January 17, 1799: Dun Mikiel Xerri dies. Born Mikael Archangelus Joseph in 1737, he was a Maltese patriot. He was educated at various universities in Europe. He lived under the Knights of St. John and French rule when Napoleon Bonaparte took over the island nation in June 1798. The Knights of Malta had become increasingly oppressive and at first, the locals welcomed the French. Then the French stripped the nobility of their rights and decided to stand against the Maltese church. As churches were being plundered, the tiny nation faced a financial crisis. As most of the cash was drained away, a rebellion began on September 2, 1798.
The locals rose up against the French at their garrison in Notabile. Both islands were in full rebellion when they formed a National Assembly. The French forces retreated to the fortified cities surrounding the harbor while the Maltese asked for help from the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies and Great Britain. A blockade kept food out of the cities and hundreds of people were starving. Inside the fortresses, some risked their lives to help resolve the situation. Among these was Father Mikael Xerri, whose role as leader of a failed plot led to his demise. Their plans for attacks against the French forces in Valletta and in Cottonera were discovered and 49 men were captured, including their leader.
On this day, they were led to Palace Square from Fort Saint Elmo. There was a platoon of French soldiers awaiting their arrival. Father Xerri encouraged his companions on the way from fort to execution site and asked for time at the square to speak with the men. They prayed together and made their peace with God. Xerri gave a silver watch to the official and asked to be shot in the heart. The men were ready and shouted in unison, “May God have pity on us! Long live Malta!” and then they were shot but not all were killed. They were removed from the square and taken to the chapel of Saint Rocco, where they were finished off. They were buried on the side of the church of Saint Publius.
Malta is a small island nation in the Mediterranean Sea, south of Sicily, east of Tunisia, and north of Libya. The entire county covers only 121 square miles and it is the ninth smallest country in the world. It is also one of the most densely populated with nearly a half million people living there. They gained their independence from the UK in 1964. Malta is classified as an advanced economy. In the past, agriculture and shipping were major contributors to the national economy. Today, limestone is one of their major resources. They are dependent on foreign trade for much of their food and have little potable water supply. Malta is currently led by President Marie Louise Coleiro Preca with Prime Minister Joseph Muscat. The capital is at Valletta and Birkirkara is the largest city with about 22,000 people living within the one square mile city limits.
Enjoy yourself, for there is nothing in the world we can call our own. – Maltese proverb
When a miser dies, the heirs feel as happy as when they kill a pig. – Maltese proverb
Money begets money, and fleas beget fleas. – Maltese proverb
At night all women are alike. – Maltese proverb
Also on this day: Heading for the Hills in Minnesota – In 1950, the Great Brinks Robbery took place.
Strong to the Finnich – In 1929, Elzie Crisler Segar’s Popeye first appeared in a comic strip.
Fore – In 1916, the US Professional Golfers’ Association [PGA] was formed.
Our Loss – In 1945, Raoul Wallenberg was arrested.
Bombing Spain – In 1966, The US dropped nuclear missiles on Palomares, Spain.