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The Collegiate Issue
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Vittoriosa Local Council,
Couvre Porte,
Vittoriosa, CSP 09
Tel: 2166 2166
E-mail: [email protected]
The Collegiate Issue
In 1630 St Lawrence lost its precedence to the Parish Church of Birkirkara when the latter was ranked as a Collegiate Church. Very surprisingly, in 1646 Don Filippo Borgia, the founder of the Birkirkara Collegiate and Provost of the Chapter, asked Pope Innocent X to transfer the Collegiate to Birgu. The reasons for such a request were recorded by means of a public deed in the Acts of Notary Mario Attard on the 9th August 1646. These reasons cited shortcomings on the part of the Birkirkara collegiate and the merits of the Vittoriosa Parish Church to enjoy such an honour.

Although Grandmaster Lascaris (1636-57) favoured this transfer, his successor Rafael Cotoner (1660-63) was against it. In 1669 Ursolica – the widow of Doctor Gio Maria Abela – bequeathed St Lawrence Church an annual income of 1000 scudi so that it could be elevated to the dignity of a Collegiate Church. However it took up until 1681 for the church to be declared a collegiate. Even then this status was short-lived as in 1684 Paolo Testaferrata and Gio Vincenzo Castelletti – creditors of Doctor Abela – gained formal possession of all the founder’s property, thus depriving the church of its income and consequently its privileged title.

St Lawrence Church was rebuilt between 1681 and 1696 although the collegiate issue never abated. Matters were further complicated in 1725 when a college of 12 (later 13 and eventually 19) beneficiaries was instituted. However this college fell under the direct jurisdiction of the Apostolic Delegate rather than that of the Bishop, thus straining relations between them for years to come.

Furthermore the collegiate issue became ever more complex as other parishes were raised to a collegiate status before that of Vittoriosa. The Valletta Chapter in 1733, was followed by Għarb in Gozo in 1774, and then by Senglea in 1786. Even Cospicua was trying to get Rome’s approval ahead of Vittoriosa although it wasn’t to succeed until 1828.

The French occupation, with the abolition of the Inquisition and the subjection of all Civil and Religious authorities to the Jurisdiction of the French Commissary-General appears to have complicated things even further although nothing significant happened during this period.

In 1818 a native of Birgu, Mgr Fabrizio Sceberras Testaferrata was the first and only Maltese to be elevated to the rank of Cardinal. Incidentally, a year later in 1819 the Vittoriosa Chapter received the Papal Bull. This raised problems between the Chapter and the Bishop, and consequently also with the Governor – thus widening the Church/Government rift that had started in 1818 when the Church authorities recommended a Titular Bishopric to the Holy See without the Governor’s knowledge, this while objecting of the Government’s nomination to a Bishopric. Needless to say, the collegiate issue was delayed even further.

The matter was finally settled nearly two centuries after its inception by the investiture of the new collegiate of St Lawrence Church on the 31st December 1821.
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