Secrets of Gozo

Xlendi Church

Introduction

Today, it is known as one of the most beautiful beaches in our islands, forming one of the many tourist resorts in our islands. Xlendi, however in the past, was just a small fishing village in the southern part of Gozo, situated between Kerċem and Munxar.

The name “Xlendi” derives in fact from the village’s past. In the Byzantine period, Xlendi was well known as a sheltered port for navy ships which used to sail around the islands, in a period of political unrest and huge economic activity.

Xlendi is first found documented in a contract, dated April 19th, 1550. Although it falls under the direct management of the Munxar Local Council, in 2010, it’s administration was handed down to a new administrative committee.

The beginning

In the heart of the village, lies a small but dominant church, dedicated to Our Lady of Mount Carmel. This church has a quite long history of benefactors, rectors and events, which have characterised its foundation, building, and years of service to the local community.

The first church was built in 1868, as documented with an inscription, now found in the vestry of the present church, which states that:

“This Chapel, dedicated to the Virgin of Mount Carmel was constructed in 1868 as a part of a vow, and with the fervour of the notary Niccolo’ Cauchi, on a piece of land given by the Carmelite monks of Imdina, who retain all the right to reclaim it, should it lose its original purpose.”

Cauchi’s family was one of the wealthiest on the island. In 1864, Gozo was declared a separate diocese from Malta by Pope Pius IX, and the Cauchis donated considerable sums for the setting up of the new ecclesiastical body.

In the meanwhile, Niccolo’ started working in order to build his new church. He commissioned Gozitan architect Klement Busuttil to do all necessary sketches and plans. In 1864, Bishop Pietro Pace laid the foundation stone, and in 1869, it was blessed by Bishop Anton Grech Delicata. Thus, Xlendi now boasted with the first church to be constructed in the new diocese.

In Carolina’s hands

However, things were not easy at the start. For the first four years, the church had no rector. In 1872, Niccolo’ Cauchi passed away, his wealth going to his daughter Carolina.

The new owner immediately chose a new rector to take care of the church, Fr. Raffaele Cassar from Victoria. Under his lead, which lasted till 1905, the church received visits from Bishops Pietro Pace and Giovanni Maria Camilleri, and was subjected to several changes, in accordance to the customs and norms of the period.

In 1905, Carolina Cauchi chose the second rector, Fr. Giovanni Maria Attard, affectionately known as Dun Ġamri. Upon his nomination, he commissioned a full inventory of the church items. This was just the start of his series of initiatives he took, amongst which the introduction of the cult towards St. Joseph, whose feast he instituted as secondary to that of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. He also personally bought the material needed in order to make celebratory vestments and decorations for the church during feast time.

July 17th, 1907 is probably one of the darkest dates in the church’s history. It was on this day that Carolina Cauchi, the largest benefactor the church has ever had, passed away, marking the end of the Cauchi ownership.

In fact, upon her death, the church’s ownership passed to the Dominican Sisters, who however were unable to pay the rector, and therefore transferred the church to the Diocese in order to be managed as necessary.

Change and modernisation

For a long period, nothing regarding the church changed much. However, after the Second World War, and into the sixties, the village started experiencing dramatic changes, especially in its population. Such significant was the change that Fr. Joseph Curmi, rector at that time felt the urgent need to increase the number of masses celebrated in the church. He also undertook a number of projects, aimed at further decorating the church. He also founded a choir and a group of altar boys of the village.

The population increased over time, and this led to an ever-increasing need to expand the church. After consulting with the community, Fr. Curmi commissioned architect Joseph Dimech to prepare the necessary plans. In 1969, the year commemorating the first centenary since the blessing of the church, work commenced on the new expansion.Work finally finished in 1972, and in September of that year, Bishop Nikol Cauchi inaugurated the new extension.

Fr. Curmi also contributed greatly in improving the feast, and worked extremely hard in order to decorate the church like no one before. His long period of work for the community ended in 1984, when he was replaced by another rector, this time Fr. John Bosco Cremona.

Fr. Cremona continued what his predecessor had started. He commissioned a set of paintings, painted by local artist Joe Cutajar, as well as a new niche for the statue, which was finished in 2001. Fr. Cremona also contributed greatly in expanding the feast, always with the help and support of the local community. He strived to restore dignity to the church and increase its popularity not only in Gozo, but also in Malta and abroad. It was also this rector who introduced a series of measures aimed at making the English-speaking community in Xlendi feel welcome and integrated in the community.

In the heart of its community

Today, the local community of Xlendi boasts of a church with a long history and a great number of unique treasures. Amongst these one cannot forget the titular painting, commissioned by Niccolo’ Cauchi, and painted by Salvatore Micallef, depicting the Virgin of Mt. Carmel handing down the devotional scapular to St. Simon Stock.
But definitely, the most treasured work of art is the titular statue. It was commissioned in 1964, after a huge storm flooded Xlendi for days, but miraculously did not claim any lives. The statue shows the Virgin Mary and the child Jesus blessing the faithful with the holy scapular. The statue arrived in Xlendi in 1965, and was blessed on August 29th of that year by Bishop Joseph Pace. It underwent restoration work in 1993 by Mario and Reuben Camilleri-Cauchi.

In the heart of what was once a small fishing village, today lies a church, which albeit small in size, is rich in history and works of art. Today, it’s the local community which keeps it alive, and continues adding to its long history, with an ever-strong flame of love and devotion towards the special patroness of Xlendi- Our Lady of Mt. Carmel.