Chapel of the Annunciation (Hal-Millieri, Zurrieq)

Illness. Environmental disasters. Economic crises. War.  Not a day passes without us being reminded of one those troubles.  Be it through the news or casual conversation, something will be said to turn our thoughts to them.

Whilst we may worry about them, however, it is a superficial kind of worry.  For the majority of us, they’re somewhat abstract concepts which, we feel, might never really touch us.

No, Western society’s true fear is another; what everyone seems to be terrified of is the possibility of being alone.  Not being alone permanently, having no friends or family to turn to – that fear would be justifiable enough – but the thought of spending even few moments by yourself.

Those gaps scare us so much that we desperately try to fill them up; we turn to social media to ‘talk’ to invisible friends, we put on the radio when in the car or put on the headphones when we’re out walking.  Every instance where our mind might get the opportunity to wander and think is filled with chatter and noise to prevent it from doing that.

And perhaps that’s why our biggest fear is the thought of being alone: subconsciously we don’t want to risk looking inwards for fear of not really liking what we get to see.  That’s why there is all this noise and we live in a world that seems determined to strengthen that internal disconnect even further.

It takes a place that hasn’t been touched by modernity to break the spell.  It takes a place like the Hal Millieri Chapel where it is as if a switch has been flicked as soon as you enter, shutting off the outside world.

There is good reason for that: it is sequestered in the countryside and a bit cut off from main roads, removing it from the noise of modern life.  This is especially the case as most people only have the opportunity to visit on a Sunday morning when life is, generally, a bit less hectic.

A part of me, however, doesn’t want to accept that explanation regardless of how logical it is.  I’d much rather believe that there is something, well, magical about this place; an energy field that seems to withstand modernity and what it stands for.

It is a romantic belief that is fuelled more than a little by the history of this chapel, built as it was on the old village of Casal Millieri.  The chapel itself was consecrated around 1480 but the village dates from earlier, with documentation going back to 1419 and undocumented origins possibly going back to pre-historic sites.  Is it that far fetched to think that a building that has been a symbol of faith and an object of worship for over five centuries, has an aura around it?

Whatever you believe about the place, it is impossible not to be captivated by the chapel itself.  To enter you have to go down three steps for which you reflexively lower your head to see where you are stepping, ensuring that you enter in an appropriately reverential manner.  The chapel is fairly small – about 35 metres squared – and is divided into five bays with pointed arches coming out of the wall.

What truly brings the chapel to life, however, are the paintings that can be found on the walls.  Unfortunately, the lower part of these frescoes have not withstood the test of time but what is left sees the representation of saints such as Nicholas, Andrew, James, Lawrence, Vincent, John, Paul, Augustine, Blaise, Agatha and Leonard.  St George has the honour of appearing twice, once riding a horse and another slaying a dragon.

The detail, vivacity and style of these frescoes can be transfixing especially when one considers the sense of wonder and awe these must have inspired when they were first carried out.  Life then must have been completely different, offering practically no distraction from the grind of trying to subsist.   These frescoes must have left those early parishioners in little doubt over the beauty of their god and saints.

And that’s the truly amazing part because no matter how different life was, what was a thing of beauty centuries ago remains so today.

If you want to visit the Chapel of the Annunciation, then these are the directions.


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