Religious customs on Gozo
Gozo’s connection to religious worship is deeply rooted and dates back over 7,000 years. Throughout its long history, the Island has hosted a variety of belief systems.
The Neolithic temples at Ggantija were places of worship dedicated to a rather amply-proportioned fertility Goddess, while evidence of Roman temples exist buried beneath the present day Citadella in Victoria. It’s a result of the Island’s long and chequered history where conquerors bring their respective faiths to the local populace.
However, it is the Roman Catholic religion that left the most enduring mark on the Island as far as religious worship is concerned. Even today, the overwhelming majority of Gozitans are catholic and the Island’s large number of richly decorated churches and cathedrals are testament to the locals’ fervent beliefs . The clanging of church bells, signalling worship time, is an integral a part of Gozo’s soundscape.
Religious devotion comes to life during the summer when Gozitan parishes take turns celebrating their town’s festa – a date of celebration dedicated to the patron saint of their parish. The festa is a boisterous affair, well known for the pyrotechnic artistry in the fireworks displays. The celebration normally lasts a whole week and includes street parties, brass band marches, and churches festooned with lights. The festa is rich with traditions, including the carrying of the statue, where burly men bid for the right to carry the often heavy statue of the patron saint.
Outside of festa season, the highlights of the religious calendar include Christmas and Easter. Easter is a sombre yet passionate affair, where local traditions include processions through the streets while reciting prayer, as well as fasting or abstinence from meat, sweets, or alcohol, and the visiting of various churches on Good Friday. While religious observance is high amongst the Gozitans, non-believers will not have any problems finding restaurants or bars where it’s business as usual.
Christmas on the other hand, is a far more upbeat affair. Gozitans are not immune to the commercialisation of this event and shopping for gifts is a common sight around December. However, the religious aspect of this feast is well-observed. Central to the Gozitan’s celebration of Christmas includes their love for pasturi- intricate, handmade nativity scenes with often astounding attention to detail. Aficionados can spend years building their own nativity scene and its fairly common for Gozitans to open up their homes and welcome visitors to admire their creations.