XirCammini are re-launching the ancient Universal Peace Walk of 1543 AD. Once launched, the walk will be complete with a pilgrim passport and certificate for independent individual or group hikers. What Malta lacks in vast expanses of natural beauty it makes up for it in historical heritage. This will be a walk back in time also supplemented with some of our natural beauty spots.
This is the first in a series of progress reports aimed at keeping interested persons informed and attracting more people to walk.
XirCammini is a NGO with an abundance of energy and enthusiasm but limited financial resources. Therefore if there are persons or companies interested in sponsoring this milestone project for Malta we would love to hear from you. www.XirCammini.org information@XirCammini.org
On Sunday I set out to scout the Majjistral Segment of the Universal Peace Walk® as we talk to central authorities and local councils to officially launch it as a Heritage Walk in Malta for individual or group hikers, locals and tourists alike.
The Universal Peace Walk was an annual pilgrimage initiated by Bishop Cubelles in 1543. The intention of the walk was to pray for peace at a time when, during the reformation period, Pope Paul III was endeavouring to bring together Christian rulers in Europe for an the Ecumenical Council amidst significant division. The pilgrimage started at dawn from the Cathedral in Mdina and ended at the old church of St. Catherine, (known as St. Gregory’s) in Zejtun. Others attribute the procession to earlier dates (such as 1120) as thanksgiving following a failed attempt by Arabs to re-capture the island or a failed Turkish attack in 1452, sparing from a devastating plague in 1519. These and other events may all have been reasons for thanksgiving attributed to the pilgrimage which – later in 1543 – was firmly established as an annual event by Bishop Cubelles as an intercessory pilgrimage, “Pro Pace Universali”, i.e. for Universal Peace.
The plan is to launch a number of walks:
- The Universal Peace Walk 1543 AD from Mdina to Zejtun. There will be some deviations from the original route to incorporate snippets of history en-route (similar to the various ruta complementaria on the Camino de Santiago);
- 3 circuits or routes, to incorporate ancient parishes, from the Rollo de Mello (1436) being
- Qormi (San Gorg), B’Kara and Naxxar to Mdina loop, dubbed the Ancient Parishes’ loop.
The Majjistral Loop (below) incorporating Mdina, Rabat, Zebbug and Siggiewi, looping back via Dingli.
- The Xlokk Route encompassing Hal Millieri, Kirkop, Zurrieq, Wied Hlantun, Bir Miftuh, Gudja / Ghaxaq to Zejtun looping back to Zurrieq.
- Later developments will incorporate the 2 remaining Rollo de Mello parishes not included above (i.e. San Lorenzo al Mare, Birgu) and the Sanctuary of our Lady in Mellieha.
Mdina to Zebbug
I made my way to the main (Cathedral) square of Mdina from where this walked originally started.
At the square of the Mdina Cathedral, I turned left to request a blessing from our Our Lady of Mt Carmel before starting the walk.
Historically, there was an order of precedence that was observed during the procession, the Cathedral Chapter used to stand at the back of the procession and the parish immediately in front used to be the parish that was recorded as the next oldest, i.e. San Lorenzo del Mare (Birgu), Birkirkara or Naxxar and so on.
Confraternities and other churches (such as the Greek Catholic Church) were also represented on this walk.
From the main square I walked down Triq (street) il-Villegaignon past the Banca Giuratale and the Benedictine cloister of St. Peter & St. Paul. I was lucky enough that the church was open at the time and I dropped in for a moment of silent reflection in one of the oldest monasteries on the island the origins of which arguably predate the Rollo de Mello 1436 report. I then walked past the chapel of St. Agatha, (1 of the 3 patron saints of Malta) into St. Publius Square, the 2nd of the 3 patron Saints of Malta adorning the inside of the main gate of Mdina. The Mdina (De Vilhena) Gate is flanked on the inside with the Palazzo de Vilhena and Torre de Standardo with a memorial plaque commemorating the Maltese who died in the uprising against the French that started in the church of our Lady of Mount Carmel, Mdina. Among the names is Mario Cortis, a direct fore-father of my wife; proud of her Rabat roots.
Crossing over the city gate bridge and past the playground I continued towards Casino Notabile, (a 19th century ‘club’ for Mdina gentry) and down the flight of steps at Saqqajja towards the pedestrian crossing leading to Triq it-Tigrija. Triq it-Tigrija derives its name from the bare-back horse and donkey races, dating back to the time of the knights These took place annually on this road leading from Citta Notabile to Siggiewi during the feast of St. Peter and St. Paul (Feast of Mnarja). The recently restored lodge at the head of road was built by Grandmaster Alof de Wignacourt to follow the races from. Grandmasters historically awarded prizes of brocaded banners (il-Palju) to the winners.
From Triq it-Tigrija I turned left into Sqaq ic-Cawsli, past Xara lodge, turning right into the old road linking Citta Notabile (Mdina) to the village of Zebbug, now named Triq 12 ta’ Mejju (12th May Street) within the Zebbug limits. This is a longish country road that leads past the church of St. Saint James. The parish church of Zebbug is visible ahead at a distance.
The church of St. James, within limits of Zebbug, dates back to 1430 (i.e. before the Rollo de Mello) and was rebuilt during the 16th century. It is now used as a place of worship by the Coptic Christian community in Malta. I was lucky to find the church open during this Sunday morning hike so I took off my trekking shoes and socks and joined the community for part of their Sunday service. Exiting the church I stopped for a chat with Therese, a Camino aficionado, who joined us on the Camino Inglés in Spain earlier in the year.
Continuing along the road, I passed a niche of our Lady and St. Philip of Agira (the patron Saint of Zebbug). Zebbug is an amalgamation of a number of older medieval villages and hamlets. Triq 12 ta’ Mejju morphs into Triq l-Kbira (main street) and continues past the Lunzjata Chapel towards this ancient village’s main square with it imposing cruxeiro.
There are various stories about origins of St. Philip. Perhaps the one that makes most sense is in relation to Malta is that he was a 5th century saint from Cappadocia and of Syrian descent who became known as the Apostle of Sicily. In the pre-knights’ era, Malta was still intrinsically under the Spanish king’s regent in Sicily. Even the knights subsequently ruled Malta as feudal title holders and Malta remained closely linked to Sicily in many respects.
Zebbug to Siggiewi
As soon as I reached the church parvis it started to rain so I stopped to don my rain jacket and to cover the back-pack. Facing the church I turned right towards the village Police Station, through Parish Street veering left into Triq Vassalli (Vassalli Street). Having written among the earliest books in Maltese (including translating Protestant gospels into Maltese and a book of Maltese proverbs) Vassalli is often referred to as the father of Maltese language and identity. Born during the reign of the knights, he died during the earlier years of British rule in Malta and is buried in the Garden of Rest overlooking Marsamxetto creek.
Instead of M. A. Vassalli street I could also have walked down Triq D-Dawl. These streets converge at the church of Sidtna tad-Dawl (Our Lady of the Light). At the church I took a sharp right turn into Triq l-Ghanja Maltija, continuing the descent into Triq Wied ta’ Baqqiegha. At the end of the road I turned right again and walked the full length of the valley (beneath and parallel to Mons Mikiel Azzopardi main road) Siggiewi-bound. The signs above, welcoming visitors to Siggiewi, are visible form the valley road.
In the valley basin I walked over a small concrete bridge slightly U-turning onto the other side of the basin which, after the rains, was full of water. The afternoon was quiet; the valley devoid of people and all I could hear was the wind rustling through the reeds. I could almost hear myself thinking.
The small bridge leads into the old Mdina Road that, from Siggiewi, led to Citta Notabile (Mdina).
I started the ascent into the village and some 100 metres after the bridge I took a sharp right turn onto a rocky ascent between the fields leading to the Siggiewi Basketball Court onto and across Triq Dun Mikiel Zammit to Triq Hesri, turning left into Triq l-Mithna (Windmill Street). The dome of the Parish Church of Siggiewi became visible from Triq il-Mithna.
St. Nicholas of Myra is a 3rd century Saint from Asia Minor and Bishop of Myra. After the turn of the millennium when Asia Minor was conquered by Turks, a group of merchants took the remains of St. Nicholas and shipped them to Bari where they rest in the Pontifical Basilica of St. Nicholas. The old church in Siggiewi , not the one I had just walked past, was listed on the Rollo de Mello of 1436.
The village of Siggiewi was elevated to the status of a city; “Citta Ferdinand” by Grandmaster Hompesh, the last Grandmaster of the Order of St. John to reign in Malta. He also elevated Zabbar and Zejtun (in the South of Malta) to cities, “Citta Hompesh” and “Citta Beland”.
Triq il-Mithna leads into trip l-Parocca (Parish Street), past the church into the beautiful Siggiewi square with the magnificent statute of St. Nicholas and almost identical twin chapels facing each other. From there I walked past the Siggiewi Local Council office into Triq l-Knisja l-Qadima (Old Church Street), stopping at the gated entrance of the old church, now an archeological site.
The walk would continue from Siggiewi with the Xlokk segment to Hal Millieri, the remnant of St. James Chapel in Kirkop, through Zurrieq, Wied Hlantun, Bur Miftuh and onward to Zejtun. But, today, having concluded the Majjistral segment I was looping back to ‘Fuor le Mura’ of Citta Notabile, Mdina.
Hal Tartani Loop
Having completed my mission, I looped back to Rabat to complete the circuit via Salib tal-Gholja, and Fawwara Limits of Siggiewi, past Gebel Ciantar promontory to the Parish Church of Dingli (the village that succeeded the mediaeval village of Hal Tartani). Hal Tartani was mentioned in the Rollo de Mello but was subsequently removed from the status of parish and amalgamated with Rabat when the latter became a parish. Dingli became a parish again in the 19th century.
Veering right, past Savio College, the road continued back onto the Buskett Road, past, Verdala Palace (President’s Palace) and towards St. Dominic Priory in Rabat. The Domenicans have only recently celebrated 800 years in Malta (arriving around a century before the Conventual Franciscans). Walking diagonally to the left in the opening in front of St. Sebasatian Church, another left turning led me to the Cruxeiro at the head of an alley leading to St. Agatha’s Catacombs. Walking past the alley, past St. Paul’s Catacombs and the Church of St. Cataldus (a Celtic Saint and bishop of Salento, Italy, in early Christianity) I arrived in the main square with the imposing church of St. Paul dwarfing the chapel of St. Publius above St. Paul’s crypt. Legend has it that St. Paul lived in this crypt while imprisoned in Malta, waiting to be transferred to Rome for sentencing.
During the time of the Rollo de Mello, St. Paul’s church in Rabat was not a parish but was referred to – similar to the one in Rome – as la chiesa di San Paolo fuor le mura; Rabat then being part of the Cathedral of Mdina.
Walking through the side parvis of the Church, I first turned right to the church of St. Francis and the small square in a true village core with the old building of Santu Spirtu. Santu Spirtu was the oldest hospital on the island run by the Franciscan (Conventual) Fathers as early as 1347, the first Franciscan Fathers to settle in Malta. This old edifice is now part of the national Notarial Archives. Back trekking on Triq San Frangisk, I continue until the church of St. Mark (and the oldest Augustinian monastery in Malta), taking a left on triq Santu Wistin to the Church of the nativity of Mary, commonly known as Ta’ Giesu Church but famous for the feast of St. Joseph. The first grandmaster of the Order of St. John, L’Isle Adam, had quarters in the Franciscan (Leonite reform order) convent of this church. He died in his chambers in the convent in 1534.
My walk stopped at tas-Serkin, a traditional village tea shop close to the Roman Villa just outside Mdina to regain some of the calories lost by the walk with a couple of Maltese pastizzi, washed down with tea served in a common Pyrex glass.
Distance | Grade | Elevation
The walk, as a complete loop, is approximately 20 km long.
It goes from just under 230m elevation in Rabat to around 90m in Zebbug – Siggiewi valley climbing to around 150m in Siggiewi, with further inclines to Salib tal-Gholja (approx. 200m) with a further slight ascent to Gebel Ciantar/ Dingli cliffs to under 240m followed by a final gentle descent to Rabat and Mdina settling again to just under 230m.
As a walk it is graded as easy.
XirCammini will shortly be walking this as a group on a weekend afternoon in a series of pilot walks prior to the official launch. If you are interested in joining us please drop us an email on information@XirCammini.org or watch out for the event on our website (www. XirCammini.org), or on our Facebook page