Malta Diary; Ghosts, ghouls and apparitions – long passed, or still present?
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In 1957 (I was just 11) my late Aunt Annie and Uncle Edwin had a small summer residence in Bugibba (a bit of a luxury in those days!) and I spent my summers there with them and their then small daughter, Rose, my cousin.
It was the last road that led to Qawra, now a cosmopolitan jungle of apartments, restaurants, bars, hotels and guest houses but at the time just dozens of small agricultural fields stretching as far as the eye could see.
For those who know Bugibba and Qawra – suburbs of St Paul’s Bay – it was one of the last houses along the coast road that now leads into popular Bugibba Square nowadays packed night and day with all sorts of activities but at the time just a barren field.
It was a suffocating mid-September night in the throes of the dank Sirocco (which we call Xlokk), a hot but humid desert wind sweeping over Malta from North Africa and predominant at that time of the year. The night was hot, densely clouded, moonless and starless with a high-pitched, warm wind that caused a turbulent sea about 100 metres away so the waves could be heard splashing on the wild and jagged rocks
The electricity supply flickered uncertainly and in a dirt and dust road leading into fields, traffic was non-existent and silence, a virtual blessing. Too hot and stifling to remain clustered indoors, every evening the neighbouring families brought out chairs and small tables and placed on them flickering candles and lanterns.
The men chatted, played cards and some drank wine and whisky while the women knitted or sewed and exchanged tittle-tattle of how naughty the children had been and how unreliable the water and electricity supply were.
As children, we played with beads and marbles, played games of imaginary mums and dads and the boys indulged in an occasional game of football that threw up dust clouds and made the girls fume and the adults fret and rant about the dirt and dust.
Suddenly, we heard a bell tinkle down below in the pitch darkness, on the rocks amidst the sound of the gushing sea. After a few seconds it tinkled again and then intermittently on and off.
A complete hush fell on our group and then whispers, whispers of speculation. Who could be tinkling the bell in the pitch, uninhabited darkness? The popular consensus was that somebody had drowned and their Guardian Angel was tinkling a bell to draw our attention to find the body of the poor, lost soul.
As expected of them, the men took the initiative, gathered up the lanterns and gingerly started making their way down onto the rocks and towards the shoreline. Despite admonitions to “keep back”, women and children followed and being impetuous boys we pushed out way to the front to be thoroughly scolded for being thoroughly “presumptuous” and “foolish”.
Slowly but surely the group of about 20 of us inched our way towards the shoreline and the gushing sea and still hearing more audibly now the tinkling bell.
Then, all was revealed. The body was that of a poor goat that had drowned. Its body had been flung onto the rocks and left suspended there and the buffeting seas and gusts of wind were tinkling the bell around its small neck!
What brought about this trend of thought? There was a time when Malta and Gozo bristled with tales of ghosts, ghouls and apparitions at a time when lanterns and candles flickered and threw shadows over walls while fierce winds seemed to be laden with voices. Religious superstitions and fear were also dominant.
During the last weekend Heritage Malta organised one of its annual night tours of Fort St Angelo and naturally this included a lecture about “The Grey Lady”. St Angelo is a fairly large fort in Vittoriosa overlooking the Grand Harbour and was pivotal in the repulsion of the Ottoman forces that laid siege to Malta in 1565. In more recent times it became the Mediterranean HQ of the British Royal Navy fleet when the British were in Malta.
The story has it the Fort has been haunted by “The Grey Lady” since the Middle Ages. This lady was a mistress of one of the nobles of the De Nava family who at the time owned the premises. She became jealous of the noble’s wife and started creating problems and the noble put it to a stop by having her murdered.
Since then there were intermittent reports about her “appearance” and “haunting presence” and these came to a fore in the early 1900s with reports that she was “vulgar, aggressive and rude”. The Fort was duly exorcised and for a while nothing more was heard.
However, during World War II there was a most curious incident. This part of the Fort was being used as a recuperation area for wounded British servicemen and one day a group were sitting in their ward chatting, reading or playing cards.
Reports state that all of a sudden the room turned ice cold and the air became static. The men then saw the figure of a lady who was frantically beckoning them to follow her and leave the room and she persisted before beginning to disappear in the direction of the ward’s open door.
Out of curiosity the men followed the apparition out into the open. Seconds later, a German bomb fell on the ward and demolished it entirely. A Nazi bomber had managed to avoid the anti-aircraft fire and penetrated it and had dropped its bomb over the ward.
Fact or fiction – who knows?
According to popular belief at some time down the years a sealed passage was found and opened and at the end of the passage the skeletons of the “Grey Lady” and two soldiers were found. However, there is nothing recorded about this.
NEXT WEEK: What are the strong family connections that MEGHAN MARKEL has with Malta?
“I came out of this with the band playing full force”
This is an ironic phrase intending to mean the opposite, that is, I came out of a situation looking an absolute fool – naturally on the assumption that a band playing full force signifies contentment and success.