FEAST OF ST. CATHERINE OF ALEXANDRIA
Żejtun’s festivities culminate on the third Sunday of June, when the feast of St. Catherine, the Virgin Martyr of Alexandria and Patroness of the parish is held, with all the pomp and splendor that go with traditional Maltese parish feasts.
In 1436, at the time of Bishop Senatore de Mello, Żejtun was already under the patronage of St. Catherine. We know that in the old parish church, now commonly called for Gregory’s, they had a statue of St. Catherine - the whereabouts of which are now unknown - which they used to decorate with silver ornaments.
They used to adorn the church by strewing green leaves and twigs on the cold globigerina limestone of which the pavement slabs were made. They also used to fire petards, though admittedly in a very limited way. Gradually, this annual feast of St. Catherine continued to increase in extent and splendour by the passing of years.
The week-long festivities are attended by numerous devotees. On the second Sunday of June the statue of St. Catherine is taken out of the niche to the accompaniment of band marches, which continue throughout the whole week. Every nook and corner of Żejtun speaks a language of gaiety and liveliness; the squares and streets are awhirl with an array of colourful flags. Multi-coloured and vibrant rockets light up the dark and normally serene skies of Malta in mid-June. The climax of the festivities is reached when, after a week-long religious functions in the church, the statue of St. Catherine is carried shoulder-high in a procession through the main streets of Żejtun.
The two band clubs of the parish play a great part in adding to the splendour of these festivities, which come to an end on the stroke of midnight, between the third Sunday of June and the following Monday... when the traditional outing of Malta’s fine beaches is organised by both band clubs.
In the evening, after the traditional commemorative service in the church the procession wends its way for five hours through Żejtun’s meandering streets. It takes about ninety minutes to watch the entire display, as it is one of the longest and most popular in the island of Malta, where no less than thirteen towns organise similar processions.
The procession contains eleven statuary groups carried on mahogany platforms inlaid with artistic designs. The statues depict episodes of Our Lord’s Passion, culminating in the Crucifixion on Golgotha. Interspersed among the statues one sees the two town bands, an impressive number of finely attired Roman soldiers together with their emblems, Biblical figures associated with the Passion and artistically embroidered banners, the work of local craftsmen.
The parish’s clergy accompany "Jesus Taken Down from the Cross", which maybe, could better be called a "Lying in State". Our Lady of Sorrows concludes the procession, but the glorious feast of the resurrection of Christ is held the following Sunday.
EASTER WEDNESDAY VOTIVE PROCESSION (SAINT GREGORY)
On the 12th March (St. Gregory’s day) , a national pilgrimage used to be held from far away Mdina. Up to 1930 this was one of the great occasions of the Maltese religious and cultural calendar.
All parishes represented by their numerous clergy and members of their confraternities marched behind their standards, all the eighteen kilometers from the Mdina Cathedral in the north to the old Żejtun parish (dedicated to Saint Catherine of Alexandria) in the south. They were accompanied by the Bishop and the Canons of the Cathedral.
The Cathedral Chapter in Mdina still holds title in the old Żejtun Parish and collects all its income. Also the triptych of the main altar of the old gothic cathedral in Mdina, included St. Catherine on one of the wings. The actual reason for the pilgrimage itself is shrouded in mystery.
It was an annual occasion recorded in 1400 and was originally held on March 12, St. Gregory’s day, but was transferred to the first Wednesday after Easter as from 1781. As a result the old church itself has become known as St. Gregory.
The old parish church, apart from devotion and pilgrimage appeal still attracts visitors who admire its medieval structure and architectural features in Malta stone.