Dun Gwann Camilleri
the mind behind three Gozitan titular statues
  This year 2010 commemorates the one hundred years from the death of Dun Gwann Camilleri, the Gozitan parish priest who brought to Gozo three titular statues which are still venerated in three different parish churches of Gozo. It was during his term as parish priest of Zebbug that the present titular statue of St Mary assumed into heaven was brought to the parish where it is still worshipped by the faithful and brought it in procession on the first Sunday after the 15th of August.

Dun Gwann Camilleri was born in the parish of St Peter & St Paul in Nadur on the 9th of December 1830. He studied at the Gozo Seminary in Victoria and was ordained a priest by Bishop Publius Sant on the 20th of December 1856.

Parish priest of Zebbug
It was on the 8th of March 1863 that Bishop Publius Sant of Malta and installed Dun Gwann as the parish priest of the Zebbug parish. He was the eight parish priest of Zebbug. From the documents that have survived, one can conclude that Dun Gwann was a priest with a strong will. It was only after a couple of months since he was installed as spiritual leader of the parish that Dun Gwann decided to acquire a titular statue for his parish. During his short tenure as parish priest of Zebbug – a period of less than two years – Dun Gwann managed to bring over from Marseille in France the statue of the Assumption. Until this very day, the statue of the Assumption venerated in Zebbug is considered one of the finest among the titular statues of Gozo.

In his book about the titular statues of Gozo, Rev. Dr. Joseph Bezzina has this to say about the parish titular statue of Zebbug

The Zebbug Assumption conveys the spirit of serenity that must have certainly pervaded the Virgin Mary during her Assumption into heaven. Her eyes are raised towards the beatific vision and her open hands are ready to embrace her divine Son. Four angels accompany their queen while making her solemn entry into heaven.

According to our historian, it was during the ceremony of his inauguration as parish priest of Zebbug that parish priest Dun Gwann Camilleri invited his own parishioners to contribute financially towards the project of their new titular statue. Fr Camilleri ordered the statue from the Galard et Fils Company of Marseille in France from where later on he would also bring the statue of Nativity of the Virgin and the statue of Saints Peter and Paul for the Xaghra and Nadur parishes respectively.

1863 must have been an important year in the history of Gozo and its diocese. It was during this year that the La Stella Vincitrice and Il Leone Bands of Victoria were brought together. During September of the consecutive year, Gozo was erected into a separate diocese with Mgr. Michael Francesco Buttigieg, archpriest of the Collegiate Church of St Mary’s and Parish Priest of St George’s in Victoria installed as the first bishop of the new diocese. The diocese was established by Blessed Pope Pius IX in 1864 to the credit of various Gozitan patriots first among them Mgr. Pietro Pace and Sir Adrian Dingli.

With the arrival of the statue of St Mary assumed into heaven for the parish church of Zebbug, this parish situated on the highest inhabited plateau on the island of Gozo became the first one on the island to have a titular statue of Santa Marija. Undoubtedly, the arrival of the statue in Zebbug was a cause of great joy and celebration. The statue came out of the church to be taken around the streets of the village on the shoulders in that very same year of its arrival. It is documented that as the statue came out of the main portal of the church, the hunters of the village organized themselves in two separate rows facing each other and gave a salute with their firing weapons. Later on, Bishop Giovanni M. Camilleri OSA gave the privilege of forty days of indulgences to the faithful who would recite the Hail Holy Queen (Salve Regina) in front of the statue.

Parish priest Dun Gwann Camilleri ended his time as parish priest of Zebbug in October 1865. He was installed as the new parish priest of Xaghra on the 31st of October 1865 where he remained until 1881 when he was transferred to Nadur where he became the new parish priest. While in Xaghra, Camilleri commissioned the statue of the Nativity of Our Lady which serves as the titular statue. When in Nadur, Camilleri commissioned also the titular statue of Sts Peter & Paul which is also brought out annually in procession from the Basilica where it is revered.

Though these significant actions of his, Dun Gwann Camilleri became one the most popular parish priests of the newly-erected diocese of Gozo. His name is also bonded with the development of the history Gozo’s parish titular statues.
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