Twenty years later, at the height of the Maltese presence in Spain, the Cadiz Matricula de Extranjeros listed a Don Andres Ardizzone, "a priest... and chaplain of this nation... to whom he administers the sacraments owing to his understanding of the language.…''. 72 He was from Conspicua, place of origin of many of the Maltese traders in Spain, was 46 years old and had been in Spain for 4 years. With a resident chaplin, the Maltese community in Cadiz, by far the largest in the country, would undoubtedly have had a regular place of worship, but this has not yet been located.

In Murcia, the Church of Santo Domingo seems to have been the favourite last resting place of the Maltese whose testament we have located, but this may have had more to do with spatial proximity than any special attachment.

In Barcelona the numbers probably did not warrant any special arrangements. Benito Sacco, whose name had at one stage been put forward as a consul for Malta in Barcelona, had a sepultura, a private burial arrangement, in the cloister of the Convent of Saint Francis of Assisi in the Parish of Santa Maria del Mar.73 By 1804 there were buried in it Sacco's wife Eugenia; Giovanna Luisa Bertis, daughter of Francisco Bertis and wife of Francisco Xavier Cini and Raimunda Alberch, wife of Giuseppe Audivert.74 Francesco Bertis and Felipe Camilleri had also been parishioners of Santa Maria del Mar, at that time Barcelona's commercial centre, but they were buried at the parish church itself, and not at the Franciscan convent.75

Another aspect of religious devotion worth mentioning is that related to imagery and the printed word. In the few inventories we have encountered, pictures with religious motifs are present practically to the exclusion of any other type and there are crucifixes as well.

Francisco Bertis's house in 1802 had amongst its contents effigies of Saint Joseph and Saint Mary Magdalen.76 Juan Antonio Grech, also in Barcelona, had a brass Christ on a silver one and wooden crosses as well as a painting of San Gaetan.77

In Valencia, in 1789 , Ignacio Busuttil had eight pictures with different religious motifs as well as a stone image of Saint Michael.78 Other inventories encountered refer to Saint Vicent Ferrer, Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Our Lady of the Rosary, and others. Except for the views of Malta and a portrait of himself encountered amongst Bertis's possessions, a picture of Charles III and some maps in Joseph Espadano's possession in Valencia in 1791, all mention of images encountered make reference to religious motifs.79

This last individual mentioned, namely Joseph Espadano, surprises us in that other aspect of religious expression, namely books. In the seizure of his possessions there is an incredible collection of 31 books of which 12 are definitely of a religious nature, including the biographies of saints such as Saint Catherine of Siena and Saint John de Paule.80

At the other end of the spectrum we find Felix Mannarino, who in 1767 left a total of four books; the Holy Bible, two prayer books dedicated to the Mother of God and a prayer book for Holy week.81

The 38% of books with a religious content which Espadano had is not far removed from the 50% which Perez Picazo encountered in the case of the much more substantial Juan Borja in Lorca.82

These isolated cases of religious texts and imagery are interesting but not much of a conclusion can be drawn from them, particularly in view of the fact that most of these men's affective centre of gravity was probably back on their island. In any case it is not very clear to what extent the written word was important in a society which was overwhelmingly illiterate.83

As in life so in death, or to be more exact, in preparing for death, the Maltese established in Spain behaved in the manner which was expected in the host society, where, as Herr has pointed out, the devotion to the church was a characteristic of the humble classes in both the urban and rural areas.84

Relatively few Maltese would seem to have died in Spain during the eighteenth century, for in the normal course of events they arranged to meet death and that other major event in their lives, marriage, in their own country. Pedro Pablo Caruana, principal partner of the firm Caruana and Ciappino, had arrived in Valencia for the first time in 1751, probably as a boy. He joined the Gremio de Mercaderes de Vara as an apprentice and became a subject of the Spanish Crown in 1768. He subsequently became a fully fledged member of the Gremio and continued in the business until 1805 at which point he decided to retire to Malta, after having set up his son and son-in-law in business. We have no record of him ever coming back to Spain.

For practically the whole of our period this probably constituted the "normal" course of events for Maltese merchants operating in Spain. It is only in the final years of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the next that we get the first crop of deaths from "natural" causes of Maltese merchants who had established roots in Spain in the form of marriage to a local girl, purchase of property, etc.

Testaments have come to be accepted by many historians as a proxy indicator of religious practice. In our case this has to be tempered somewhat by the fact that, although we have encountered testaments spanning the whole of the second half of the century, there is an evident shift from the earlier ones, clearly made by people on their death bed who had not expected to die where they did, and some of the testaments at the end of the century, where there seems to be a clear commitment to the places of residence in Spain.

The form of the testament itself, with its devout preamble and information concerning shroud, place of burial, funeral rites, masses for the repose of souls, legacies and bequests was a standardized document drawn up by the notary which the Maltese would have used.

We have located testaments, poderes para testar or details concerning funeral arrangements for 20 Maltese individuals in Valencia and one each in Jativa and Albalat; 6 in Murcia and 1 in Cartagena; 10 in Cadiz and some information on Puerto de Santa Maria.

Though the overall model is essentially the same, there are local variations. In Valencia, for example, an amount is normally set aside, in addition to amounts payable by the Confradria, to cover all funeral expenses, often without specifying the number of masses to be said for the repose of the departed. In Murcia, there is considerable detail, while in Cadiz, on the other hand, a lot of the decisions are left to the albaceas or executors .The couple of dozen wills seen are insufficient to make many generalizations and we therefore thought it best to take a somewhat closer look at the case of Valencia because the wills there span the whole of the second half of the century and are staggered at fairly regular intervals. We shall nevertheless draw upon other areas for those points which we consider worth highlighting for their uniqueness.

The focal point of Maltese religious life in Valencia was the Confradria de la Virgen de Gracia, housed in the convent of Saint Augustine. This role it apparently shared with the parish church of San Juan del Mercado, within whose boundaries the calle or barrio de los Malteses was located.

Sixteen of the twenty Maltese for whom we have actual or proposed funeral arrangements were buried or expressed a desire to be buried, in the Convent of Saint Augustine. The records of lay burials of the Convent run from 1731 to 1792 with another 3 entries in 1804.85 There are entries of Maltese burials in 1762, 1763, 1764, 1773, 1778, 1784 and 1785. The entry for Claudio Amaira in 1773 indicates that it was believed that he had made out a last will and testament in Cuenca but he was accorded the normal funeral service agreed upon between the convent and the Maltese.86 This would seem to indicate that there was some form of agreement or tradition providing general coverage for the Maltese to be buried there, even when there was not a will specifying this arrangement. In fact, another two entries do not mention a testament, whilst the other four do.

A representative entry in the book was Simon Camileri's, "Simon Camileri; Maltese, died on the 15 of May of 1784 after having received the Blessed Sacraments with all devotion. The day after his death, namely the 16 of the said month and year his body was dressed in the habit of our Order and taken to the church of this convent accompanied by 25 priests from the Parish of Saint John and an equal number of friars who celebrated a sung mass for him and at the end of the funeral service he was buried in the burial ground belonging to the Maltese, which lies in the cloister in front of the door to the chapel of our Lady of Grace. He made out a testament in front of notary Pedro Darocca on the 12 May 1784. Requiescat in Pace Amen. (Signed) Vicente Colomer, Archive''.87 The service is fairly standard with the only variable being the numbers of beneficiados and religiosos, which were always equal. The lowest for the Maltese was 12 of each for Miguel Quetquti, buried on 25 August 1785.88

All those buried or wanting burial in Saint Augustine specified that they be clothed in the habit of the saint of the same name except for the only woman, Clara Talliana, who specified the habit of the Capuchin nuns of the Convent of Santa Clara.89

Three of the remaining four testaments requested burial in the parish church of San Juan del Mercado, while the fourth one specified burial in the cathedral. All four requested burial in the habit of Saint Francis. The Maltese in Valencia and, as we shall see below, in other localities as well, seem to follow the general tendency prevailing in this epoch to seek burial in the habit of the mendicant orders.90 As far as place of burial is concerned the preference for a convent cloister makes them more akin to Madrid residents studied by Fayard than Villar García's foreigners in Malaga.91

The amount spent on funeral arrangements and bequests is an indicator of preoccupation with the after life but it is also a function of social usage and wealth.

The lowest amount specified for a funeral was 10 Valencian libras for 21 year old Balthasar Galia, who was an assistant in the shop of Rafael Brifa, where he received no wage and just board and lodging.92 The highest amount was 400 Valencian libras specified by Phelipe Piscopo, brother and equal partner of Rosario Piscopo in a business worth 18,000 libras in 1794. 93

Excluding these minimum and maximum amounts, the average for the rest works out at around 40 Valencian libras, not forgetting that in the majority of cases some of the expenses would have been borne by the Confradria. Prevailing charges, or limosnas, for masses were 6 reales per mass, so 40 Valencian libras, without taking into consideration funeral, habit and other related expenses, would have bought roughly 100 masses.

Most do not make any bequests or legacies to institutions but the standard rate for those who did did not not exceed 10 sueldos. This normally went to the Hospital Real y General de Valencia, Casa Hospicio de Nuestra Señora de la Misericordia, Casa Niños Huerfanos de San Vicente Ferrer and Casa Santa de Jerusalen y Rendicion de Cautivos Christianos.

Two notable exceptions to this rule were Joseph Magri and Joseph Ellul. The former died in 1780, but his must have been a protracted illness, because he left a bequest of 10 Valencian libras to the Hospital and also instructed that , "From my property set aside and give to Matthias Serra and Felicia Feo… that which they have expended in my service and during my sickness''. 94

Joseph Ellul, who died in 1803, was the senior partner in a business which he had with his two brothers, Salvador and Manuel.His share of 25,724 Valencian libras was worth more than the two Piscopo brothers together and yet his funeral arrangements seem to mark him out as a man with a social conscience. 95 He was, like most Maltese, cofrade of La Virgen de Gracia but he only spent an additional 50 Valencian libras on his funeral in contrast to Phelipe Piscopo's 400 libras. But also in contrast to Piscopo's 2 libra bequests to three institutions, Ellul left a total of 44 libras to the Hospital, Casa Hospicio and Casa de Niños Huerfanos and, more remarkably, left 10 libras each to the three prisons of Torre de Serranos, San Narcisa and La Galera. To top it all he left 30 libras to be distributed amongst the poor.96 The sums in themselves are not large in absolute terms but the gesture is full of significance. As Villar Garcia has pointed out the normal procedure for foreigners in Malaga who bequeathed money to the poor was normally to specify that the beneficiaries be "respectable and honest'', a "better'' type of poor so to speak so Ellul's behaviour is unique not just amongst his own kind but in general terms as well.97

We have details on the death, or last wills, of only two Maltese individuals in the Kingdom of Valencia other than the city itself. One is the testament of Joseph Bonavia in Jativa in 1792 and the other, the 1801 burial certificate of Mario Alexandro Borcha in Albalat de Sorrells.

The general outline of behaviour is more or less the same, except that the number of Maltese in the smaller localities probably did not warrant special, group, burial arrangements. Mario Alexandro Borcha in Albalat did not make a will but he was a member of the confraternity of Los Santos de la Piedra and as such he had a sung mass celebrated and an evening service as well when he died after receiving the Blessed Sacraments, Confession, Holy Communion and Extreme Unction.98

Joseph Bonavia's testament, on the other hand, made provision for more elaborate funeral arrangements towards which he left a sum of 40 libras, equal to the average encountered in the city of Valencia.99

In contrast to the specific instructions typically given in testaments in the Kingdom of Valencia, testaments, or poderes para testar, encountered in Cadiz demonstrate a considerable willingness to leave funeral arrangements entirely in the hands of, mostly Maltese, executors. It is the case of Franco Azupard and Simon Caquia in 1752, Francisco Farrugia in 1759 and Francisco Bonis in 1760 100. But it is not always so. Juan Carlos Arniaud in 1750 and Miguel Angel Scyberras in 1774 do give some instructions and both specify that they be buried in the Convent of Saint Francis, although it must be noted that the first was a Teniente de Navio de la Real Armada del Mar Oceano vecino de Cadiz y natural de Malta.101

The eight Maltese testaments encountered in Murcia, tend to be even longer and more detailed than the ones in Valencia and particularly more so than those of Cadiz. In addition, two individuals make out a second testament six to seven years after their first one, seemingly indicating a particular preoccupation with their funeral dispositions.

The Maltese in Murcia were prepared to invest more in their souls if the number of masses is anything to go by. Excluding a testament made in 1756, the average number of masses requested for the repose of their own and their relatives' souls was a respectable 562, with the highest requesting 1,333 and the lowest 130. It is nevertheless worth mentioning that one could get better value for money in Murcia, where the fee for a mass was 3 reales, than in Valencia, where it was double that amount.102

The preferred resting place of the Maltese in Murcia was the Church of Santo Domingo, in whose habit most wanted to be buried. This was followed by the Church of Santa Maria.

We finally have some information concerning funeral practice amongst the Maltese in El Puerto de Santa Maria as a consequence of 10 testaments made out in the summer of 1800 under threat from the plague which hit the area in that year. In overall terms, Iglesias Rodriguez notes both the membership of hermandades religiosas and a relatively high number of masses.103

Apart from those places mentioned up till now, and excluding the two for Barcelona to which we made some reference earlier, the only other testament encountered for the eighteenth century is one for Cartagena, relating to a sailor serving in the Spanish navy, who died and was buried at sea.104

Summing up, it would seem that the Maltese in Spain lived and died in a manner which was not unbecoming a Catholic. In fact, making allowances for regional variations and taking the number of masses paid for as a proxy for concern about the after-life, then some of the Maltese seemed to be somewhat more "Catholic" than, for example, Villar Garcia's apparently wealthier foreigners in Malaga in the same period, 52% of whom asked for 200 masses or less in contrast to the Murcia Maltese average of 562.105 In addition, most Maltese would probably have also made arrangements for funeral services in their own country. Francesco De Lauda, for example, died on 24 March 1782 in Seville, where 100 masses were celebrated for the repose of his soul but his brother Claudio also made arrangements for a complete funeral service with sung and ordinary masses to be carried out in the Parish Church of Senglea.106 In death, as in life, Malta continued to be the point of reference.

Source: Corsairing to Commerce: Maltese Merchants in XVIII Century Spain by Carmel Vassallo (Malta University Publishers, 1997. ISBN: 99909-45-04-7). They are for private study and reference only. Reproduction and distribution are prohibited. Copies of this book may be purchased from the Mediterranean Institute, University of Malta, Msida, Malta.

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