Il-Knisja f'Għawdex

Kercem Parish Church

The Parish / Church

Ta' Kerċem' is believed to have coalesced into a village community during the late Middle Ages, it blossomed around a chapel devoted to Pope Gregory the Great, erected circa 1581. However, archaeological revelations have shown that the area of Ta’ Kerċem was inhabited for much longer, showcasing traces of Roman Baths and an early Christian burial ground at Għar Gerduf. These remnants provide a vivid glimpse into one of Gozo's earliest inhabited regions. Regrettably, these historical sites remain beyond public reach.Despite this rich archaeological backdrop, Ta' Kerċem's prominence stemmed from an annual traditional procession. Originating from the Matrix church in Rabat (Victoria) and culminating at the mediaeval chapel, this event occurred on the feast of St. Gregory, March 12th. Linked historically and spiritually to plague-related occurrences, the procession was an act of gratitude for St. Gregory's intercession against illnesses and calamities. This grand parade drew around ten thousand participants, enduring until its cessation in 1968 despite the chapel's replacement by the present-day parish church.Over time, the village's cultural significance grew, leading to its formal establishment as a parish on March 10, 1885. The church, as it stands today, was consecrated on October 22, 1911. An additional dedication to Our Lady of Perpetual Succour was bestowed, rendering Ta' Kerċem parish church the sole Gozitan church jointly venerating two saints. The feast of St. Gregory the Great graces the second weekend of March, while Our Lady of Perpetual Succour's celebration shines on the second weekend of July, now the larger of the two festivities. 

Legend/interesting fact

Despite being recognized as a village relatively early compared to others, Ta’ Kerċem holds significance in antiquity. Alongside previous mentions, accidental discoveries in 2008 unveiled two 5000-year-old tombs near the parish church. Found during extension work to the priest’s house, the rock-cut tombs, akin to Hal Saflieni Hypogeum’s design, date pottery back to 3000-2500 BCE. This enriches Maltese prehistory, with plans for a public display enclosure. A bygone tradition tied marriage in Gozo to St. Gregory’s feast. Grooms promised to attend it annually with their wives, though its origins and meaning are unclear.

Curiously, “Kerċem’s” name origin remains uncertain. First mentioned in 1587, Canon Ġann Piet Franġisk Agius de Soldanis linked it to a local family’s nickname. Some propose a connection to the village motto “Flectar non Frangar” – “Bent but not Broken,” perhaps inspired by the Latin word “Quercus” (oak tree), yet this is debated. Regardless, Ta’ Kerċem’s people embody their motto. Though a small village, their firm resolve continually uplifts their community.

Main religious festivities (eg village feast)

Given the joint dedication of the parish church, one would expect to find two religious feasts. The first, honouring St. Gregory the Great on March 12 (celebrated on the nearest Sunday), is marked by ecclesiastical ceremonies within the church, with growing external festivities driven by village youth. In contrast, the second feast, occurring on the second Sunday of July for Our Lady of Perpetual Succour, bursts with vibrant colours. A 9-day schedule of events includes band marches, concerts, shows, and lively demonstrations throughout village streets. The presence of a number of voluntary organisations namely the Għaqda tal-Armar Madonna tas-Sokkors, Għaqda Mużikali San Girgor, Għaqda Festa Għajn Tuta and Kumitat tan-Nar Kerċem working together in harmony and overseen by the central Kumitat tal-Festa Kerċem, guarantee a spectacular week of celebrations, music and fireworks.

Religious observances shift from regular masses to a profound ‘messa cantata,’ blending orchestral music and patron saint tributes. Internally, the church is adorned with linen tapestries, emanating a warm ambiance. Illumination graces the dome and ceiling, while the saint’s statue takes centre stage for veneration. Externally, lighting once enveloped the façade but ceased after restorations for limestone preservation.

Specific noteworthy art/religious pieces

The Ta’ Kerċem parish church, while serving a smaller community compared to other towns, boasts artistic treasures. Upon entering, attention gravitates towards the altarpiece, a monumental 1854 work by Gozitan artist Salvatore Busuttil. Sponsored by Rosa Camilleri, it portrays St. Gregory the Great beseeching the Virgin Mary during a plague. The background depicts a votive procession inspired by Roman events and one from the Gozo Citadel to Ta’ Kerċem. A white dove symbolising the Holy Spirit accompanies St. Gregory. This is also present in the statue in the church. Legend suggests Busuttil appears in the painting praying to Mary. 

One can appreciate the painted ceiling that underwent substantial restoration in the last decade due to significant water damage. Executed solely by Professor Giuseppe Briffa from 1937 to 1943, it portrays scenes from St. Gregory the Great’s life. Prof. Briffa similarly created the artistic compositions on the church’s dome and vault, ensuring a cohesive artistic theme and style. Various patrons, including parish priest Dun Mikelanġ Grima, funded these paintings.

The Patron Saint & the Titular Statue

Despite the first dedication of the parish church being to St. Gregory the Great with the second dedication to Our Lady of Perpetual Succour only coming later, the first titular state was actually in honour of Our Lady. It was acquired by the then parish priest Dun Ġużepp Vella and blessed on January 10th 1891 by the Bishop Giovanni Maria Camilleri in St. Augustine Church in Victoria. It was a beautiful statue carved in 1889 out of a tree trunk by the Sicilian statuary Francesco Lo Turco who at that time was working in Malta however it proved to be too heavy to be carried around in a procession. The statue still exists to this day despite not being available for public display due to its fragile state. The second statue brought to the parish was also dedicated to Our Lady and replaced the original. Brought from the Marseilles-based firm Gallard et Fils in France through the encouragement of the second parish priest Dun Anton Debono, this papier mâché statue was blessed by the same Bishop of Gozo on July 4, 1897. It is the statue which is still on display to the public and used for processions to this day, and is considered the pride and joy of the village parishioners. The co-titular statue of Pope St. Gregory the Great was also commissioned to the renowned firm Gallard et Fils in 1904. When this statue was transported to Gozo, it was conveyed to the Franciscan Nuns’ Convent at Victoria and blessed by Bishop Giovanni Maria Camilleri on 12th May 1904. Afterwards it was shouldered to Ta’ Kerċem in a solemn procession. Similarly, this is the statue still in use to this day and in addition to the statue of Our Lady of Succour, can be found in its permanent niche sited just beside the main door of the church.

Directions to Kercem Parish Church

Kercem Parish Church
Kura Funded by the European Union