GIUSEPPE DE PIRO
Founder of the Missionary Society of Saint Paul
Monica De Piro Nelson
MISSIONARY SOCIETY OF ST. PAUL
This biography was published by the Author in Maltese in two
volumes (1982 and 1985).
Vol. I: MONS GUZEPPI DE PIRO. Fundatur tas-Socjeta
Missjunarja ta’ San Pawl;
Vol. II: skull Qasam ta’ l-Istorja ta’ Malta.
© Missionary Society of St. Paul, 1988
Printed by P.E.G. Ltd, Marsa
To the members of the
Missionary Society of St. Paul
I dedicate this “BIOGRAPHY” with the hope
that their Holy Founder
Mgr. Giuseppe De Piro
will serve as an inspiration and a model
for their lives which they have consecrated to God
also that their love for Him will bring them closer to others
and in His light and only in that
they will build a better world
every time they preach the Christian Faith
help those who are in need
and enrich the minds and hearts
of those entrusted to them.
Giuseppe De Piro was an extraordinary personality and yet at the same time always a very simple and unassuming man, totally and passionately dedicated to his priestly vocation and to the apostolate he carried out throughout his priestly life. He was born rich and noble and yet he lived a life of detachment from wealth and the comforts that it can provide. He immersed himself fully in the various high ecclesiastical offices to which he was appointed in the diocese without ever neglecting the hundreds of orphaned boys and girls. He was a father to the small band of members he recruited around him as the first nucleus of a new religious institute dedicated to missionary work. His charitable heart was open to all, high and low, but in it there was more than a soft spot for the underprivileged. He wanted to share their lot not out of mere human solidarity but in order to imitate his Lord and Master. That was one of the resolutions he set for himself prior to his priestly ordination and that was precisely the kind of life he actually lived.
The first part of the book traces the various stages in the life of Giuseppe De Piro as well as the gradual development of the missionary society he was inspired to found while he was still studying theology. The second part explores the main areas of work to which Giuseppe De Piro had dedicated himself and his involvement in them. The reader will not fail to perceive how this extraordinary Maltese priest, who was so committed with the needy, was also a radiant example of a man who loved and served both his country and his Church. He was also particularly devoted to the idea that the Maltese Islands, evangelized by the Apostle Paul himself, had to share with others the gift of Faith which they had received in apostolic times. For him the founding of a missionary congregation was the concrete way in which Malta could do this. His idea still lives on today in the members of his Society who besides working on the Maltese Islands have now extended their apostolic activities to Australia, Canada, U.S.A., Peru and Pakistan.
The author of this biography is the Maltese church historian, Fr. Alexander Bonnici O.F.M. Conv., H.E.D., S. Th.L., Ph.B. I had the privilege to be in close contact with him over the years during which he was researching and writing this book. He once confided to me that he feels it is his mission in life to leave to posterity documented and scientifically researched accounts of important events in the life of the Church. He has in fact published other major biographies of important figures in recent Maltese church history and a number of monographs on some towns and villages in Malta and Gozo. I always admire his great determination and the enthusiasm with which he approaches the subject he is studying. Our missionary Society owes Fr. Bonnici a great debt of gratitude.
The publication of this biography in English is due to the selfless and generous work of its translator, the Noble Monica De Piro Nelson, and to Mother Marie De Piro, former Superior General of the Sisters of St. Dorothy, who first suggested to her the undertaking of this task and later was always a close collaborator. Both of them are nieces of Mgr. De Piro and both knew him personally. On reading their uncle’s biography in the Maltese original, so captivated were they by it that they felt it should be made available to the much wider readership of the English speaking world. Their total involvement in the translation of this book has been solely motivated from the beginning right to the very end by a spirit of great affection, love and admiration for their uncle. With similar dedication and love Mgr. De Piro’s great niece, Mary De Piro, herself an accomplished artist, has painted the cover of the book.
Miss Vivienne Abela, Mr. John Vella and Mr. Winston Zammit have contributed in different ways to the final preparation of the text for printing.
The story that is recounted in this Biography is the account of a response to the universal call to holiness. May it serve as a stimulus to many so that others too may be equally docile to the stirrings of the Spirit and live their baptismal consecration to the full in whatever direction the Lord may be calling them.
St. Agatha’s, Rabat, Malta
Fr. JAMES BONELLO MSSP
25 January 1987
I have no doubt that the Biography of Mgr. De Piro is one of the most important books I have written during the past twenty years I have spent on historical research.
Mgr. De Piro was the founder of the Missionary Society of St. Paul. In 1978, Fr. Stanley Tomlin, then Superior General of the Society, asked me to start work on this Biography. The first volume was published on 20 May 1982 when the General Chapter of De Piro’s Society was due. The new Superior General, Fr. James Bonello, always encouraged me to keep on working on the book. The most difficult part still remained to be done. The first volume dealt with Mgr. De Piro as founder of a Society. The second volume would be more of an in-depth study of all his works and it was finally published on 9 May 1985.
In spite of the difficulties involved, Mgr. De Piro himself was a big help to me. He was very well organised and kept many of his own writings which, fortunately, I could have access to. While working on the second volume, I could see still more clearly what an exceptional person Mgr. De Piro really was. He was a great benefactor of Maltese society in his own way. He looked at the whole person and always kept in mind that man’s needs are not only spiritual, but also temporal. His charity was directed whole-heartedly, as far as his means allowed, to the material and spiritual needs of all, young and old. He also looked beyond the horizons of his little island home. He was always thinking and planning how he could send the members of the Society he founded to other countries, but this was not enough for him. Towards the end of his life, he was making his own plans to go to Somalia so that he could make preparations for the missionary apostolate on the spot.
I was really happy to hear that the Noble Monica De Piro Nelson, Mgr. De Piro’s niece, wanted to translate my work into English. It was a mammoth undertaking. My only fear was that
something would happen before her work was completed. However, thank God, it is now finished, and through her translation the people of other nations will be able to get to know the outstanding personality and character of Mgr. De Piro.
There is no difference between the Maltese and English editions. The only difference is that the English edition is in one volume, not two. The two parts of the English edition correspond to the two volumes of the Maltese edition.
The writing of this biography involved consultation of many documents. Many of these belonged to Mgr. De Piro himself or to his noble family. Today these documents are kept in the Archives of the Missionary Society of St. Paul.
In researching the first part of this biography, besides the great quantity of letters, I consulted also the most important documents of the Society he founded. These very important writings present Mgr. De Piro clearly to us in his role as Founder of a Society. The second part of this biography was based on documents of a different nature. There is a great quantity of writings connected with every work Mgr. De Piro undertook. Apart from this, as Mgr. De Piro held important positions in the diocese of Malta and had some links with the diocese of Gozo, the archives of these two dioceses and those of some Roman Congregations were also important for our purposes. As Mgr. De Piro was also a member of the Malta Senate and figured in events of national importance, as for example the drafting of the first Constitution of Malta, Acts of Parliament and other State archives were also consulted.
I am sure that this publication in English will be very useful and prove that even the tiny island of Malta has produced great men, great benefactors of the needy, men who are a great honour to the Universal Church.
Today, Mgr. De Piro’s great work is being continued by the Missionary Society of St. Paul in different parts of the world, as he himself wished. I would like to extend my own thanks to this Society, too. For one thing, I considered it a big personal honour when I was asked to research the life and write the biography of this great man. The work itself gave me spiritual uplift as I saw in Mgr. De Piro a true model for the Christian priest: a man who for the love of Christ, dedicates his life to the service of other people. The Missionary Society of St. Paul always co-operated with me fully. Otherwise, it would not have been possible for me to finish my work when I encountered many difficulties, created mainly by the sheer quantity of responsibilities undertaken by Mgr. De Piro.
Finally, I confess that I found Mgr. De Piro’s personality truly fascinating because his heroic practice of the virtues proves that he is no less in stature than the saints the Church has put before us for our veneration.
25 January 1988
Fr. Alexander Bonnici O.F.M. Conv.
An inward urge has led me to attempt writing an English version of Uncle Giuseppe’s Life, which I now offer to relatives and friends as a modest tribute to his memory.
When the first volume of his Life – written so admirably by Father Alexander Bonnici, OFM Conv. appeared – I felt prompted to ask for an interview with the Author and Father James Bonello, the present Superior General of the Missionary Society of St. Paul, founded by Uncle Giuseppe. We met, and permission for using the original Life for translation into English was cordially granted. Trusting on help from Uncle himself in heaven, I sat down to the task – for me arduous indeed – for it was the first time I was attempting to write a Biography.
As a child, I had looked up to Uncle Giuseppe with a sense of awe, which as I grew up was transformed into deep admiration, and now, after years, I was hoping to give tangible proof of my lasting esteem and affection.
I remembered those, who from childhood had shared my sentiments, and many more dear ones of the succeeding generations who, away from Malta, have often heard their elders speak of a ‘great-uncle’, whom they know only by name. ‘His life’, I thought, ‘will help them to know him better, and will lead them to appreciate, as we do, his goodness. They will perhaps discover through his words, deeds and his unassuming approach to all he met, the hidden magnanimity of the holy man he was’.
My reflections did not stop here; I was sure that future members of the Missionary Society of St. Paul – who might not be familiar with Maltese – would find inspiration in learning more about their Father and Founder. Then my thoughts turned to friends and other readers abroad, interested in Malta, who might enjoy reading the Life of a benefactor of our Island. So when I felt discouraged because my task seemed never ending, and difficulties of translation beset me, these considerations stimulated me to persevere till my work had been completed.
As I turned over page after page of the Life in Maltese, how I have admired Father Bonnici in his painstaking research in writing a Life so accurately documented and enriched with a wealth of foot-notes, indicating the sources of his consultations. Letters, interviews with relatives and various witnesses, investigation of documents preserved in Archives in Malta and Italy, are constantly referred to; he has left no stone unturned in order to give precise details of the life of Uncle, the people and the Institutes associated with his apostolic endeavours in our Island. The two original Volumes offer interesting data and many illustrations.
I have followed carefully the Chapters and Sections of each, modifying very few of the original headings and contents, omitting here and there Sections which I have abbreviated. However, mention has been made of every event and circumstance which shed light on the very full life of Mgr. Giuseppe De Piro. (Reference to bibliographical sources and data may be always found and verified by recourse to the original Volumes, which I have tried to condense into one – with a Part I and a Part II – relying on the understanding and assent of Father Bonnici.)
I have made an effort to adopt simple, readable English, with no literary pretension, in the hope that future readers will follow step by step a life fraught with trials and difficulties – but spent entirely for God in joyful expectation, and with Him in total dedication to others.
My heartfelt thanks go first of all to Father Alexander Bonnici O.F.M. Conv., without whose authorship I would not have had at hand so many details of Uncle Giuseppe’s life and work. I also feel gratefully indebted to all those who have so kindly offered their help and advice, and I ask God to reward them as He knows best.
May every heavenly blessing accompany this Biography of a humble and great servant of God, who sought to follow his Master faithfully, wherever he was called. May we, on our earthly pilgrimage, be inspired by his ardent love for Christ and his magnanimous dedication to others.
‘1f a man serves me, he must follow me.
Wherever I am, my servant will be there too.
If anyone serves me, my Father will honour him.’
Monica De Piro Nelson
2nd November, 1987
110th Anniversary of the
birth of Monsignor Giuseppe De Piro
|A.A.M.||Archiepiscopal Archives (Floriana) Malta.|
|A.C.C.M.||Archivum Capituli Cathedralis Melitensis.|
|A.C.M.||Archivum Cathedrale Melitense.|
|Archivum Congregationis Propagandae Fidei.|
Acta Capitularum Provincialium, Congregationum intermediarum et Definitorium Provincialium.
|A.E.G.||Archiwm Episcopale Gaudisiense.|
|A. K. F. Q. G.||Archives of the Franciscan Congregation of the Heart of Jesus.|
Archives of the Congregation of the Missionary Sisters of Jesus of Nazareth.
Archives (central) of the Missionary Society of St. Paul (St. Agatha, Rabat-Malta).
|A.N.V.||Notary Archives, Valletta.|
|A.P.C.M.||Archiwm Parrocciale Cathedralis Melitensis.|
|A.P.S.A.V.||Archivum Provinciale S. Awgustini, Vallettae.|
|A.P.S.M.P.S.V.||Archivio Parrocchiale S. Maria del Porto Salvo, Valletta.|
|Arch.||Archivum (Archives of the Order of St. John).|
|A.S.V.||Archivum Secretum, Vaticanum|
|Atti del Consiglio||Atti del Consiglio del Padre Preposto della Compagnia di S. Paolo.|
|Bibl. Lin||Biblioteca dei Lincei (Roma).|
|Bibl. Vat.c.||Biblioteca Vaticana.|
|Borgia Lat.||(Fondo) Borgia Latino.|
|Cong.||Congregatio (Council meeting).|
|C.F.C.J.||Congregatio Filiarum Cordis Jesu.|
|D.P. (J)P.A.||De Piro (Baron Jerome) Private Archives.|
|K.K.M.||Klabb Kotba Maltin.|
|L.A.B.||Lyceum Admission Book (Hamrun).|
|M.S.S.P.||Missionalis Societas Sancti Paoli.|
|N.A. V.||Notaries' Archives, Valletta.|
|N.L.M.||National Library of Malta.|
|Not.||Notice or Notary.|
|P.A.V.||Palace Archives, Valletta.|
|Publ. Reg. Vall.||Public Registry, Valletta.|
|R.U.H.||Religjon u Hajja.|
|Sac. Cong. Conc.||Sacra Congregatio Concilii.|
|Sec. S. Cong. Relig.||Secreteria S. Congregationis Religiosorum.|
|Sem. Arch.||Archbishop's Seminary.|
|S.S.P.||Societas Sancti Pauli.|
The De Piro family, with its nobility and wealth, had never any reason to envy other families. By learning something about the origin of the family and how closely involved its members were with the early events of the land of our birth, we shall be better able to understand the life and background of Mgr. De Piro.
With pride I admire the high bastions that surround our cities, and while walking through the narrow streets of Mdina, impressed by the palaces and houses where the noble families lived in the past and continue to do so in the present, I picture to myself a glorious history. Historical events fill my mind and heart whenever I visit artistic and magnificent temples, as also when I stroll among the ruins of antiquity or enter silent abandoned chapels in our Maltese countryside.
Just as the bastions, streets, palaces and churches are strong bonds with our cultural and historical heritage, so also, it must be admitted that the nobility, until a short time ago, were closely associated with the glorious days of our history as also with the dark days of our Islands.
We must go back several hundred years, when the Arab rule came to an end and Malta became part of the Kingdom of Sicily. Against the wish of our ancestors, who realised they were being abused, European Powers from time to time gave our Islands to foreign nobility. However, as time passed, particular areas in our Islands became the heritage of Maltese families, on condition that they rendered military service to the King or leased land to people paying a yearly tribute. When a King desired to show his gratitude to someone, lands were granted with the right to bequeath them to relatives.1
On the outskirts of Rabat, between Ghajn il-Klieb and Wied 1-Eghmieri, there is a locality named Il-Fiddien, denoting the first Feudal grant made in the Islands of Malta. In the year 1287, the King of Spain desired these lands to be owned by the Santa Sofia family. Accompanying the grant of these lands, there was no indication of the bestowal of a title. 63 years later, on the 4th January 1350, Cicco Gatto became the first Baron of Djar il-Bniet. Ludovico, in his vesture as King of Sicily and Malta, issued the decree at Messina. He desired to show appreciation to Gatto for having repressed the uprising of the Gozitans against the Aragonese; by doing so, Gatto had showed himself a worthy subject of the Kingdom of Spain.2
For centuries the Nobility had a certain significance. All holders of granted lands enjoyed titles and became wealthy, holding important positions and being exempted from certain laws affecting the general public. When Malta had the Popular Council, the Nobility had the right to be members, without being elected by the people.3
The origin of the De Piro family is lost in history. It was during the Great Siege of 1565 that the surname ‘De Piro’ appears for the first time. From then on, the De Piro name became more frequent, without ever becoming a common surname. Until our times, this name has been written in various ways, which we think may shed light on the origin of the family: de Pyrrho, de Piro, DePiro, and Depiro. The last two give us no clue at all and must be considered incorrect.
Not so long ago, the Baron Giuseppe thought the family originated from Greece, explaining D’Epiro from Ipiros, in Greece.4 The supposition was derived from the fact that one of the first members of the family had intermarried with families from Greece and Rhodes.
Family traditions certainly show that the name should be written De Piro. This form, more than any other, strengthens the theory of certain connections with Tuscany and probably with Spain.5
Leaving aside the link with Greece, we find more reliable documents and events pointing to Tuscany. Two noble families bearing the surname De Piro lived in Pisa. The De Piro family of Malta owned property in that city till the time of the French Revolution. Some family documents show that in the 16th century some ancestors fled from Florence because of the persecution at the time of the De Medicis, and came to Malta.6
In the family it is thought that the surname might have originated in Spain, and this may be possible, but still there remains a close link with Tuscany. The family may have had its origin in Spain and later, during the time of Emperor Charles V, when so many Spanish families fled from Spain and sought refuge in Northern Italy, the De Piro family might well have been one of them. A certain link with Spain undoubtedly existed when the De Piro family reached Malta, and its members began to form part of the Maltese community.7
The first name in the De Piro family is the very Tuscan name of Cosimo, who came to Malta just before the Great Siege. He was a banker, a wealthy man of business. He did not wish to return to his country, because Tuscany was then going through a very unsettled time. In Malta he married Gerolama La Mattina, a well-to-do woman. He had two sons, Carlo and Paolo. Paolo De Piro, in his second marriage, became father of Lorenzo Ubaldesco, who made a name for himself and opened up a new era for the family. However, some details concerning his youth have not come down to us.8
We know that Lorenzo Ubaldesco had a rather disorderly life to start with. He married Cornelia Cauchi after she had given him a son out of wedlock, named Giovanni Pio. Lorenzo Ubaldesco was always faced with anxieties, but he knew how to slip out of them. He carried on an adventurous life until after he was widowed, when he received Holy Orders, becoming the Conventual Chaplain of the Order of St. John. In time he was chosen and appointed Archdeacon of the Cathedral of Malta.
Lorenzo Ubaldesco was a learned man, with a degree in Civil and Ecclesiastical Law, but during his term of once as Archdeacon, he was at loggerheads with the Canons of the Cathedral. It was also during his time that a great friendship was established between the De Piro family and the Grand Master of the Order of St. John.9
The old De Piro coat-of-arms is as follows: a blue background, two golden lions rampant by a pear tree, of natural colour with green leaves. In the centre of the green tree there are three pears in gold, two above and one lower down, in the shape of a triangle; just above the tree, close to one another, are three stars.
In the centre of the coat-of-arms, the tree has a resemblance to the word ‘pero’, meaning ‘pear’. There is also the resemblance to the Grand Master’s name – Perellos – who had granted the title of ‘noble’ to Lorenzo Ubaldesco’s son. The great friendship between Lorenzo Ubaldesco and Perellos and the resemblance between their surnames generated the idea that there was a distant relationship. As a sign of deep friendship, Perellos wished the De Piro coat-of-arms to add three golden pears, as in his own coat-of-arms. As these were an addition, they do not always appear in the De Piro coat-of-arms.10
Lorenzo Ubaldesco had an only son, whose name has remained alive in the history of Malta. He had many good qualities: he was a lawyer who inspired confidence. He was respected and esteemed by Grand Master Perellos, who entrusted him with delicate secret missions. Shortly after obtaining his degree in Law, Giovanni Pio married Anna Antonia Gourgion on 8th November, 1653. Anna Antonia was of noble birth, a native of the island of Rhodes. Giovanni Pio and his heirs inherited her property and this is a reason why a branch of the De Piro family bears the surname of De Piro Gourgion.11 When Anna Antonia Gourgion married, she was given in dowry the Gourgion Tower and lands in the area of Xewkija, Gozo.12
Budaq is an estate of land in Malta rising uphill from Salini to Naxxar, and precisely near the beginning of the hill known as ‘Ta’ Alla u Ommu’.13
The Barony of Budaq had already an indirect connection with the De Piro family. Cornelia Cauchi, wife of Lorenzo Ubaldesco De Piro, was related to Fra Silvestro Fiteni, Knight Commander of the Order of St. John, who, although he had taken the vow of celibacy, married Genoveffa Passalacqua, to whom Grand Master Lascaris had already granted the title of Baroness of Budaq. Fiteni’s marriage to Genoveffa was annulled, but the Barony remained his.
It appears that Fiteni was related to Cornelia Cauchi, wife of Lorenzo Ubaldesco, and mother of Giovanni Pio. On Fiteni’s death, Grand Master Perellos lost no time to show his esteem for Giovanni Pio, Cornelia’s son.14
At the beginning of the 17th century, Grand Master Perellos wanted to increase his power. He chose several Maltese families connected with the Order and granted them titles of nobility. In the year 1710, the Grand Master conferred the title of Baron and Baroness of Gomerino on Paolo Testaferrata and his wife, Beatrice Cassia. This was the first title of nobility granted by Perellos. Later, the second title of nobility was bestowed by Perellos on Giovanni Pio De Piro. Noteworthy are the circumstances accompanying this grant.
Chevalier Fiteni had died shortly before, and the title he held as Baron of Budaq went back again to the Grand Master who had the right to confer it on whomever he wished. By a special magisterial decree of 23rd April 1716,15 Grand Master Perellos bestowed the title on Giovanni Pio De Piro. It appears that by bearing the title that originally belonged to a Knight, De Piro automatically was raised to the dignity of knighthood in the Order of St. John.16
According to the letter patent conferring the Barony, Giovanni Pio De Piro was a man of many merits: he was a lawyer and well read. Grand Master Perellos praised him for the services rendered to the Order of St. John and to the Popular Council of the Universita, and Perellos hoped he would continue to offer his services for the good of these Islands.
The Barony was granted to Giovanni Pio De Piro with the right to nominate his legitimate successor, that is either a son or a daughter. Failing his children, the Barony was to be inherited by the nearest direct male relative, excluding any member of the priesthood or of a religious order. Failing a direct male successor, the next direct female nominated would inherit the title.
The Grand Master laid down a condition, as a sign of gratitude, on Giovanni Pio De Piro and his successors, namely a yearly gift on the feast of St. Barbara, the 4th December, consisting of two muskets in good condition, to be donated to the Grand Master Perellos and his legitimate successors.17
Although the De Piro family enjoys the Barony of Budaq, there is not, however, any property attached to it in that neighbourhood. 18
Baron De Piro remained in business even after receiving the title. Italian merchants who traded with these Islands often made agreements with Baron De Piro, as he owned galleys. These were often used to transport slaves, but in no circumstances whatever did he take part in this trade.19
The family intermarried with members of other noble families. Eugenia De Piro, daughter of the first Baron of Budaq, married in 1729 the Sicilian Baron Ferdinand De Ribera.20
Perellos, the Grand Master who had raised the De Piro family to nobility, remained attached to them, and in the year 1718 he wrote to Rome, asking for a pension to be granted to the Canon, Baron Giovanni Pio’s son.21
The sons of Baron De Piro were keen on holding offices of dignity in the service of the Church,22 and the most sought after by the nobility was that of ‘Secreto’. At that time, few offices of importance were extended to Maltese persons, and the above was the most important.23 The office of ‘Secreto’ carried great responsibility, because the holder could sell, rent, or transfer property belonging to the Order of St. John to the highest bidder. He was also in charge of collecting taxes imposed on the Maltese by the Knights, and all debts due to them.24
Only when the De Piro Family had received the Barony was the office of ‘Secreto’ given to Baron Giovanni Pio by Grand Master Zondadari, between the years 1720 – 1722. A few years later the same office was entrusted to the Baroncino Antonio Felicissimo De Piro, between the years 1736 – 1741, by Grand Master Despuig.25
During the times of the first Baron, the De Piro family had special ties with the Kingdom of Spain. We cannot confirm how sound the theory of the Spanish origin of the Family may be, but it is a fact that Giovanni Pio gave his services to King Philip V of Spain.
Among the many offices he held was that of ‘Secreto’ for the town of Syracuse, which was equivalent to his being Governor of that town. Many legends reveal his power and his ability. It is handed down by tradition that he had convinced his enemies to make a substantial donation of wheat to relieve a famine in Malta. However, the wheat would have been provided on condition that the Maltese would rise in rebellion against the King of Spain. The Baron did not accept this condition, and his loyalty on this and other occasions was rewarded by Philip V. King Philip V conferred on Giovanni Pio De Piro the title of Marquis and placed him among the feudal owners of the Spanish Kingdom, enjoying special rights, privileges and wealth.26
Nevertheless, the title of Marquis created problems, for previously the bearer should have been a Viscount. However, a solution was found. To comply with the necessary formalities, Giovanni Pio De Piro was appointed Viscount of Cartely, and on 6th November 1742, by the hand of King Philip V of Spain, a decree was issued whereby Giovanni Pio De Piro became Marquis de Piro, and thereupon ceased to be Viscount of Cartely.27
The title of Marquis conferred honours and privileges on the De Piro family. It was also hereditary. The nobles paid for the privileges they enjoyed, and the Chancellery expenses were heavy. Giovanni Pio De Piro was asked to pay 572,500 ‘maravedi di vellon’ to become Marquis.28 This was a large sum, the equivalent of over 1,400 ‘scudi’ of those times. We must remember that the Inquisitors earned only 120 ‘scudi’ a month.29 Every time the title was inherited, the same sum had to be paid.30 The Marquisate was officially recognised by Grand Master Pinto and was registered in the Chancellery on 8th October 1745.31
Instead of being called Marquis de Piro, Giovanni Pio De Piro and his successors were simply known as 'Markis ta’ Castilla’.
Both titles, Baron and Marquis, carried a motto below the coat-of-arms. That pertaining to the Barony of Budaq, ‘GENS HOSPITA REGUM’ means ‘People offer hospitality to Kings’, and that of title of Marquis de Piro, ‘VIGOR ET LABOR' means 'Vigour and Labour’. However, this last motto had been changed by the time Mgr. De Piro was born in the year 1877. The motto of the Marquis was then: ‘NON NISI PER ARDUA’ meaning ‘Effort achieves Success’.32
Notwithstanding the fact that the nobility of Malta came originally from foreign lands, with the lapse of time they became true Maltese: their children and descendants were born in Malta, and they had a beneficial influence on the life of these Islands. With good reason they felt that they were more genuinely Maltese than the Knights of St. John. Both those who were here before the Knights, as well as those to whom titles were given by Kings of Europe or by the Order itself, strove for pre-eminence. They were given certain offices by the Knights, but they felt that these were inferior to their aspirations. The De Piro’s and other noble families were esteemed by the Order, although in reality little more than advice was requested from them. Within the Popular Council the same conditions prevailed: the representatives of the people had no real say in matters discussed. The nobles resented this situation and they were determined to make their voice heard by the authorities concerned, and by the poor, illiterate population of Malta and Gozo.33
Towards the end of the Order’s rule in Malta, the De Piro family increased its wealth. The extensive garden in Lija belonging to the family was larger than San Anton, the garden of the Grand Master in the limits of Attard. Today this garden does not exist any more, for it was requisitioned by the Government. Public roads facing the parish church of Lija cut through the property.34
Towards the end of their rule, the Knights felt harassed by the nobles, who sought to improve their status. It was not until 1775 – 1797, when Grand Master De Rohan came to Malta, that the nobles were entrusted with responsible offices in the Island. However, then it was too late, for the days of the Order’s rule over the Islands were numbered.35
Giovanni Pio De Piro carried both titles until his death in the year 1752: he held the title of Baron for 36 years and that of Marquis for 10 years. His son, Antonio Felicissimo, did not succeed him, for he died before his father; but Antonio Felicissimo’s son, Vincenzo in 1572 became the second Baron of Budaq and the second Marquis of Castilla until his death in 1799, during the French occupation.
Baron Marquis Vincenzo De Piro became a leader of the Maltese during the short time the French occupied the Island. The Maltese were most dissatisfied and four noblemen, on their own initiative and in the name of the people, began a movement to rid the Island of the French. Among these were: Baron Marquis Vincenzo De Piro, Count Vincenzo Manduca, and Count Ferdinand Theuma Castelletti.
At that time, England had extended her empire across the oceans, and the Maltese hoped to obtain help from her. A letter was sent to Admiral Nelson, informing him of the French occupation, and at the same time asking England’s help to free the Maltese Islands from the French.36
It was Vincenzo De Piro’s wish that the two titles be separated, and not held by the same person. The Decree of the Barony conferred the right on the legitimate holder of the title to nominate his successor. Vincenzo De Piro nominated his eldest son Antonio, who became the third Baron of Budaq.37
Vincenzo De Piro wished to bestow the title of Marquis on his younger son, Giuseppe, but he was not free to nominate his successor to this title. The eldest son inheriting the title after his father’s death should have paid the expense due to the Chancellery and the tax established by the Kingdom of Spain. Antonio did not apply for the title. Therefore, the right passed on to Giuseppe, who became the third Marquis of Castilla. The branch of the family carrying the title of Marquis bore the surname of De Piro Gourgion. Anna Antonia Gourgion was the third Marquis’ great grandmother.38
Marquis Giuseppe De Piro Gourgion (great grandfather of Mgr. De Piro) enjoyed the trust of the first English Governors of Malta and he was the Colonel Commandant, Royal Malta Fencible Regiment.39 Only a few years later, Mgr. Giuseppe De Piro would be born, and we may note that, at the death of the third Marquis, the direct line of succession to the Marquisate of Castilla comes to an end, exactly twenty five years before the birth of the Founder of the Missionary Society of St. Paul.
It was during the first years of British occupation that our forefathers initiated the first national movements. The people of Malta, who had never been given the recognition they deserved, began to feel that they should be taken more into consideration, and the English suspected there might be serious unrest. As the Maltese nobility were highly trusted by the people, the Governor, Sir Frederick Ponsonby, in 1833 knighted eleven Maltese, among whom only two did not come from the nobility. Among the nine nobles was Giuseppe Maria De Piro, who from 1806 was the fourth Baron of Budaq. At the time, both the Baron of Budaq and the Marquis de Piro were named Giuseppe. The Baron was the Marquis’ nephew and also cousin of Carmelo De Piro, grandfather of the future Mgr. De Piro.40
The first attack against the nobles of Malta came at that time in the form of an anonymous letter. Baron De Piro had published a book about the scourge of the plague that had afflicted Malta during the years 1813, 181441 and had dedicated the book to the Governor of Malta, Frederick Cavendish Ponsonby. An anonymous Maltese writer severely criticised the dedication, saying the Baron had wanted to curry favour with the Governor. He went on to accuse the nobility of not caring for the people but of thinking only of themselves. He charged that they had bought titles, which carried with them wealth and privileges.42
Sir Giuseppe Maria De Piro, the Baron who was attacked because of his friendship with the English, also had other problems to face. In the year 1842 he married Antonia Moscati-Gatto, Baroness of Benwarrad, and had no issue. In the year 1870 he nominated as his successor to the title of Baron of Budaq, his sister, Francesca De Piro, who thus became the fifth Baroness of Budaq.43 She was not married and when later she decided on her successor, she nominated in the year 1877 Mgr. Dun Salv Grech Delicata, brother of the second Bishop of Gozo, who accepted the title. Had her plan materialised, a De Piro might have lost the title of Baron, for Monsignor, being only a distant relative of the family, was under no obligation to choose a De Piro as his successor.44
Meanwhile between the years 1852 and 1866 the title of Marquis De Piro Gourgion was held by Adriano; he was the fourth Marquis of Castilla. He was not married; so he nominated his youngest brother Francesco Saverio as fifth Marquis; the latter enjoyed the title between 1866 and 1894.45
Francesco Saverio was held in great esteem and was entrusted with many high and important offices. It was then that the first difficulties cropped up regarding this title. It was necessary for the title to be recognised by Spain although Spain no longer had ties with Malta. Francesco Saverio asked the Court of Spain if he could continue to carry the title, only to receive a conditional answer.
He could keep the title of Marquis of Castilla, without losing any privilege mentioned in the decree, but Francesco Saverio would have to pay a tax to the treasury of the Realm. On 22nd May, 1878, the title of Marquis was recognised by the English Government.46
It was during the lifetime of Marquis Francesco Saverio that Giuseppe De Piro, the future Mgr., was born. About the time of his birth, Giuseppe De Piro Gourgion, uncle to the newly born on his father’s side, protested against Baroness Francesca De Piro’s nomination of Mgr. Dun Salv Grech Delicata as successor to the title of Baron of Budaq.47 Giuseppe De Piro Gourgion brought his case to court, and the final sentence was passed in the Court of Appeal in 1885: the title of Baron of Budaq was by right Giuseppe De Piro’s48 and he assumed it as the sixth Baron of Budaq.
During the youth of Mgr. De Piro, the title of Marquis of Castilla went through an uncertain period. Lorenzo De Piro succeeded Francesco Saverio in 1894 as the sixth and last Marquis of Castilla. Lorenzo was a cousin of Alessandro, the Founder’s father, but his uncle, Baron Giuseppe De Piro Gourgion, decided that he had a right to be the successor to the title of Marquis and that he should be enjoying it. He took this case to the Malta Courts where a decision could not be taken. So the case was taken to the Courts of Spain. The sixth Baron of Budaq died in 1916 and being a bachelor he nominated as his successor the brother of Mgr. De Piro, Igino De Piro d’Amico Inguanez, who became the seventh Baron. Igino was the only Maltese who took part in the South African Boer War, serving as an officer in the King’s Liverpool Regt., and was with his regiment during the siege of Ladysmith. Igino continued the case opened in the Courts of Spain. Giuseppe Lorenzo De Piro held the title for his lifetime, but it was always under contention. Adelina, his only child, was amicably allowed to call herself ‘Marquesa’ after her father’s death. As time passed the Courts of Spain decided that the Marquis had the right to retain the title.49
From 1942, the eighth Baron of Budaq is Jerome De Piro d’Amico Inguanez. He represented the Nobility of Malta at the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth of England. Since Adelina’s death, the Committee of Privileges of the Maltese Nobility recognised Baron Jerome’s claim which under new rules of autonomy since Independence he was allowed to disclaim his title in favour of his son Nicholas. The latter made his claim to the CommiQee of Privileges and was recognised as Marquis De Piro.50
The reason for including these particulars in this biography is to give in brief a few details about the De Piro family and the services it has rendered to Malta across the years. In a very special way our interest is aroused because it was in this family that Mgr. De Piro d’Amico Inguanez was born. It is right to know the ancestry of this saintly man, and the previous generations that link him to the first Baron and Marquis of the family.
1. Charles A. Gauci, The Genealogy and Heraldry of the Noble Families of Malta, Gulf, Malta, 1981, pp.10-11. This book has been of great help concerning the Maltese Nobility. It is a pity there are some mistakes relating to names and dates. However, the author intends to make the required corrections.
2. Memoirs of the Family Inguanez Laferla, Malta, 1888, p.89.
3. For documentation regarding the choice of a person on whom titles, lands, and privileges were bestowed, see Joannes De Nava, and the decree granted on 3rd November 1475 from the Chancellery of Palermo N.L.M.,
Univ. 206, ff.187r-194r. Other documents are to be found in Ibid., ff. 195r-198v.
4. “Epirus” (Ipiros), region of NW Greece, Ionian Sea, famed for cattle and horses. Flourished 3rd century BC; passed to Turks; ceded to Greece and Albania (1821) J. Mallory, Gazetteer of the World, Collins Gem 1973, p.158.
5. D.P. (7) P.A., The De Piro Family Tree; Origin and name, ff.1-2.
6. Ibid., f.2.
7. Ibid., f.3.
8. Ibid., Ch.2, The Founder, ff. 1 – 3.
9. Ibid., ff.3-4.
10. Ibid., f.4. See also note 32 below.
11. Ibid., f.5.
12. D.P. (J) P.A., Beni Gourgion De Piro, Libro A. The Gourgion Tower was a forti5ed country residence which was built in the seventeenth century. It was demolished in 1943 to make way for an airstrip required by the U.S. Airforce during the invasion of Sicily. For additional information on this tower see Alex Bonnici, “It-Torri Gourgion fix-Xewkija: bini bi storja li tintiseg fil-hajja Maltija u Ghawdxija” in Gourgion IV. 24 (1982), pp. 11-13.
13. A.M.S.S.F. Interviews about Mgr. De Piro, Baron Jerome De Piro, f.141. This is the reference to the information which the author collected personally from Baron De Piro.
14. In fact in the Decree conferring the Barony on De Piro it is stated that Fiteni was related to him. The phrase “De Tua Cognitione” is inserted in the document. N.L.M., Arch. 530 (Registrum Bullarum 1716) f.161v. This is confirmed by details in D.P. (J) P.A., The De Piro Family Tree, Ch.2, The Founder, f.3.
15. For the Baron and the Baroness of Gomerino see N.L.M., Arch. 627 under “Barons of Gomerino”. For Barony of Budaq, see N.L.M. Arch. 520, f.161r-v.
16. This was the opinion of the Barons De Piro, that is, that by the conferment of this dignity they were elevated to a rank which placed them on a level similar to that of Members of the Order of St. John. In fact, however, the Knights always considered themselves as being superior to all Maltese.
17. The following is an excerpt registered in the patent letter of the Barony: “Fr. D. Raymundus de Perellos ... Nobili Joanni Pio De Piro, J.U.D., Vassallo nostro Nobis dilecto salutem prosperosque ad vota successus; laudabilia, diuturnaque, ac pro5cus obsequia nobis, nostraeque Universitati non minus Gdeliter, quam sedulo per te praestita, et quae in dies praestare non desinis; multiplicesque animi tui dotes, quibus insignitus dignosceris, promerentur, et Nos inducunt ut munificentia nostra fidelia tua servitia compensentur, nonnullam gratitudinis et benevolentiae nostrae significationem exbibendo. Curn itaque titulus Baronis Phoeudi de Budaco nuncupati ad Ordinem nostrum, utpote ab hoc dominio et principatu Melitae dependens per obitum quondam Commendatoris Fratris Silvestri Fiteni de tua cognatione devolutus sit, et de praesenti vacet, huiusmodique tituli concessionem ad Nos spectare dignoscatur, hinc est, quod ... praedictum Baronis de Budaco titulum ... tibi Nobili Joanni Pio De Piro J.U.D.... tribuimus concedim¿ et donamus”, (N.L.M. Arch. 520, f.161r).
18. A.M.S.S.F. Interviews De Piro, Baron J. De Piro, f.141.
19. D.P. (J) P.A., where we find a bill of merchandise from Florence.
20. Kitson-Montalto (M) Private Archives, The Ribera Family Tree, mentioned by John Montalto, The Nobles of Malta: 1530-1800, Midsea, Malta, 1979, p.252.
21. This excerpt is from the letter: “Il Barone Gio. Pio De Piro nostro agente, vedendo che non fu mai provista la pensione riservata sopra il benefizio che, a nostre preghiere e a vostra sollecitudine fu conferito al Canonico di lui figlio, vorrebbe adesso tentare, se fosse possibile, d’otteaere l’estinzione.” N.L.M., Arch. 1479, Perellos all’Ambasc. Proc. F. Marcello Sacchetti, 18/1/1718 (not numbered).
22. J. Montalto, op. cit., p.92.
23. This subject was discussed in the thesis: Charles Galea Scannura, The Once of the Secrezia in the Maltese Islands, 1971, 476p. This part was printed under the same title in Archivum: The Journal of Maltese Historical Research, no. 1 (1981) p.126-146. Regarding the duties and powers of the “secreti” see Ch.3: “The duties of the Secreto during the period of the Hospitallers”, pp.67-82.
24. Ibid., Ch.4: “An analysis of the office: 1775-1801”, pp.298-466.
25. “Secreti del Gran Maestro e attestati a favor loro ... Nobile Barone Giovanni Pio De Piro: 14 Ge. 1719 ... Il Baroncino Antonio De Piro, Secreto del Gran Maestro Despuig”; N.L.M., Arch. 1483 (Indice alfabetieo di diverse materie contenute nei libri delle Bolle sotto il titolo di diverse scritture). See also Galea Scannura, op. cit., p.467.
26. D.P. (J) P.A. The De Piro Family Tree, Ch.2, Giovanni Pio De Piro, f.6.
27. Correspondence and Report of the Commission Appointed to Inquire into the Claims of Maltese Nobility, H.M.S.O., London, 1878, p.43 (see para. 199-200).
28. Maraveda, or Maravedino, was an Arab coin used in Spain in the past and its value changed according to the times. This coin was made of brass, silver or gold, and was used for a long time after the end of the Arab domination of Spain.
29. It was a long time before the Inquisitors began to receive the stipulated 120 scudi every month. Until a few years before, their salary was 50 scudi a month. Then it was increased to 100 scudi, and aooa afterwards to 120 scudi. Information concerning the salary can be found in the instructions which were given to the Inquisitor at the beginning af his term of office in Malta.
a) From G.B. Gori Pannellini, in the year 1619: “La provisione di Vostra Signoria b di 50 scudi al mesc”. Bibl. Vat., Borg' Lat., ms. 558, f.83v.
b) From what was prepared for Stefano Brancacci (who never came to Malta) in 1655: "Un depositario ... ha cura di pagare le provisioni dell’Inquisitore che sono di scudi 50”: Bibl. Linc. Roma, 35, C.3, f.102r.
c) From Galeazzo Marescotti, in 1663: "Le provisioni dell’Inquisitore... sono state accresciute sino alla somma di scudi 100 della moneta di Malta”, A.S.V. $.$. Malta, ms. 186, f.89v.
d) From Georgio Spinola, in 1703: “Vi 8 un depositario... avendo questi la cura di pagare le provisioni dell’Inquisitore che 6 di 100 scudi di moneta di Malta:” Ibid., ms. 151, f.20r.
30. This is a note about the title and rights of payment attached to it. “Lo stesso Barone Giovanni Pio De Piro ottenne poi da Filippo, Re di Spagna, un titolo in Castiglia di Marchese per se e tutti i suoi eredi e successori avendo pagato if diritto di cinque cento e sessanta due mila[(?) e cinque cento maravedis di vellon; il qual diritto deve essere pagato da ciascun successore in questo titolo, il quale per rescritto del Gran Maestro si trova registrato nel libra Bolle sotto il 8 ottobre 1745, f.167”; N.L.M., Arch. 627: under the title: "De Piro, Barone di Budacco and Marchese di Castiglia”. (not enumerated).
31. This is the principal excerpt of the petition and approval for registration: "Covenendo all’Oratore che il diploma suddetto venga registrato, non solo nella sua Cancelleria, ma anche nella Gran Corte della sua Castellania, ricorre all’innanta (1) benignitk dell’A.V.S., supplicandole umilmente peich6 si compiaccia dare con suo decreto gl’ordini opportuni per il registro del riferito diploma, colla restituzione dell’originale nelle mani dell’esponente ... Magister Hospitalis Hierusalem = Fiat. Datum in Palatio die viii Octobris 1745. Fr M.A. Monbelli Auditor N.L.M., Arch. 549, f.167r.
32. Within the Central Missionary House of St. Paul at St. Agatha, Rabat, there is an artistic design of the family tree of Baron Giuseppe De Piro, uncle of Mgr. De Piro. In this design the De Piro coat-of-arms does not carry the addition of the three pears, akin to that of Grand Master Perellos. When Mgr. De Piro was born the motto was still “Gens Hospita Regum”. Regarding this motto and other's attached to the Marquisate, see C.A. Gauci, Genealogy and Heraldry, p.47, p.135. In this, apart from the description, may also be found the De Piro coat-of-arms, and the additions that came with the Barony and the Marquisate. See also G. Crispo Barbaro, Nobles of Malta, 1883, p.27.
33. Montalto, op. cit., p.415. The Nobles tried hard to attain positions, but their ambitions were restricted by the Knights, as is illustrated by Montalto’s book.
34. A.M.S.S.F., Interviews De Piro, Baron J. De Piro, f.140. See also Montalto, op. cit., p.228.
35. Montalto, op.cit., p.111.
36. William Hardman, A History of Malta during the Period of the French and British Occupation, 1798-1815, London, 1909, p.112; Vincenzo Azzopardi, Raccolta di Varie Cose Antiche e Moderne Utili ed Interessanti Riguardanti Malta e Gozo, 1843, p.189.
37. Gauci, op.cit., p.48 and p.134; D.P. (J) P.A. Family Register.
38. Gauci, op. cit., p.48 and p.134.
40. Gauci, op. cit., p.48 and p.134, Montalto, op. cit., p.365.
41. Giuseppe Maria De Piro, Ragguaglio Storico della Pestilenza che Aplisse le Isole di Malta e Gozo negli Anni 1813-1814. Livorno, 1833.
42. D.P. (J) P.A., Lettera al Signor De Piro Barone del Ragguaglio Istorico dell’Ultima Peste di Malta.
43. Gauci, op. cit., p.134.
44. Ibid., p.207.
45. Ibid., p.48 and p.134.
46. Crispo Barbaro, Nobles of Malta, p.27; Gauci, op. cit., p.50.
47. Crispo Barbaro, op.dt., pp.26-27.
48. Gauci, op. cit., p.207.
49. Ibid., pp.48-50.
50. Regarding this case and several particulars in this Chapter, I obtained through information given me directly from Baron Jerome De Piro at his residence, 74 Republic Street, Valletta.