Chapel of the Annunciation of Our Lady and of Saint Leonard

THE CAVE-CHAPEL

In his 1575 Visitatio Dusina, after quoting the old ‘Discovery’ legend, reported that the Chapel was under the rectorship of Don Leonardo Micallef.

Following some unexplainable vicissitudes, during which the chapel closed its doors on two occasions, there took place the 1690 “Discovery”. This naturally led to its rehabilitation nevertheless the cave-chapel remained more or less intact and it was only in the late 19th century, after some alleged miraculous cures, that considerable adjustments were effected.

An upsurge of popular devotions — as testified by the numerous ex-votos that once filled this chapel’s interior — followed. During this period and in the early years of the 20th century, the present enlargement took place and the forty-step stairway was constructed.

In the 1930’s Luigi Micallef, a Balzan sculptor, adorned this stairway with a set of twelve stone statues that represent the twelve apostles. On reaching the last step down a statue of Christ the Redeemer faces the onlooker. Even so, the visitor’s attention cannot fail to be reverted to the left wherein a side niche upholds an ancient wooden triptych representing Saint Leonard in the middle flanked by the Archangel Gabriel to his right and the Madonna to his left. It is the 14th century painting, with Byzantine overtones, that-many hold to be the image involved in  the early 15th century legend, which was eventually “rediscovered” in 1690. On the other hand the present titular of the main altar incorporating in one scene the Annunciation and Saint Leonard is a fine 17th century painting akin to Francesco Zahra (1710-1773) or Rocco Buhagiar (1725-1805) school.

Recent restorations have exposed the natural rock texture of the cave, old rock cuttings came to light indicative of original cave entrance, lamp holes and walling. On the opposite site of the main altar, at the other extreme end two baroque door openings lead to the sacristy upon which stands the choir/organ loft. On exiting from the chapel upstairs one cannot fail to see a stone statue of the Madonna on a high pedestal. This came from the parvis of Balzan Parish Church: incidentally also dedicated to the Annunciation.

IL-MADONNA U L-GĦAR TAGĦĦA

Dan is-Santwarju, li llum huwa tant meqjum, li kellu jkellmek jirrakkontalek ġrajjiet ta’ eluf ta snin.

Hekk kif tgerrbu ċiviltajiet u avvenimenti segwew li llum intilfu fid-dlamijiet tal-istorja u dan il-qedem intrabat ma’ leġġendi li jħarsu lejn passat imqanqal li ħafna minnu huwa “mini”. Huwa, appuntu, dan it-titolu tal “Mensija” li jindikalna l-istorja leġġendarja marbuta ma’ hawnhekk li tirrakkonta:

Jingħad li maż-żerniq tas-seklu ħmistax bidwi bl-isem ta’ Andrea kien akkwista l-art ta’ madwar għar fejn bena razzett li biex jidħol għaliħ huwa kellu jinżel xi turġien. F’tarf ta’ jum wieħed, il-bidwi hekk kif kien dieħel fir-razzett lemaħ xaqq ta’ dawl li ppenetra minn bejn xaqq fit-taraġ. Andrea dlonk sejjaħ lill familtu sabiex kulħadd josserva dak id-dawl misterjuż u dawn kollha bdew jaqilgħu, iwarrbu u jistinkaw sakemm ħaffru toqba. Imma l-anqas laħqu għamlu hekk li blata mdaqqsa żganċat ruħa u ħalliet fetħa mdaqqsa Kollhom kurżita’ u xi ftit imbeżża niżlu fil-għar u ħadu qata meta lemħu musbieħ jixgħel quddiem immaġini tal-Madonna. Andrea qabad il-kwadru u mar dritt għand il-kappillan biħ li żammu għandu. Iżda l-għada dan il-kwadru sparixxa u reġa sab ruħu fil-għar. L-istess ġara jumejn wara u l-kappillan mar jirrakkonta dan lill-isqof li ordna li l-kwadru iġibuħ għandu, biss l-istorja irrepetiet ruħa. Meta ra hekk l-isqof għamar li l-għar jiġi rijabilitat u fiħ jitqiegħed altar. Din l-istorja malajr xterdet mal-inħawi u kulħadd beda jinvista dan il-għar b’devozzjoni lejn l-immaġini tal- Madonna.

Sa hawn il-leġġenda. Issa dak li aħna żguri minnu hu l-fatt li dan il-għar reġa ġie skopert fis-sena 1690. Pero’ hawn tidħol id- dokumentazzjoni ta’ Dusina li fil-1575 tirrakkonta din il-leġġenda u żżid li l-kappella/għar kienet taħt il-kura ta’ Dun Leonardo Micallef. Dan ifisser li l-għar/kappella kien ġia’ ġie skopert ferm qabel u għandna għax naħsbu li hawn twieled l-isem tal “Mensija”.

Hekk kif wieħed jinżel il-erbgħin tarġa, akkumpanjat minn statwa tal-appostli, jilmaħ statwa ta’ Kristu Re li tfakkar iż-żiedet kostruttivi tal-kappella fil bidu tas-seklu għoxrin. B’ħarsitna lejn ix-xellug imbagħad nitffaċċaw id-daħla ġewwinija tal-għar bit-trittiku fuq ix-xellug b’San Leonardu fin-nofs u l Anġlu Gabriel u l-Madonna fuq kull naħa tiegħu. Dwar dan it-trittiku ma nistgħux ngħidu jekk kienx  hu marbut mal-leġġenda il-għaliex dak li aħna żguri dwaru hu li huwa xogħol tas-seklu ħmistax, li ġie restawrat dan l-aħħar, Hi pittura fuq l-injam b’ispirazzjoni Biżantina li jindika mhux biss il-qedem tiegħu imma wkoll ir-rabta ta missierijietna mar-rit Biżantin.

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