As a digital marketing agency, we get to help people and their brands share their stories with the world, both offline and online. Finding the best way to tell a story sharing it across social media is just part of the job; our favourite thing about what we do is discovering our clients’ incredible backstories.
From energetic start-ups to family businesses spanning generations and established corporations, we can’t help but be on the lookout for the next great story to tell. What can we say? We’re a curious bunch.
So curious, in fact, that we got a little bit obsessed about a certain Valletta resident a while back…
The Merchants Street Abbati
A few years ago, a good friend of mine posed a question on Facebook, asking about the statue of the abbati (altar boy) which stands on the left hand side when going down Merchants Street in Valletta, Malta. The statue has been a permanent fixture in Valletta for many years, and many people notice it. My friend wanted to learn more, precisely because it triggered his—and his friends’—curiosity.
I have heard this question many a time, from curious locals, visitors, and expats alike, because it is not such a commonplace kind of statue.
Surely, it must have some meaning if it’s been left there for years on end, right?
Turns out, it does.
The statue has had a long and storied life, and I am lucky enough to be able to discover more about it.
The statue stands at perhaps 1.5 metres tall, is draped in the traditional attire of an abbati (altar boy), and holds a collection box with ‘Għinni nsir qassis’ daubed on it, which in English means, ‘Help me become a priest’.
As luck would have it, I knew a little bit about the abbati statue, simply because my uncle Maurice, a priest himself, runs an office a flight of stairs above the doorway where the abbati stands, and for many years, the abbati has been his responsibility. I decided to ask and discover more.
The story of Merchants Street abbati starts around 60 years ago with a society called ‘Pro Sacerdotibus Christi’, which had an office in this same house, and was tasked with praying for more young men to join the priestly vocation, as well as the more practical work of raising funds to aid poorer seminarians financially in their journey to the priesthood. The society purchased three identical statues from Spain, and in fact, on a recent visit to Spain, my uncle happened upon a long lost sibling of his own abbati in a quiet chapel somewhere in Western Spain.
The Pro Sacerdotibus Christi society is long gone now, however, coin donations still trickle through from the arms of the abbati, and the money still goes to the same purpose.
Needless to say, a plaster statue in a busy street is bound to see some damage.
60 years is a long time, and these 6 decades have been eventful for the 3 siblings at the centre of our story. In fact, the current abbati statue is the last remaining one; its two siblings have each met their fate some way or the other.
Out of action
A few years ago, a young child slipped a coin into the abbati’s collection box, tried to hug the statue, then watched aghast as it tipped off balance and crashed face first into the pavement below. The plaster face was obliterated, and it was only a forced 6-month recuperation period and the timely intervention of a priest who was handy with plaster that restored the abbati to full health.
The statue then returned to its habitual post, sporting a new face, albeit with perhaps a more sorrowful look this time around, as well as a fresh coat of paint.
The other sibling was not so lucky. It was ‘appropriated’ by a crowd of Valletta FC supporters who were celebrating some victory their team had. The abbati was kitted out in Valletta FC team colours, given a football in place of his collection box, taken to the football stadium to watch the game, and then paraded around the city by crowds of jubilant football supporters. Regrettably, the abbati’s handlers were none too gentle with him, and the rough play got to him in the end.
In fact, I personally think it’s quite ironic that a statue whose purpose it was to collect money, ended up having to be collected in pieces off the streets of Valletta.
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