Ta' Pinu Sanctuary - Gozo
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When it comes to reputations, Gozo is very much viewed as the much quieter, more relaxed, smaller sibling of Malta. And yet, here in the middle of this tiny tranquil island in Gharb you’ll find one of the most impressive churches you’re ever likely to come across – the Ta’ Pinu Sanctuary.
Normally, churches are built with the intention of serving a local community. So the most striking thing about this sandy coloured beauty is its remote location. If the residents who live close by all turned up here on a Sunday you’d barely have enough to fill the front row of what is a vast and impressive nave.
How Ta’ Pinu came to be built here is a convoluted tale steeped in folklore and legend and so therefore it’s difficult to believe and predictably vague! What we do know is the church was originally owned by the noble family of a man who went by the name of ‘the Gentile’. Sounds very Godfather doesn’t it!
Then, in 1575, a chap called Monsignor Pietro Duzina was sent to Ta’ Pinu by Pope Gregory XII on a pastoral check-up visit. He found a building in such poor repair that he condemned it and said it should be demolished along with several others scruffy looking examples on the island.
And then came miracle number one, which means this church is the only one on Duzina’s list that still stands. The demolition squad moved in as ordered but when one of them tried to get things under way, the first swing of his pick resulted him breaking an arm.
Now, either the builders were a little work-shy or they had a very understanding, religious boss because the arm-breaking incident was declared as a sign the building should be saved. So, after one swing of a pickaxe they packed up and went home. Job done!
A decade later the church had changed hands and taken the name ‘Ta’ Pinu’ – which means ‘of Philip’. It was called after Pinu (Philip) Gauci, who was the new procurator of this church. He paid for a restoration programme and commissioned the seminal altar painting of the Assumption of Our Lady in 1619 by Amadeo Perugino. This work came to be known as ‘Our Lady of Ta’ Pinu’ and is central to the plot.
Following on from the broken arm incident, the next reported major religious episode in Ta’ Pinu’s history happened in 1883. A 45-year-old spinster and devotee of the Blessed Virgin, Karmni Grima, claimed that when she was returning from the fields she heard a call – the voice of a woman saying: “Come, come!”
The devout peasant woman followed the mysterious voice and saw it was coming from the image of Our Lady in the church. The painting told Karmni to recite three ‘Ave Marias’.
This could easily have been dismissed as the musings of a mad woman but Our Lady had form. Prior to this one, there had been three other minor miracles connected with this picture already and it was becoming more than just coincidence. Word spread and soon the little chapel containing the image of Our Lady became a place of pilgrimage.
Large crowds came flocking here, and in 1887, the church authorities agreed to erect a large Romanesque church but the foundation stone was not laid until November 1920 and the new church was finally consecrated in 1932. It was visited by Pope Pius Xl in 1935, who elevated it to the status of ‘Minor Basilica’ and then visited again by Pope John Paul II, who celebrated mass in the forecourt in 1990.
Pilgrimages are still made to the church today and inside there’s an odd little display of various medical appendages from people who were cured of ailments after making a visit here. Look out too for the silver heart containing a record of one of the first organised pilgrimages to the shrine in 1895.
The church opens daily from 6.30am to 7pm but is closed at lunchtime between 12.15pm and 1.30pm and to non-worshippers during services. Admission is free but be sure to dress appropriately or suffer the humiliation of wearing a standard church issue shawl.
Ta’ Pinu is on the Gharb road out of the Gozo capital, Victoria. Just before Gharb there’s a fork in the road and you need the right hand prong. It is signposted or stop and ask as everyone knows where it is. If you’re anywhere near then you’ll probably be able to see it! There are bus routes that stop at the church too from Victoria.
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