The first chapel in the north aisle is dominated by the beautiful statue of Santa Marija, the Assumption of the Virgin Mary into Heaven, celebrated on the 15th August. The statue, as recorded in the inscription beneath the arch, was donated to the Cathedral Chapter by the Leone Philharmonic Society on the 29th of April 1956.
The statue of Santa Marija was executed in Rome at the Fabbrica di Statue Religiose of Francesco Rosa in 1897, Santa Marija, with a gold-trimmed blue mantle on a white gown, is standing on clouds while being assumed into heaven. The gold halo is studded with diamonds, while the gold necklace, bracelet, and cincture are set with precious stones.
The Confraternity of the Assumption, founded on 29 March 1957, was responsible for the acquisition of the silver plinth upon which the statue stands. It was designed by Samuel Bugeja in 1962 and sculpted in Rome, also by the firm of Francesco Rosa. The statues in the four corners are four doctors of the western Church: St Ambrose, St Gregory the Great, St Augustine and St Bonaventure. The four bas-reliefs portray the Coronation of Mary, the Visitation of Elizabeth, the Immaculate Conception and the Annunciation of Our Lord. The coat-of-arms under the bas-reliefs are of Bishop Giuseppe Pace, Pope John XXIII, Pope Pius IX and Pope Pius XII.
Photo: © Daniel Cilia
On the first Sunday in August, the statue is taken out of its niche and placed under the arch of the second north aisle beneath a royal blue, gold-embroidered canopy. It stands on a chestnut pedestal executed in 1966 by Pascal Attard with bronze bas-relief by Samuel Bugeja. The statues in its four corners are of the four heroines of the Old Testament: Deborah, Jael, Judith and Esther, while the four bas-reliefs portray the Dormition of Mary, the Visit of the magi, the Descent of the Holy Spirit and the Wedding at Cana.
The feast of Santa Marija has been the principal celebration of Gozo for at least five hundred years. A procession was organised since 1726, but the statue of Santa Marija had added great joy to the festivities. On the 15th of August, it is paraded shoulder-high along the streets of Rabat in a procession led by the Bishop of Gozo. An astonishingly prodigal display of aerial fireworks accompany its exit from the church and its entry. Excitement reaches its climax as Santa Marija is raised by the multitude up the steps to be returned to the Cathedral.