10 facts about Gozo’s Ta’ Pinu
1. The area of Ta’ Pinu as a place of worship dates back to around the 15-16th century. Among the many chapels and shrines that dotted the Gozitan countryside was a chapel known as Santa Marija ta’ Ġentile, stood in an area known as Ta’ Għammar. The chapel was often referred to as ‘ta’ Ġentile’ because it is believed to have been sponsored by Ġentile Calimera, a nobleman who lived in Gozo in the 15th century.
2. Apostolic visitor Pietro Dusina was delegated by Pope Gregory XIII to visit the Maltese islands. Dusina reported the sorry state the Ta’ Ġentile chapel was in. He immediately ordered its demolishing but when demolition began one workman broke his arm and this was taken as an omen that the chapel should not be demolished. Apparently this was the only chapel on the island to survive Dusina's decree ordering the demolition of other similar chapels.
3. As explained above, it is documented that the Chapel had fallen into a state of disrepair by 1575, especially after attacks of the corsairs. The devotees living in the area were too poor to upkeep the chapel. The chapel was saved from ruin when a certain Pinu Gauci started looking after it in the late 16th century / early 17th century. Because of Pinu’s intervention, the chapel was stopped from falling into a deeper state of disrepair and for this the devotees who frequented the chapel were ever so grateful. In fact, they soon started calling the chapel as Santa Marija Ta’ Pinu.
4. Pinu commissioned Bartolommeo Amodeo Perugino to paint a new altarpiece for the chapel. The painting was donated to the chapel in 1619 by Pinu Gauci and can still be seen and enjoyed to this very day. The painting depicts the Blessed Virgin, four angels, four Evangelists together with the apostle St James. There's also reference to Pinu Gauci, the donor.
In 2019, to mark the 400th anniversary since it was painted by Bartolomeo Amadeo Perugino, the painting was taken for a diocesan pilgrimage to all the towns and villages in Gozo.
5. As attested in Pastoral Visits report, the chapel was one of the best kept on the island of Gozo. The number of devotees frequenting the chapel also increased until in 1663 it seems to have been desecrated again. This time, its frequenters joined forces to stop the chapel from meeting the same fate of most of the island’s countryside chapels.
6. The chapel was a usual countryside place of worship up until an episode on the 22nd June 1883 changed its destiny forever. Karmni Grima, a 45-year old woman from Għarb who worked the fields close to the chapel, heard a mysterious voice calling her when she was walking home (her home is now a museum which you can visit) from the path in front the chapel. The voice asked her to proceed to the chapel immediately because “for a whole year, you will not be able to return”.
From the 1619 painting of the Assumption fo the Blessed Virgin Mary located in the chapel, Karmni heard a voice saying: “Recite three Hail Marys in honor of the three days that my body rested in the tomb.” It is said that after this episode Karmni Grima got sick, and could only return to the chapel a year later.
7. Karmni told her experience to Franġisku Portelli, a simple man who lived in the area and who shared Karmni’s devotion to the Assumption. This is what led Franġisku and his brothers to seek heavenly help in 1886 when their mother, Vinċenza Portelli, was on her deathbed. Franġisku and his brothers, Nikol and Nardu, walked barefoted to the chapel and asked the Blessed Virgin to help their dying mother. Apparently after this episode their mother got well again.
8. Karmni’s story and the story of the healing of Vinċenza spread around Gozo like wildfire and people started to flock to the chapel. The chapel was too small for the number of people now frequenting it and a temporarey canopy was raised in front of it for the priest to say mass under.
The chapel’s size was an issue and Bishop Ġovanni-Marija Camilleri decided in favour of raising a shrine that would incorporate in it the original chapel which was known at Ta’ Ġentila in 16th century.
The building of the new shrine started sometime in the early 1920s and was consecrated in 1932. The design was entrusted to Architect Andre Vassallo. The new church was build in a neo-romantic style. It is indeed an architectural masterpiece with its superb sculptures and craftsmanship in Maltese stone. Inside the church there are 6 mosaics, 76 colourded windows and many ex-voto. The ex-voto can be seen through a small museum on the side of the church. The museum is covered in tokens of gratitude left by people who were cured after asking for the heavenly interception of the Madonna ta’ Pinu.
9. The new church became even more popular among Roman Catholics and nowadays it is visited by thousands of people every year. Its most notable visitor was Pope John Paul II who celebrated mass on the parvis of the shrine during his visited to the island in 1990. The same Pope placed a halo of golden stars around the head of il-Madonna ta’ Pinu, the original painting donated by Pinu Gauci 1619. Pope Benedict XVI also palced a Golden Rose in front of the image of Our Lady in 2010.
10. The parvis in front of the church was recently done as part of the Ta’ Pinu Shrine project. The project is still ongoing as works are currently afoot to built a visitors centre right in front of the church.
The new parvis now incluses mosaics depicting the 20 mysteries of the Holy Rosary, made by Rome-based internationally renowned mosaic artist Fr. Marco Rupnic. There are also three statues on the parvis depicting Karmni Grima, Frenġisku Portelli, and Francis Mercieca (known as Frenċ tal-Għarb, a person who healed many people in the name of il-Madonna ta’ Pinu).
This is quite a story for a small countryside chapel that has grown into a shrine visited by thousands of believers every year.
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