L-Imnarja - Celebrating One of the Oldest Feasts in Malta
Imnarja was revered even before the Knights of St. John arrived in Malta in 1530. The Maltese name “Imnarja” derives from a pagan festival called luminaria that was celebrated long ago by the Romans.
L-Imnarja is one of the oldest feasts celebrated in the Maltese islands, underlining Malta’s rich cultural identity while depicting its long-standing traditions. Primarily, the Maltese Catholic tradition honours St. Peter and St. Paul, two significant Saints, albeit this feast is now laced with a plethora of different traditions not associated with the aforementioned apostles. On the evening of June 29, Buskett Garden hosts a distinct form of celebration that differs much from the usual “festa” style observance. The liturgical services are held in the Mdina Cathedral. In the late afternoon, several horse and donkey races are held on a country road below close to Mdina. The Palju, which is now up for grabs, was once given by none other than the Grand Master of the Order to the winners of several different racing categories. Today, a traditional banner known as the Palju is utilised as a trophy.
Imnarja was revered even before the Knights of St. John arrived in Malta in 1530. The Maltese name “Imnarja” derives from a pagan festival called luminaria that was celebrated long ago by the Romans. Luminaria (lights) originated from the custom of lighting fires on the roof and bastion walls of the Mdina Cathedral on the night of the solemn feast of St. Peter and St. Paul, who represents the light of the church. Imnarja is referred to as the farmer’s feast since it occurs right after the harvest when farmers would unwind from their arduous labour.
The celebration of Imnarja is also linked to weddings, in which a marriage contract would be drawn out by a notary and the groom would pay the bride’s father a certain amount of money in line with their agreement. Since there weren’t many opportunities for newlyweds to have fun in the past, this arrangement would also obligate the groom to take his future bride to the feasts of St. Gregory, St. John, and Imnarja. The spouse would wear her bridal gown during the feast. The bride would consume a beverage known as ‘ċomnota,” which was a concoction of fragrant herbs pounded in a mortar with honey, a symbol of fertility. A lace handkerchief was also occasionally common. The two families would then exchange priceless goods or garments.
Nowadays, Imnarja is a feast loved by both locals and tourists that flock to Malta every year and experience the sense of community that is derived from this remarkable tradition.