On a hill just off the Western Highway outside Bacchus Marsh, Victoria, a shrine to Our Lady of "Ta' Pinu" is gradually taking shape, thanks to the efforts of the Maltese community (see front cover of this issue of AD2000).
It presently encompasses a massive cross, stations of the cross (with statues) and a chapel. These can be easily seen as one drives from Melbourne to Ballarat.
The shrine was inspired by the Our Lady Ta' Pinu shrine of Gozo, Malta, one of the most visited sites on the Island of Gozo, especially by Maltese people, although many tourists also visit the Basilica.
The Basilica of Ta' Pinu has a very interesting history.
Surrounded by lush fields, the Basilica stands out since there are no buildings close to it, except for a few one-storey buildings. It dates back to 1920 and is built around a small, barrel-vaulted votive chapel dating back to the 16th century.
The first record of the chapel, then known as "Tal Gentili" can be found in 1534. It was built by the Gentili family and devoted to Our Lady of the Assumption.
The chapel was ordered to be demolished by the Apostolic Visitor, Msgr Pietro Duzina, in 1575 but was spared. According to tradition, when the workman struck the first blow he broke his arm. This fact was taken as an omen that this chapel had to be preserved for future generations.
The name of the future Basilica has its roots in the name of a very religious man who took it upon himself to take care of the chapel. His name was Pillippinu Gauci, or Pinu for short. He restored the chapel and in 1619 ordered the painting of Our Lady Ta' Pinu, representing the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin to Heaven.
By 1654 the chapel had fallen again into disrepair and was once more closed to the public. But Pinu's daughter restored the chapel again and it was re-endowed in 1676. But by 1879 it had once more fallen into disrepair and become derelict.
However, in 1883, the chapel received another reprieve. The story goes that on the morning of 22 June 1883, a middle-aged woman named Carmela Grima heard a voice calling her as she prayed while walking homeward. She happened to be by the deserted chapel at the time. Since she could not see anyone about, she again started on her journey, but once more she heard a voice calling her, "Come, come, because it will be another year before you will be able to return". She decided to enter the chapel and knelt down to pray.
During her prayers she underwent a spiritual experience and again heard the voice telling her, "Recite three 'Hail Marys' in memory of the three days my body lay in the sepulchre".
Carmela recounted her experience to a friend of hers named Francesco Portelli. Subsequently, Francesco revealed that he too had heard a voice in the chapel commanding him to pay devotion to the wounds made in Christ's shoulder while He was carrying the Cross.
It is recorded that Francesco's mother fell desperately ill in 1886. As was the custom in those days, Francesco vowed to light a lamp in the chapel should his mother recover. His mother did recover and Carmela and Francesco saw the recovery as a miracle. This is when they acknowledged their experience to Church authorities.
The word quickly spread around and many things were attributed to the miraculous nature of Our Lady of the Assumption. Numerous acts of grace, such as Gozo's escape from the plague in the following year and escape from serious damage in World War II, together with many miracles of healing, have since been attributed to the intercession of Our Lady of Ta' Pinu.
The image of Our Lady Ta' Pinu was crowned in 1935 by Cardinal Alessio Lepicier after a special Papal Decree of Pope Pius XI; and Pope John Paul II in 1990, after concelebrating Mass at the Shrine, decorated the same image by five golden stars studded with precious stones.
With acknowledgement to Wilfred L. Camilleri.