24 January 2022

An Irish-born politician
who is buried on one of
the bastions of Valletta

The grave and monument to Lord Hastings on the walls on Valletta … he was born in Moria, Co Down, and raised in Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

Close to the Osborne Hotel in Valletta, where I was staying last week, the Hastings Gardens are on top of Saint John’s Bastion and Saint Michael’s Bastion, on the west side of the City Gate in the capital of Malta. The gardens offer views of Floriana, Msida, Sliema, and Manoel Island, but their name indicates an interesting connection with an Irish-born general and governor.

Inside the gardens is a monument erected by the Hastings family in honour of Francis Edward Rawdon-Hasting ((1754-1826), 1st Marquis of Hastings, who was a Governor of Malta. Lord Hastings died in 1826 and is buried in the gardens.

Lord Hastings was an Irish-born politician and officer who was Governor-General of India in 1813-1823 and Governor of Malta in 1824-1826. He took the additional surname Hastings in 1790 under the terms of the will of his maternal uncle, Francis Hastings, 10th Earl of Huntingdon.

Hastings was born at Moira, Co Down, on 9 December 1754, the son of John Rawdon, 1st Earl of Moira and Lady Elizabeth Hastings, 13th Baroness Hastings, a daughter of the 9th Earl of Huntingdon. He was baptised in Saint Audoen’s Church, Dublin, on 2 January 1755, and grew up in Moira and in Dublin.

He was educated at Harrow and Oxford, and joined the British army in 7 August 1771. He had was in the British forces for many years during the American War of Independence and fought at the Battles of Lexington and Concord and at the Battle of Bunker Hill. Rawdon was sent to Philadelphia with dispatches and returned to New York for the winter, where he raised a regiment, called the Volunteers of Ireland, recruited from deserters and Irish Loyalists.

He resigned as adjutant general in 1779, but served with the Volunteers of Ireland during the raid on Staten Island in January 1780. His most noted achievement was the victory in 1781 at the Battle of Hobkirk’s Hill. He gave up his command in 1781. On the return, he was captured at sea by Fran├žois Joseph Paul de Grasse, but was exchanged.

Rawdon sat as MP for Randalstown, Co Antrim, in the Irish House of Commons from 1781 until 1783. King George III made him an English peer in 1783 with the title of Baron Rawdon.

When his mother succeeded to the Barony of Hastings in 1789, Rawdon added the surname of Hastings to his own. He inherited Donington Hall, Leicestershire, from his uncle, and rebuilt it in 1790-1793 in the Gothic style; the architect was William Wilkins the Elder.

The monument to Lord Hastings in the Hastings Gardens in Valletta (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

He succeeded his father as 2nd Earl of Moira in 1793, and after that sat first in the Irish House of Lords and then, from 1801, in the British House of Lords.

It was rumoured briefly in 1797 that Rawdon would replace William Pitt as Prime Minister. In the Irish Parliament, Rawdon associated on most questions with the Patriot party of Henry Grattan and Lord Charlemont. In an eve-of-the-Rebellion speech in the Lords on 19 February 1798 he appealed for parliamentary reform and Catholic Emancipation, and denounced the government's policy of coercion.

Hastings presented evidence of the atrocities and tortures visited upon Irish people by Crown forces as they sought to break-up and disarm the United Irishmen who were organising the 1798 Rising. At one point, he was described by Wolfe Tone as ‘The Irish Lafayette.’ He was also the patron of the poet Thomas Moore, who regularly visited Donington Hall.

Rawdon strenuously opposed the government in the wake of the United Irish risings in 1798, and voted against the Act of Union.

As Lord Moira, he entered government in 1806 as Master-General of the Ordnance. However, he resigned the next year.

Lord Moira was appointed Governor-General of the Presidency of Fort William, effectively the Governor-General of India, in 1812 and remained in office until 1821. He was given the title of Marquess of Hastings in 1816, with the additional titles Earl of Rawdon and Viscount Loudoun.

Lord Hastings became increasingly estranged from the East India Company and resigned in 1821, although he did not leave India until early 1823. He was appointed Governor of Malta in 1824 but he died at sea off Naples two years later on 28 November 1826 on board the HMS Revenge, while trying to return home with his wife, Lady Flora.

Lady Hastings returned his body to Malta, and following his earlier directions, cut off his right hand and preserved it, to be buried with her when she died. His body was then buried in a large marble sarcophagus in Hastings Gardens in Valletta. His hand was eventually buried, clasped with hers, in the family vault at Loudoun Kirk.

It is also a Maltese legend that the Hastings Gardens in Valletta took only four hours to be built. Adriano DeVina is the only known architect of the gardens.

Sunset seen from the Hastings Gardens in Valletta last week (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

With the Saints through Christmas (30):
24 January 2022, Saint Wistin

Saint Wistin’s Church, Valletta … designed for the Augustinians by Girolamo Cassar, the architect and resident engineer of the Order of Saint John (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

I was in Valetta last week, where it seems as though every street – or every second street – inside the walls of the capital of Malta, is named after a saint. I have recorded a school assembly talk for this morning, but I am in Dublin today for a dental appointment and I have meetings later in the day of a number of Church committees involved in interfaith and ecumenical work.

However, before a busy day begins, I am taking some time early this morning for prayer, reflection and reading.

I have been continuing my Prayer Diary on my blog each morning, reflecting in these ways:

1, Reflections on a saint remembered in the calendars of the Church during the Season of Christmas, which continues until Candlemas or the Feast of the Presentation (2 February);

2, the day’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

This week, I am continuing to reflect on saints and their association with prominent churches or notable street names in Malta, which I visited last week. This morning (24 January 2022), I am looking at the saint behind the name of Saint Wistin’s Church in Valletta.

Saint Wistin is not some Anglo-Saxon or northern European saint, as I first imagined. Instead, Saint Wistin is the Maltese name for Saint Augustine of Hippo, and he gives his name to Saint Wistin’s Church (il-Knisja ta’ Santu Wistin), a new church built for the Augustinians at the creation of the new city of Valletta in the 16th century.

The foundation stone of the church was laid in 1571 and the church was designed by Girolamo Cassar (ca 1520-ca1592), the architect and resident engineer of the Order of Saint John or the Knights of Malta. Saint Augustine Hall, beside the church, is part of Cassar’s original plan.

Cassar was admitted into the Order of Saint John in 1569. He was involved in building Valletta, initially as an assistant to Francesco Laparelli, before taking over the project himself. He designed many public, religious and private buildings in the new capital city, including Saint John’s Co-Cathedral, the Grandmaster’s Palace and the auberges. His son, Vittorio Cassar, was also an architect and engineer.

The church was rebuilt in 1765 to plans by Giuseppe Bonici. The present church was consecrated by Giovanni Maria Camilleri on 1 July 1906.

Artefacts from the first church that can be seen today include a 16th-century painting of the Augustinian Saint Nicholas of Tolentino by Mattia Preti.

In the first chapel on the left is a painting of Saint John of Sahagun (ca 1430-1479), a Spanish-born Augustinian saint. This painting is from the school of Mattia Preti and some of its figures are also depicted on the ceiling of Saint John’s Co-Cathedral nearby in Valletta.

Beneath this painting is a small painting of Our Lady of Grace, undated and unsigned, also from the first church.

The church is also known for its statue of Saint Rita. Her feast is celebrated in May with a procession with her statue through the streets of Valletta.

Saint Wistin’s Church became a parish church in 1968, and it is listed on the National Inventory of the Cultural Property of the Maltese Islands.

Inside the dome in Saint Wistin’s Church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Mark 3: 22-30 (NRSVA):

22 And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, ‘He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.’ 23 And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, ‘How can Satan cast out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. 26 And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. 27 But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.

28 ‘Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; 29but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin’— 30for they had said, ‘He has an unclean spirit.’

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (24 January 2022, International Day of Education) invites us to pray:

Let us pray for teachers, professors and all those involved in educating children and young adults. May we care for them as they care for those they are educating.

Yesterday: Saint Andrew

Tomorrow: Saint Paul

Inside Saint Wistin’s Church in Valletta (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

The statue of Saint Augustine in Saint Wistin’s Church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)