Horse and jockey passing by soul in torment

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Horse and jockey passing by soul in torment

The Maltese countryside is full of small monuments of religious significance, betraying the strong influence of religion on popular culture.  These monuments range from wayside chapels to crosses and niches.  They either commemorate an event or, as is more likely, would have been placed there by an individual as a sign of thanks for prayers heard.

Every so often one also encounters stone columns on top of which the sculpted nude upper-torso of a person who is engulfed by flames features prominently.  The display offers a grim reminder to believers that the flames of purgatory are a reality which an impure soul has to pass through in order to be purged or cleansed in preparation for an eternity in paradise.  They are not to be confused with the more sinister flames of hell from which there is no hope of redemption or salvation.

These columns usually feature a small inscription on a marble plaque exhorting passers by to utter a few prayers for the needs of these souls.  It is also possible to utter such prayers for one’s own eventual needs with some of the plaques actually stating how many days of “indulgence” are gained by the individual if such prayers are made in front of the monument; a sort of offsetting arrangement to compensate for sins committed and to reduce the period one’s soul has to spend in purgatory for the necessary cleansing after death.

The picture accompanying this story also features another common Maltese countryside scene: that of a horse and its owner on a sulky calmly winding their way through a country lane in the outskirts of the village of Siggiewi in the early evening as the scorching sun starts losing a bit of its strength.  The man is looking at the monument and is most probably uttering the relevant prayers as guided by the marble plaque on the base.

An un-posed snapshot which I took on a Friday evening in June from my car as I waited for the road to widen a bit so that I would be able to overtake and which is as much at place in twenty first century rural Malta as it would have been a couple of hundred years ago.

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