Today the Church celebrated the feast of the Immaculate Conception, Our Lady, free of original sin. Besides Cospicua which holds the titular painting, this feast was celebrated in many other churches of Malta and Gozo. This was done after the bishops obtained special permission from the Vatican for this day to be celebrated, despite today being the second Sunday of Advent.
The service, takes us back to a procession which has been celebrated for hundreds of years.
The icon of Our Lady of Caraffa is set in a prominent place in the Co-Cathedral of St. John for the feast of the Immaculate Conception. Every year, on 8 December, a procession would be held from the Co-Cathedral to the ‘Ta Sarria’ church in Floriana, which though it is named after the Knight Martin Sarria Navarre who built it in 1585, is dedicated to the Immaculate conception of Our Lady.
It was dedicated to the Immaculate Conception on the strength of a vow made after the plague of 1675, when it was rebuilt. The procession was stopped in the mid-nineties and used to take place with the picture of Our Lady which was given as a gift by Grand Master Caraffa and was first in the Chapel of St. Catherine of Italy.
The curator of the Co-Cathedral, Cynthia De Giorgio, explained that after the departure of the Knights of Malta, the icon of Our Lady of Caraffa put in the Sacrament chapel which is where it remains. It replaced another icon of the Virgin Mary, known as “Filermos”, which the Knights were very devoted to and which they brought with them from Rhodes, and later took with them when they were expelled by the French in 1798.
‘The fact that when he left Malta Grand Master Hompesch took the icon with him, showed that despite not having a great historical value on account of its deterioration, it was considered miraculous.’
Ms De Giorgio explained that according to tradition the Filermos icon was painted by Luke. Historically this image was venerated by the Knights who prayed before it in times of challenge.
‘In fact, before the Great Siege it was before this very icon that the Knights rallied around and asked for Our Lady’s intercession with the Lord in order that the Knights win the battle, which is in fact what happened and obviously the devotion to this Madonna increased steadily. It was an icon that had many ex-voto. Even in the Battle of Lepanto, which took place a few years after the Great Siege, the Knights also prayed to Our Lady of Filermos. In fact since the Christians won that battle, the Knights came here and offered keys to Our Lady of Filermos. ‘
The icon of Our Lady of Filermos is now in Montenegro.