Love, devils, pirates, brigands and miracles – the stuff of Maltese legends. Malta Diary
Although in modern-day light national and local legends seem to be nothing more than stuff and nonsense, a detailed study of these legends reveal the preoccupations that shaped national and local history as well as religious traditions, fears, love desires and a more-often-than-not an all’s well that ends well living happily ever after desire.
Malta’s legends identify an ever-lasting fear of invading Turks and Moors (still very much an ethos that prevails today) and they of course always carry the unpleasant role of being perpetual “baddies”. Eternal damnation is another prevailing theme with Satan and his henchmen displaying a clever and crafty bag of tricks with which to trap the spiritually good and thus capture their souls to be confined to the fires of eternal hell.
Intertwined with evil is the perpetual castigation of lost souls lavishing in the neither here nor there limbo returning as ghosts and ghouls to castigate humanity with the evil of their doings in life (the Jacob Marleys of the Charles Dickens novel “A Christmas Carol” which however finally rescues all with a cosy and happy ending).
Love and romance must always have a place, the love-driven mania of a man or a woman cruelly separated from their paramour and the great lengths they go to to bridge the obstacles and distances placed between them.
The presence of St Paul of Tarsus and his Malta shipwreck have evoked various legends of miracles, conversions and the triumph of goodness over evil.
One of the better known legends is that of “L-Gharusa tal-Mosta” (i.e. the Bride of Mosta), featuring a beautiful Maltese maiden, her doting Maltese lover and the “bad” Turk who whisked her away and kept her incarcerated – necessary ingredients for a fairy tale!
The legend has been handed down from the Middle Ages and the perpetual struggle between Maltese Christian inhabitants and marauding Turks and is centred around the Cumbo Tower in Mosta which still stands today. A Marquis and his family lived there together with their beautiful maiden daughter Marianne. Their servant was a captured Turk named Haggi who was loyal and hardworking and eventually granted his freedom.
However, of his own choice, Haggi remained at the tower and was consigned to serve the beautiful Marianne with whom he eventually fell in love and began to have designs.
In stepped local lad Toni Manduca coming from a noble and titled family who instantly fell in love with Marianne and asked the Marquis for her hand in marriage and the Marquis delightedly accepted. The hustle and bustle of wedding plans commenced but Haggi sulked about cursing his bad luck and eventually decided his best way out was to return to his homeland and to forget Marianne.
That was easier said than done and Haggi continued to dote from a great distance. Finally, he decided on a plan of action. He contracted a band of young cut-throats, commissioned a boat and returned to Malta almost on the eve of the wedding. He made his way to Mosta, charmed his way into the tower by mimicking Toni Manduca’s voice to deceive the Marquis who allowed him to enter and for his pains was stabbed fatally in the heart.
Marianne was kidnapped and whisked away back to Turkish shores where Haggi, now a Sultan, kept her incarcerated.
Her husband-to-be Manduca was driven to the point of insanity. He sailed off for Turkish shores and after landing ascertained the whereabouts of Sultan Haggi and Marianne. As he walked around the Sultan’s palace trying to figure a way of gaining illicit entry he heard Marianne sadly singing a Maltese ballad and Toni instantly sang back.
Marianne caught a glimpse of him and implored her Turkish maidservant to help her escape to rejoin her lover and the maid obliged. They returned to Malta, married and lived happily ever after.
Too far-fetched – yes of course but the sugary fantasy that humanity relishes.
Curiously the large village of Mosta features in a number of legends, clustered as it is around a deep-running valley which of course just has to be haunted at night, where inexplicable flickering lights have been “seen” in the dark and far-away piercing and anguished screams “heard”. In time a chapel dedicated to St Paul was built in the valley as respite and restitution for the souls haunting it.
The valley itself became known as “Il-Wied ta’ L-Esperanza” (the Valley of Hope) and is spanned by the Chapel to the Madonna of the Valley of Hope and naturally has its own legend spawned in the mid-18th century. It is said a family farmed the land nearby when a cut-throat band of Moorish corsairs made their way inland, killing and slaughtering along their way until they eventually reached the valley. The news spread and in haste the family fled along the valley on their way to safety and refuge in Mosta. However, their 20-year-old daughter, hot and weary, fell behind and sought refuge in a cave abundantly covered by sprigs of huge parsley and spiders’ webs.
The corsairs soon reached the area. They had seen the young woman fleeing from a distance and were convinced she was in hiding nearby. They searched high and low with no success. They passed the cave several times but with its foliage of parsley and cobwebs decided she would not be hidden in there. As this was very near Mosta, the corsairs feared a large counter-attack from the villagers so they gave up and headed back towards their ship.
Later, in gratitude, the young woman insisted that a chapel be built there in thanksgiving and hence the Chapel to the Madonna of the Valley of Hope.
To the south of Mosta at the other extreme of the island is Ghar Hasan in Birzebbugia, a hilly rock cave with a splendid overlook view of the deep, blue Mediterranean Sea where it is said in the 13th century a Turkish pirate Hasan captured a local girl and kept her in the cave against her will. Eventually she fell in love with her captor and they lived a life of content in the cave. However, it was not to be. The Christian Knight rulers of the islands had decreed that Christians should not consort with Muslims. They heard of the couple illicitly living in the cave and a party set out to arrest them.
The party had almost reached the cave when Hasan and the maiden bound themselves together and plunged into the sea where they were drowned and hence remained united in eternity to prove the power of ever-lasting love.
The cave remained a popular visitor place, particularly for lovers but also unfortunately as a suicide jump place and has now been closed off.
Times have changed and young people no longer harbour such dreams, caught up as they are in Star Wars and inter-planetary videogame destruction. Sadly, cannabis, crystal meths, cocaine and heroin have replaced long handed-down legends.