This church has the singular distinction of being the very first building (1567) to be raised in the new city of Valletta. The church was built subsequent to the foundation ceremony of 1566 but probably not, as popular tradition would have it, where the foundation stone of the new city was laid. It is dedicated to the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin but it is often referred as Our Lady of Victory church as it is associated with the victory of the Knights of St John over the Ottoman Turks on 8 September 1565. The title ‘ Our Lady of Victory’ has, on the other hand, been ‘coined’ by the Knights before reaching Malta’s shores - in Rhodes, to commemorate yet another victory over the Turks – that of 1480.The epic vitory of 1565 – ‘il- Vitorja’ is still an appellation attached to Our Lady of Victory and at the time of the Knights, the feast of 8 September was celebrated with great pomp and solemnity. A grand procession, led by the Prior would leave St John’s church, circuit about the city and end at Our Lady of Victory where officials and the Grand Master’s entourage would take part in a ceremony in praise of the Blessed Virgin.For more information on the Church’s history:Degiorgio, S., 2011. The Hospitaller church for Our Lady of Victory. M.A. Hospitaller Studies Dissertation. University of Malta, 2011.For more information on Pope Innocent the XII:http://www.vassallomalta.com/Pignatelli.htmFor more information on Grand Master Ramon Perellos Y Roccaful:http://www.vassallomalta.com/Grandmasters/GM2/GM.htm
In 1617 the church was raised to the status of a Parish of the Order and was dedicated to St Anthony the Abbot. Slaves and converts were baptised here.During the Fremch ‘interlude’ Our Lady of Victory church became property of the French State. The effacement of the coats-of-arms on the facade is a result of the French revolution when French troops sought to remove all traces of the nobility and the ‘ancien regime’. The coats-of-arms formerly displayed were those of POPE INNOCENT THE TWELFTH, Inquisitor in Malta from 1646-9, the Order and GRAND MASTER RAMON PERELLOS Y ROCCAFUL. A trace of the outline of the coats-of-arms can still be made out.During the British period, since 1837, the church became a ‘garrison’ church for the Malta Fencibles Artillery and Roman Catholic sailors. In 1859, Reverend Gavino Mamo instituted the Congregation of the Good Shepherd for the purpose of teaching catechism to young children – an activity that stopped only with the advent of World War Two.The church as we see it today is an expanded development of the first original structure. The original small church was built in 1567. Its façade was modelled in Grand Master Perellos’ time in 1699 as attested by the inscription in honour of Pope Innocent XI. The west front of the church is believed to have been extended prior to 1752 while the final remodeling of the western front appears to have taken place in 1756-7. Originally the church stood aligned to a higher street level, without the need for the flight of steps and small parvis that we see today. The lowering of the street gradient that took place in the mid-18th century also necessitated the additions of stairways to the building adjacent to this church, including St Catherine’s Church just across the street.
In 2000, the National Trust of Malta, Din l-Art Ħelwa, started a project of restoration along with the Valletta Rehabilitation Project and the Museums Department. The exterior restoration was completed by 2004, while work on the interior of the church continued. For more information: http://www.ourladyofvictory.org.mt/page03.html
The church faces north-east in line with the grid pattern of the city. The original church was enlarged on the west front and its façade was given a Baroque style inspired by classical Italian Baroque.The church’s façade is of graceful proportions. It is dominated by a vertical perspective that invites one to look from the main portal to the crowning pinnacle. Its doorway is surmounted by a broken pediment bracing two defaced escutcheons. These in turn support an arched window over which one can observe a white-marbled sculpture that commands attention. Both the window and sculpture break two cornices that run in parallel, the bottom one resting on pilasters of the Ionic order.Interior - the church has a rectangular nave with a semi-circular choir-apse and is capped by a barrel-vault, decorated with an important cycle of paintings showing scenes from the life of the Virgin. The church has four side altars recessed within alcoves.GIROLAMO CASSAR – architect of the original church structure. Girolamo Cassar built the first original church which was much smaller to the present day plan – the result of enlargement on it east and west fronts. ALESSIO ERARDI- Baroque painter of the vault ceiling Alessio Erardi (c.1671-1727) was the son of the accomplished painter Stefano Erardi. Enrico Regnaud (1692-1764) is said to have assisted Erardi with the ceiling decorations of this church. For more information on Gerolomo Cassar: https://vassallohistory.wordpress.com/maltese-architects/For more information on Alessaio Erardi: https://www.um.edu.mt/library/oar/handle/123456789/22758
- Bonello, Giovanni. Valletta : Lost City : Memories of Places and Times : Vol. 1 / 1. Ed. Fondazzjoni Patrimonju Malti., 2015.
- Degiorgio, S. The foundation of the church of Our Lady of Victory in Humillima Civitas Vallettae: from mount Xebb-er-ras to European Capital of Culture. Margaret Abdilla Cunningham, Maroma Camilleri and Godwin Vella eds. Valletta: Heritage Malta, 2018.
- Degiorgio, S., 2011. The Hospitaller church for Our Lady of Victory. M.A. Hospitaller Studies Dissertation. University of Malta, 2011.
- Galea, M., 2011. Valletta : statues, niches, small churches, public fountains, public clocks, monuments, marble tablets, Valletta: Allied P.
- Hughes, Quentin J. The Building of Malta during the Period of the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem, 1530-1795. London: London : Alec Tiranti, 1956.
- Zammit, Lewis. "The use of Architectural Ornament on the Street Elevation of Secular Building in Valletta, between the Late Sixteenth and the Second Half of the Eighteenth Century : An Art Historical Survey." M.A.HIST.OF ART, 2004.