The Week of Salvation

Holy Week devotions - Holy Shroud Information -The Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ and Photos



From the  earliest days of Christianity the passion, death and resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ  were observed as the greatest and most solemn feast of the year. However scanty the information about the first century may be, the earliest  explicit reference  to the commemoration of Good Friday in conjunction with Easter comes from Tertullian (A.D. 160-223). Tertullian  uses processio and procedere in the sense of to go out, appear in public, and, as applied to a church function, processio was first used in the same way as collecta, that is for the assembly of the people in the church. These public manifestations could only be properly held and recorded when the persecution of Christians in the  Roman empire ceased, and with the Edict of Milan in AD 313 the Emperor Constantine (307-337 A.D.) commenced the period of toleration for all religions, including Christianity. It was Emperor Theodosius (379-395) who, in 380, declared Christianity to be the one and only official religion of the Roman Empire. The procession with palms, the sixth Sunday in lent, that is on Palm Sunday - the beginning of the Holy Week - was held as early as A.D. 400 in the holy land.

The early church was divided about whether the human form ought  to be portrayed in art. This was because Old Testament prophets were so forcefully against such images.  It was Pope Gregory  I (c. 540 - 604), known in English as Gregory the Great,  who declared that paintings were an important vehicle in teaching Scripture stories. This was a development that left a great impact on art from the early Middle Ages.

With regards to the development of sacred sculpture this was of a much later period owing to the fact that Byzantine decrees of the eight century were opposed to images although Rome considered them useful.  From the gulf that opened between Rome and Constantinople in the ninth  century resulted two different directions. In western art there was a fresh growth of sculpture whilst in the east there was its diminution. It was in the west with the building of the great churches in the Middle Ages (5th to 15th century) and the development of Gothic art (1180 - 1500) that sculpture expanded.



The origins of Holy Week and Good Friday processions in Malta  are, like in most of the Christian world of a much later origin. Good Friday statues in Malta and Sicily were and are still referred to as the "il-misterji" or "i misteri" -  a reference to the five Sorrowful Mysteries  of the Holy Rosary. This dates the Holy Week Processions to after the acceptance of the Holy Rosary by the Church way back in 1214 when St. Dominic (1170- 1221) gave it to the Church in its present form, of course, without the Luminous Mysteries introduced by the late Blessed Pope John Paul II (1920-2005) in October, 2002.  The Good Friday processions came at the same period of the battle of Lepanto which took place in 1571. On October 7th, 1571, at dawn of that same day Pope Pius V, accompanied by many faithful, prayed the Holy Rosary in the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, in Rome.  From dawn to dusk the prayers continued in Rome as the Christians and the Muslims battled at Lepanto.  When it was all over the infidel had been defeated. Of some 270 infidel ships, at least 200 were destroyed.  The Turks also lost 30,000 men while Christian casualties numbered between 4,000 and 5,000. It was at the time when the Holy Rosary, as a powerful prayer,  reached its  new heights. The Holy Rosary had won a great military victory at Lepanto. Following the great Christian victory at Lepanto, Pope St. Pius V (1504-1572) declared that henceforth a commemoration of the Rosary would be a part of the Catholic Church's Mass on every October 7th.  His successor, Pope Gregory XIII (1502-1585), went further; for, in 1573, he established the Feast of the Most Holy Rosary which was to be celebrated at all Churches which had specific altars dedicated to the Holy Rosary.

It was only in 1342 that the Franciscan (minors) friars were granted the custody of the holy sites in the Holy Land by Pope Clement VI (1291?). We know that by the end of the sixteenth century, the lay confraternity of St. Joseph attached to the Franciscan friary (Ta' Giezu) in Rabat, Malta, was, perhaps,  the first on the island to organise a Good Friday procession on the island. This was followed, some years later, by its counterpart attached to the Valletta friary in 1645.  All this goes to show that although the Franciscans were involved in the spreading of such devotion, the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Holy Rosary were at the very centre of such processions. This too applies to neighbouring Sicily where Passion statues were and are still referred to as "i Misteri" - again, an allusion to the Holy Rosary's Sorrowful Mysteries. We known that there already existed Good Friday processions in Vittoriosa  around 1700,  Zejtun in 1742, Qormi in 1764 and Luqa in 1795.

The tradition of holding processions on the Fridays in lent dates from the time of  Pope Gregory XIII (1502 –?). These started with his Bull on the 6th August, 1573 named Pastoris Aeterni. These processions were  at first without statues and it was later that these were introduced. We find that in Valletta, in 1778, the "stational" churches were made of permanent nature and that the statues of the Passion were carried to them annually.  There was a time when such processions, in some places, started being held on the first five Sundays in lent.  In the past, at Qormi, for example, the Passion statues - representing the five sorrowful mysteries of the Holy Rosary - one at a time, used to be carried in procession round the streets on each of the first five Sundays in Lent. Thus on the first Sunday in Lent the statue of the Agony in the Garden was taken to the chapel of St. Mary of "Qrejqca", on the second Sunday the Scourging at the Pillar to the chapel dedicated to St. Peter, the third Sunday the statue of the Crowning with Thorns to St. Catherine's Church, the fourth Sunday that of Jesus falling under the Cross  to the old Qormi Cemetery Church, and the fifth Sunday the statue of the Crucifixion to the Church of Our Lady of Victories. This, again, all goes to demonstrate the direct link between the Holy Rosary and the passion statues. However, it is submitted that most probably Good Friday Processions started with a Crucifix, then the statue Jesus laid to rest. Both were used during the old Good Friday liturgical service.  To these, some time later,  five statues representing the sorrowful mysteries were added, then Our Lady of Sorrows and the Veronica statue.

Maltese renowned artist sculptors were amongst others: Melchiore Gafa' (1635-1667), Severio Laferla (c1710-1761), Antonio Mifsud ( 1760-1780), Alessandro Farrugia (1791-1871),  Salvatore Psaila (1789-1871), Pietro Paolo Azzopardi (1791-1875), Giuseppe Vella (1802-1866), Salvatore Dimech (1817-1887), Carlo Darmanin (1825-1909), Vincenzo Cremona (1851-1912), Abram Gatt (1863-1944), and Wistin Camilleri (1886-1979) and his sons  Alfred Camilleri Cauchi (1943-     ) and Michael Camilleri Cauchi (1961-   ). Of these Gafa', Farrugia, Psaila, Azzopardi and Alfred Camilleri Cauchi have produced masterpieces in polychromed wood, but the medium commonly used is a papier mache technique improved on their Italian and Sicilian counterparts. The Italians, mostly hailing from Lecce, include such important artists as  Caretta Raffaele (1871-1950), Luigi Guacci ( 1871 - 1934), Giuseppe Manzo  (1849-1942) , Antonio Malecore (1922 - 1998) and Carmelo Bruno (end of 20th Cent. to middle of 21st Cent), and his brother  Salvatore Bruno (1883-1988), and  Capoccia father and son Gabriele (1870-1932), and Angelo (1909 - ?). Guacci's Good Friday statues in Malta can be seen at Xaghra, Gozo. His statues were restored by  Antonio Malecore. Salvatore Bruno, lived in Bari but hailed from Lecce, has two Good Friday Processional statues at Qormi namely the Last Supper and the 13th Station of the Cross, and the betrayal at Xaghra, Gozo. Originally he had four other statues at Qormi, which had to be replaced, as also was the fate of his㺊th Station of the Cross at Rabat, Malta.  Angelo Capoccia had four statues at Zejtun and one, the 5th Station of the Cross, had also to be replaced by a more artistic one. All replacements to Salvatore Bruno's statues happen to be the work of Alfred Camilleri Cauchi (b 1943 -      ). An Italian of considerable fame as a wood carver was Nicola Fumo (1647 - 1725), whose statue Jesus falls beneath the Cross can be admired at Seville's cathedral.

In Malta, the first confraternity that of the Blessed Sacrament or "Corpus Christi" was erected in Senglea by Pope Paul III in 1539.  The Apostolic Delegate Mgr. Pietro Duzina, way back in 1575, insisted upon the establishment of the confraternity  of Corpus Christi in every parish on the islands. By 1681, the Diocese of Malta and Gozo could boast of 140 confraternities. The first confraternities of the Holy Crucifix were founded in Valletta at the Franciscan Minors (Ta' Giezu) and in Senglea both in the year 1640. Devotions to the Passion of Our Lord were also brought to the Malta with the Order of St. John, coming to the island in 1530. The Order brought with it here, as relics,  a piece of the Holy Cross and a thorn of the Crown of Thorns. Also, an object of great veneration was a wooden Crucifix wrought by Fr. Innocenzio da Petralia and donated to the Cathedral by Bishop Balaguer. This was transferred to the Mother-church on the 3rd May, 1649, on the feast of the Holy Cross.

There are three Holy Week traditions associated with Malta. First, the "Last Supper Display" had a charitable motive in the sense that the food which was provided by the faithful for the display was subsequently distributed amongst the poor. Secondly, churches use their finest silver ornaments to decorate the place of repose and entire families, lay and religious associations recite the Holy Rosary as they travel from one church to another, making the "round" of the seven repositories. Thirdly, the Good Friday processions are not merely a New Testament manifestation of the passion and death of Our Lord Jesus Christ but, also,  include Old Testament biblical characters by way of parallelisms with the New Testament and illustrative of the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecies.



Devotions to the Way of the Cross began in earnest after 1342, when, as pointed out above,  the Franciscan friars were given custody of the holy sites in the Holy Land. The Franciscans have been closely identified with the devotion ever since; for years, Church regulations required a set of the stations to be blessed by a Franciscan when possible.

The number of stations varied widely, with some manuals of devotion listing as many as 37. The term "stations" in describing the Way of the Cross was first used in the narrative of an English pilgrim, William Wey, who visited the Holy Land twice in the 15th century.

Depictions of the events described in the Stations did not start becoming common in churches until Pope Innocent XI permitted the Franciscans in 1686 to erect such displays in all their churches. He also declared that all indulgences given for visiting the sacred sites in the Holy Land would apply to any Franciscan or Franciscan lay affiliate visiting a set of stations in a church.

Pope Benedict XIII extended that privilege to all the faithful in 1726. Five years later, Pope Clement XII allowed all churches to have stations and fixed the number at 14, where it has been ever since. In recent years, many churches have included the Resurrection as a 15th station. Benedict XIV specifically urged every church in 1742 to enrich its sanctuary with stations.

The first important date for Spain was 1240,  where Salamanca's first "cofradía," or brotherhood, was formed. Originally called "Los Hermanos de la Penitencia en Cristo," (The Brothers of Penitence in Christ), this religious group later became the "Cofradía de la Santa Cruz" (Brotherhood of the Holy Cross), a brotherhood that continues to exist and still partakes in the Holy Week celebrations today. The oldest brotherhood of Seville, "El Silencio" (the Silence), was created in 1340, but most of the brotherhoods were formed in the 16th century by clergy, noblemen, guild members, or racial minorities. In Granada, the brotherhoods are much younger. Except for "San Agustín", they were all established in the 20th century. Today, members of brotherhoods consist of religious laymen only. They have their own symbols, traditions, and habits thus reflecting their religious and social background.

1521 was another decisive year as the Marqués de Tarifa (Marquis of Tarifa) returned from the Holy Land to Salamanca with a whole new perspective that he was anxious to spread. Feeling inspired and religious after his journey, he institutionalized the Vía Crucis (Stations of the Cross) and mandated that it be commemorated each year with a procession. The single procession held on one day each year eventually broke up into various processions, each depicting a scene, of the passion. This began to spread out over the course of the Semana Santa (Holy Week) while the simple crosses and altars evolved into the elaborate group statues that we see today. This pattern was followed by other cities and towns where processions were held. The result was the golden age of polychromed wood sculptors of whom  Juan de Juni (d. 1577), Gregorio Fernandez (or Hernandez, c. 1576-1636), Pedro de Mena (1628-1688), Pedro Roldán (1624-1699) and his grandson Pedro Duque y Cornejo (1677-1757), and  Antonio Susillo (1857-1896)   are a few amongst the most distinguished. The Spanish tradition was "exported" to Central and South America during Spain's colonisation period and traditions came to be embedded in the American continents. 

Well over a century after the golden age of religious statue sculptors the scene in Spain moved to the northern part of Spain - to Olot, Girona.  Joaquim Vayreda and his sister Marià Vayreda Vila often visited Paris. Their artistic activities led them to study and develop a well-known type of iconography known as "The Art of San Sulpicio" as since it was developed by a number of artists living in the Parisian quarter which took its name from the saint. The painters Joaquim Vayreda and J. Berga i Boix carried out a technical test which was destined to give work to the students of the School of Drawing of Olot, and which offered them the chance to develop their professional artistic talents.  From this mutual co-operation the first  production centre of religious statues was founded. In time, it  became characteristic of the town's craft activities. In 1880 this was called Vayreda, Berga y Cía, but the name was changed two years later to become "El Arte Cristiano". Numerous artists, including several internationally renowned sculptors, have worked at El Arte Cristiano. These have enhanced considerably its  prestige not only in Spain but also in many countries around the world.  The material known as "pasta Madera", a  paste cardboard wood composition, is an El Arte Cristiano product. It was approved, as way back as 1887,  by the Sagrada Congregation of Rites and Indulgences. Pasta madera is a highly resistant composition which enabled  statues to be produced while at the same time considerably reduced their weight. Ever since El Arte Cristiano   became a unique brand name for statues of almost any size from 15 cm up to 180 cm in pasta madera, and in  wood or polychromed wood. It has used such materials as like bronze, Portland cement and stone for outdoor statues between 60cm and 200cm.   

To view the Private "Chapel"  devotional  Holy Week representation go to website:



It is not the place here to treat this subject in great detail (vide Sacred Art Documents under Links section above). To be as brief as possible I must, first of all,  admit  I am heavily indebted to an excellent article on the subject written by Robert A. Skesris in Our Sunday Visitor’s Encyclopedia of Catholic Doctrine (copyright 1997). There are basically three sources of documentary Church teachings on the subject:

 (1) Pope Pius XII (1876 – 1958). Prior to Vatican Council II it was this Pope who delved in detail into the subject of “sacred art”. In  Allocution to Italian Artists, (April 8, 1952) Pius XII maintains that one of the essential characteristics of art is its affinity with religion, which in certain ways renders artists interpreters of God's infinite perfections and, in particular, of the beauty and harmony of God's creation. Since sacred art furnishes the "implements" and places of worship used for the celebration of the liturgical rites, it is to that extent conditioned by the ministerial task it must fulfill, a task that can be at once symbolical and instrumental. Thus, it is clear that the Church has always claimed the right to pass judgment on sacred art, and to decide which works are in fact to be regarded as suitable for sacred use (cf. Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office, Instruction De Arte Sacra, June 30, 1952). Plainly, therefore, artists and architects must have both the skill and the will to find in religion the inspiration of methods and plans best adapted to the needs of divine worship (cf. Pope Pius XII, encyclical Mediator Dei, 1947). 

Sacred art has the task  of exciting in the worshipers sentiments of piety and devotion. The Church, both as mother and teacher, created in the course of almost two thousand years an artistic patrimony, including a proper and high artistic liturgical language with which she speaks to souls and souls speak to God. So, it is not lawful for Christian artists to ignore such a language; they must learn it and respect it, so as worthily to express their conceptions. It is not the Church for art, but rather art for the Church (Circular of the Holy Office, February 25, 1947). As Pius XII reminds us, it is not an easy for men to pass from the sensible to the spiritual -  to raise themselves  from imperfect beauty to preeminent Beauty. 

But the effort needs to be made, because souls ennobled, elevated, and prepared by truly sacred art are thus better disposed to receive the religious truths and the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ (cf. Pope Pius XII, Allocution to Italian Artists, April 8, 1952). 

(2) Vatican Council II. This uses the term "sacred art" (ars sacra), which, though more specific than "religious art," is somewhat more inclusive than the term "liturgical art," which  applies to the objects (e.g., sacred vessels, vestments, books) or to the organization and decoration of space used for worship (e.g., architecture, painting, sculpture, stained glass). Sacred art is the highest manifestation of religious art (Vatican Council II, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, 122); it is the art that serves the official worship of the Church by providing for use at worship things that are worthy signs and symbols of supernatural realities. 

The Church has not adopted any particular artistic style for her exclusive use. Rather she allows free access to the sacred precincts of the temple for styles from every epoch, provided they evince the reverence and honour due to the holy rites performed in sacred buildings (Vatican Council II, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, 123). 

Since the Sacred Liturgy should be celebrated with the greatest possible perfection, churches and oratories, church furnishings and vestments should be examples of genuine sacred art, including modern art (Sacred Congregation of Rites/ Consilium, Instruction Inter Oecumemci, September 26, 1964). Sacred art is at bottom a pastoral art, at the service of the praying community while expressing genuine Catholic truth in the vesture of beauty.

(3) The Catechism of  the  Catholic Church,  in a nutshell, on sacred art, has this to say:

Truth in the Beauty of Art ( Art. 2500)

Truth carries the joy and splendor of spiritual beauty. Truth is found in forms beyond words which touch the human heart. Before revealing through words, God revealed himself by the beauty of all creation, which is understood by children and by scientists. From creation, man can perceive "the author of beauty" (Wis 13:5). "Wisdom is a reflection of eternal light, a spotless mirror of the working of God and an image of his goodness. I became enamored of her beauty" (Wis 7:25-26).

The Mystery of God (Art. 2501-2503)

Man expresses his relationship to God by the beauty of artistic works. Art (a distinctly human form of expression) comes from the person's inner riches and gives a form to truth. Art bears a likeness to God in his creating activity. However, art is not an absolute goal and must be ordered to man's ultimate goal (Pope Pius XII). Note again the relevance of this Pope on the subject of "Sacred Art".

Sacred art glorifies the mystery of God in his invisible beauty and in the visible love of Christ, in whom the "fullness of God dwells bodily" (Col 2:9). God's beauty is also reflected in the Virgin Mary, the angels, and saints.

Bishops must promote sacred art (old and new) in all its forms. They must also remove from the liturgy and from places of worship whatever does not conform to the truth of faith and to authentic beauty.

                                                                      (Catholic Catechism Simplified).

Art. 2513: The fine arts, but above all sacred art, "of their nature are directed toward expressing in some way the infinite beauty of God in works made by human hands. Their dedication to the increase of God's praise and of his glory is more complete, the more exclusively they are devoted to turning men's minds devoutly toward God" (Catechism of the Catholic Church).

One final point of the subject of sacred art, according to R. Seasoltz, is that it rules out "the gaudy, the ornamental, the petty, the ostentatious" and "all stereotyped commercial imitations" abusively termed sacred art (The House of God: Sacred Art and Architecture).

This site is dedicated to three priests who left their indelible imprint on me in  celebrating annually the Holy Week at  Qormi: These are Rev. Can. John B. Porsella  (1870-1939), Rev. Can. Joseph (Dun Peppin) Pace (1915-1962), my godfather, and  his cousin and my uncle Rev. Can. Joachim Schembri (1930-2006). Although the first I only know from what the last used to recount about him, it is worth pointing out that Canon Porsella’s  love, devotion and dedication  to the Holy Week was an inspiration to the other two priests, who in turn I humbly feel to call them my mentors. Thanks to my wife Cecilia too without whose encouragement all this would not have come to fruition. 

Let's hope you enjoy all.


May The Joy of Easter

inspire Your Daily Life



                                                                                             A.J. Agius

Click below to view Qormi Good Friday Procession:



J. Monti, The Week of Salvation (1993).

Adolf Adam, The Key to Faith, Meditations on the Liturgical Year (1998).

Josef Blinzler, The Trial of Jesus (1959).

A.E. Harvey, Jesus on Trial, A Study in the Fourth Gospel (1976).

Our Sunday Visitor's Encyclopedia of Catholic Doctrine (Copyright 1997, Our Catholic Visitor).

Ach. Ferris, Storia Ecclesiadtica di Malta; Descrizione Storica delle Chiese di Malta e Gozo.

Mgr. Arthur Bonnici, The History of the Church in Malta Vol II (1968).

G. Micallef, Valur Morali u Guidirku Tal-Assemblea li Kundannat lill-Mulej Taghna Gesu Kristu (2000).

Rev. Fr. J. Schembri, Good Friday Procession at Qormi, Malta (1969).

Rev. J. Schembri, Il-Purcissjoni tal-Gimgha il-Kbira (Lehen Belt Pinto No 9, (1969). The Second part of this article was never publishebd by in 1972 a copy of itwas han ded to me by the author. I am also indebted to  a unique detailed card study index of historical value which was the result of over 50 years of research by the late Rev. Can. Joacihim Schembri.

J.F. Grima (Dr), Il-Purcissjonijiet Tal-Gimgha  L-Kbira F'Malta u Ghawdex (1992).

J.F. Grima (Dr), Holy Week Processions at St. George's Parish, Qormi (2003).

J.F. Grima (Dr) , Il-Vari Tal-Gimgha Mqaddsa Fil-Gzejjer Maltin (Pin) (2012).

 J.F. Grima (Dr), The Iconography of Good Friday Statues in Malta:

Gorg Aquilina O.F.M., Il-Gimgha l-Kbira tal-Belt (1986).

B. Bonnici, Il-Gimgha L-Kbira F'Malta (1998).

B. Bonnici, il-Gimgha Mqaddsa tal-Girien (2007).

B. Bonnici, Dell ICs-Salib Fil-Gzejjer Maltin (1999).

Salamanca Semana Santa:

 Overview Spanish Sculpture 15th, 16th and 17th Century:

El Arte Cristiano:.

The Saints Museum of Olot :

Cartapesta (papier mache) Sculptors from Lecce: 

Marco Mario ,  Angelo Capoccia e la cartapesta leccese ; presentazione di Elio Donno ( Published 1992).