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Tas-Silġ - Evolution of a Goddess

Liam Agius


In an article published in the Sunday Times of Malta of 28th March 1999, Peter Serracino Inglott analysed Giuseppe Schembri Bonaci’s Madonna as Earth Goddess exhibition. Amidst a number of intriguing elements, Serracino Inglott explained that “there is at least one site in Malta—Tas-Silġ—where the succession of transformations of the object of worship from Earth goddess […] to Byzantine Virgin Mary is visible”. The Maltese philosopher underlined that he does “not think that any one before Giuseppe had actually shown the Mother of Christ actually in the abundant shapes of the fertility goddess [with] the mangled form of the historic Christ [having] as its aureole of glory the prelapsarian (prehistoric) figure of the Mother.”


Lying on a hill halfway between the old cities of Żejtun and Marsaxlokk, the topography of which has made it Malta’s safest harbour since time immemorial, the Tas-Silġ archaeological site allows us a very intriguing look at the evolution of religious-cosmic practices throughout Malta’s Mediterranean antiquity. Tas-Silġ is unique on the island in that it has been used as a religious site from Neolithic times all the way into the present day, and that the worship or reverence of feminine divinity was a constant throughout most of these years: the Fertility Goddess, the Egyptian Hathor, the Roman Juno, the Byzantine Virgin Mary, the Phoenician Astarte, and, at a later stage, also the Carthaginian Melkart, Protector of the Universe.


Originally constructed during the Neolithic period by the Maltese temple civilisation, it was later inhabited by Bronze Age settlers. Subsequently, it was expanded and rebuilt during Phoenician, Punic, Roman, and Byzantine times, with some also claiming that a mosque stood at the site during Malta’s Arab occupation.


Nowadays, an 1832 chapel dedicated to Our Lady of the Snows (Il-Madonna tas-Silġ) stands here, just a minute’s walk away from the archaeological site. This chapel gives the area - previously known as Il-Kasar or Ta’ Berikka - its current name.

Giuseppe Schembri Bonaci - Omm - 1998.jpeg
Goddesses 10.jpeg

Giuseppe Schembri Bonaci, 'Omm', 1998.

Giuseppe Schembri Bonaci, 'Pietà', 1998.

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