News | Sunday, 31 January 2010

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Girgenti shrine ‘illegal’ – MEPA heritage panel

MEPA’s Heritage Advisory Committee (NHAC) is objecting to an application filed by the followers of religious mystic Guza Mifsud to “sanction the use” of the shrine in Girgenti, where Mifsud is believed to have been visited by the Virgin Mary.
The heritage panel is one of two panels – the other being a nature advisory panel – forming the nature and heritage advisory committee, and provides professional advice to the authority on conservation of the natural heritage.
The Moviment Madonna Tal-Konsagrazzjoni wants to formalise the Girgenti shrine as a meeting place for prayers and worship, and to sanction “additions” made in the past years and erect a bronze statue of Jesus Christ.
But according to NHAC, the development involved the paving of a significant area which is both outside development zones, and part of a Special Area of Conservation.
“Various structures and additions were then developed without legal permits,” the panel said. In view of these illegalities the panel insists that “sanctioning cannot be recommended.”
This is the first official confirmation that the shrine itself is an illegal construction, given that no enforcement notice was ever issued by MEPA.
The shrine attracts pilgrims who come to pray to the statue of the Virgin Mary, erected by Guza Mifsud herself in 1986. When Mifsud had been asked whether she had a permit from the civil and ecclesiastical authorities to erect this statue, she famously replied she had the permission of the Virgin Mary.
A gigantic cross was later erected in 1992 and a belfry was attached to a nearby farmhouse, giving it a church-like appearance. A number of stone benches were also constructed.
Mifsud became the stuff of legend, when prior to her death, she was rumoured to have warned of bloodshed in the eventuality of a Labour victory at the polls. She would die on 26 October, 1996 – the very day Alfred Sant became Prime Minister.
Prayer meetings are still held at the Girgenti shrine on the first and third Sundays of every month. The Virgin Mary is believed to have told Mifsud to build a church in her name in Girgenti – an area later to be designated as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) by the European Union’s habitats directive.

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