The Matrice of Gozo

During the rule of Aragon (1282–1530), the Citadel steadily increased in importance. It suffered a setback in September 1429, when a large Berber army led by Qaid Ridwan ravaged the archipelago for three days. There was however a speedy recovery.

By 1435, its ecclesia maior or major church had become a matrice. The will of a certain Nuncio de Episcopo of 12 October 1435 refers to the Sanctae Mariae Matricis Ecclesiae, the Mother-Church of Gozo dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. After this first mention, references to the Matrice become more and more frequent and they all attest to its antiquity and importance.

A matrice church is the Mother-Church of other churches in a particular area. The term may either be a title to distinguish the main church from its filial chapels or an assertion, as in this context, that other parishes had been carved out of its former territory. The term is in fact applied to the Cathedral church in lists of the four parishes functioning in Gozo at that time; the other three were all in Rabat, the suburb of the Citadel.

The need to establish parishes outside Rabat, in the Gozitan countryside, was not felt before the last quarter of the seventeenth century. These village parishes originated directly or indirectly from the Matrice as well. The Cathedral is thus, historically and rightfully, their Mother-Church. At present no community is without its proud and sometimes exuberantly large edifice towering above its surroundings and visible too from the Citadel ramparts.

© copyright • joseph bezzina • 2014