The Papers of Fr Magri

Well, where should I start? No doubt with Fr Emmanuel Magri SJ, and his work in the fields of archaeology, and ethnography. This particular research interest has developed into a long term project, with the aim of publishing his papers, particularly those related to archaeology. But first things first.

Who is Fr Magri?

Fr Emmanuel Magri SJ (1851-1907) was a pioneer in Maltese archaeology, and a member of the first Committee of Management of the Museum of Malta. He was entrusted by this Committee to direct the excavation and study of the Hypogeum at Hal Saflieni. Magri also excavated a Megalithic Temple in Xewkija (Gozo), which he published, and a number of other sites in Malta and Gozo.

A monument to posterity is his collection of Maltese folk tales and folklore, recording material which would have been otherwise lost through modernisation and more widespread education.

On Good Friday, March 29, 1907 – Fr Emmanuel Magri SJ died unexpectedly in Sfax, Tunisia. His untimely death meant that he never published his report on the Hypogeum and other sites. If the detail of the Xewkija report is anything to go by, it is really a sad loss.

Papers relating to archaeology

I have been working at this project since 2003, when, following a chance lead, I managed track down Magri’s correspondence with the British Museum. For decades, many had considered Magri’s work in the archaeological field as completely lost. Thankfully, careful research in archives and Museum collection has proved quite fruitful.

Particular impetus to the project was given by the centenary of Magri’s death in 2007, when as part of a joint project between the Maltese Jesuits and Heritage Malta, I curated an exhibition at the National Museum of Ethnography, at the Inquisitor’s Palace in Vittoriosa, Malta. By then, I had traced correspondence and papers of Magri have been traced at the British Museum, the archives of Fr Alfred Louis Delattre, Jesuit archives in Palermo and Malta, Government archives in Malta, and at the National Museum of Archaeology in Malta.

The long term aim of the project is a volume of Magri’s collected papers. The papers have, so far, been systematically collected, digitised and transcribed, and are being prepared for publication. The archival research has also enabled the identification of material in the National Archaeological collection with Magri’s work.

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Author: Josef Mario Briffa SJ

Jesuit priest and archaeologist. Teaches at the Pontifical Biblical Institute (Rome / Jerusalem). Scout leader and chaplain.

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