Mirrors of Sanctity by Manolo Galliano

in Culture Insight

Galliano’s last book – `Of Monks and Nuns’ – delved into four of Gibraltar’s `Lost Churches’…  and you’d be forgiven for thinking that was it, topic completely covered. However, being a stalwart and stickler for detail with an incessant thirst for more, he dug up a couple of dozen more places of worship situated on the Rock!

So `Mirrors of Sanctity’ is about all of those places of worship and more, of not just Gibraltar’s lost churches but some of those in the hinterland also, which came under Gibraltar’s jurisdiction during the pre British period of Spanish occupation between 1462 and 1704. The population of the Rock during that time numbered no more about 5,000 inhabitants and we sometimes hear from those visiting places like Malta telling us the island’s full of churches and chapels. Well, during those early years Gibraltar – like the Mediterranean island and more importantly other places in Spain – boasted of no less than four churches, three monasteries, a convent, eight hermitages, seven chapels and two oratories dotted all over the Rock… no excuse not to pop in to a house of prayer somewhere near you!

Clearly the Catholic Church was very much in charge or at least had a great influence in Spain during that period. All and sundry within the church were closely watched over and kept under tight control. Despite that, human nature and temptation being what it is played a part which included confrontations, co-habiting and even a murder within the religious institutions.

There is also much to read in `Mirrors of Sanctity’ relating to the Moorish occupation researched by the author relating to the Tower of Homage and elsewhere. The Moors too built their places of worship and within the Tower the mosque there became a chapel when the Spanish took over Gibraltar once again. In the town centre there were a few `homes of prayer’ dotted around the area. What used to be the Cafe Universal – now Centre Plaza, the building housing Benamor on Main Street by Horse Barrack Lane – was one. Another was where Mothercare is situated today and yet another place of worship was located in Casemates Square, or La Barcina, as it was named then. Evidently, none of them any longer there! However, at the very end of Main Street in front of St Jago’s stone block now housing the Tax Office, the frontage of the Nuestra Senora Del Rosario Hermitage remains. Many of these churches and chapels – including some of those in the hinterland close by – were either destroyed, left in a dilapidated state, left to crumble or converted into barracks, hospitals, official residences, offices or store rooms when the British took the Rock in 1704 and during the following years. Many of the church items like statues, crosses, candles, vestments and other bits and pieces were removed and taken to towns and villages in Spain by the inhabitants who fled the Rock when the British took over, presumably thinking they would be mistreated or worse by the military: some of the inhabitants remained. But not all was lost or taken. One of the statues that resided in the hermitage of St John the Baptist in the Rosia area remained on the Rock and now holds pride of place in the church of Our Lady of Sorrows in Catalan Bay!

`Mirrors of Sanctity’ treasures many gems and anecdotes of those years of religious or historical value. The work gone into this fourth and final volume of this series of books can’t go unmentioned. Research undertaken by the author has taken him, no doubt, from the Garrison Library to the Gibraltar Museum and the Gibraltar National Archives and back, probably visiting other sources and contacting informed individuals also. Much work has gone into this publication just like the other three and Manolo has no hesitation in heaping much praise on Victor Hermida for his illustrations, sketches and other drawings as well as contributing worthy ideas and suggestions. The author claims he’s not a historian per se, but someone who likes history and enjoys researching… Gibraltar’s, in particular. The editing of the book was undertaken by Joe Cortes. Thanks also go to the Minister for Education and Culture, the Heritage Trust and a great, big thank you for the assistance by way of the much needed sponsorship. Always more than handy to get projects like these off the ground. 

The bottom line is the importance of posterity for future generations for heritage and cultural reasons. It all helps to be better informed and aware, not just of Gibraltar’s military history and post British rule, but also what could be described as a forgotten period of the Rock’s very tumultuous past.

Mirrors of Sanctity can be purchased from the Heritage Trust office in John Mackintosh Square priced at £15  and all four volumes of the series including, `Under the Shadows of the Crescent and the Cross,’ `The Franciscan Monastery of Gibraltar – From House of Prayer to Seat of Power’ and `Of Monks and Nuns,’ sells at £50. 


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