Thursday, February 4, 2010

I first heard the Legend of Zgugina when I was six or seven

Zgugina, an old lady from Gozo

An old lady called Zgugina lived on the outskirts of the village of Gharb in Gozo. She was so poor that her only possession was her loving son Mattew (Mathew). Gozo is a very small island and her coast is dotted all around with small inlets and bays. Now in those dark and dangerous times the sea between Gozo and Sicily to the North and between Gozo and Tunisia to the South was infested with pirates(furbani). Not far from the farmhouse where Zgugina lived with her son there is an inlet known as Wied il-Mielah (Salt Vallely) and it was not the first time that in the dead of night these wicked sea-dogs landed secretly, pillaged and stole whatever they could find. It so happened that one dark night, some of these men armed to the teeth with knives and swords found their way to the old woman's abode and stole her only dear possession, her son Mattew. They carried him stealthily away and bundled him in one of their boats. His poor mother only missed him when she woke up early in the morning and she knew at once what had happened.

Grief stricken as she was, with tears streaming down her cheeks she did not know how she made her way to the little chapel dedicated to St. Dimitrius. There she knelt, her face to the floor in front of the titular painting of the saint. "St. Dimitrius please bring back my son, please, please. He is my only possession and my only purpose in life. Please, bring him back to me, I know you can. Go on your horse and bring him back. Please save him from the corsairs and I will light some oil for you in thanksgiving every day".

And thereupon, St. Dimitrius taking pity on the faithful heart-broken woman tore himself from the painting and riding his gallant white steed galloped down the aisle, left the church and disappeared in a mysterious cloud of dust. She could not believe her eyes. The horse's hooves made so much noise in the little church and she could see bright sparks flying from under its horse-shoes as they hit the stone flags. But of course it was all a dream for when she looked at the titular painting, St.Dimitrius was still there astride his horse as he had been for as long as she could remember. On the other hand, she felt in her heart that her beloved Saint would not foresake her and so she continued to pray and wring her hands in grief. She would continue praying until St. Dimitrius heard her pleas.

Some moments later another strange thing happened. How was this possible! She could distinctly hear a horse outside neighing, snorting and stamping as if it had just returned from a long hard ride. She turned to gaze at the church door but it was so filled with bright light that the poor woman could see nothing and she had to shield her eyes. Then out of the glare, smiling and with arms outstretched she saw her son Mattew emerging and running towards her. Thank you St. Dimitrius for bringing my son back, the old woman kept saying repeatedly all the while hugging and covering her son with kisses. I knew He would hear me, Zgugina told her son.

When eventually the mother and her son left the chapel they noticed that St. Dimitrius had miraculously left an imprint of a horse-shoe in the soft limestone a few paces away from the chapel as a memento of his favour granted to Zgugina, the old lady from Gozo. The mark of the horse-shoe can still be seen to this day. Folk from Gharb recount that on dark and moonless nights when the sea is calm, a ghostly light can still be seen shimmering in the depths of the sea and they believe that it is Zgugina's light still burning in honour of St. Dimitrius.

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