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Sister Agnese Zammit - Mother Superior

Sister Agnese Zammit is a cloistered nun at the St. Ursula Convent on St. Ursula Street in Valletta.  I had been told that I wouldn’t be able to get in because it is cloistered however I would try my luck. At about 10 minutes before 11am, I entered an open door and walked upstairs.  I found a fairly plain room with these interesting windows that looked cage-like with thick wooden or iron ribbons interconnecting that spanned the entire window.  To my right as I walked in I saw a family speaking with a nun; they turned to me and asked what I was looking for. I said I wanted to see if I could talk to a nun about this place and ask a few questions. My request was answered by the sister saying, “Let me get mother superior”.  She told me to wait on the other side and sit on the bench which was facing the other window.  Within minutes mother superior arrived with a warmth that took away any nervousness that I had had. Her name was Sister Agnese Zammit. Here was my chance to find out as much as possible about her and the nuns that live here.

“We come from Jerusalem”, sister Agnes explained.  That got me really going and then I started to put two and two together.  Their website is run by the Order of St. John (Knights of Malta). The monastery was established shortly after the Knights of St. John arrived in Malta – first in Birgu where the Knights had their home base. Their close connection with the Knights is displayed when they celebrate the feast of the Blessed Gerard (founder of the order) in the church of St. Ursula on site.  I personally remember visiting this church during Easter on Maundy Thursday when the Procession of the Seven Churches takes place. In visiting the church, one can see relics of Blessed Gerard – namely his skull. Taking it a bit back with a history lesson, the Blessed Gerard was from the Benedictine order that was appointed rector of the hospice or hospital in Jerusalem in 1080 and consequently became the founder of the Order of St. John.

There are 12 sisters that live here with the youngest being 27 years old and the eldest 87.  They do not leave the monastery unless a family member is in the hospital or on the occasion of an election to vote.  When sister Agnes was young, she wanted to give her whole life to Jesus.  She saw other nuns running in the streets and in the shops. That wasn’t for her; it was a life of full devotion to Jesus that she was after. She says they are very happy here.  They have an amazing roof with large tables where they enjoy dinner, play cards and also bingo. Sister Agnes reads the church news and all of the nuns are without internet.  They have a good number of computers within the Monastery but she relays that even with the youngest nun, they all want to be free of the internet. The group however has a Facebook page and a Father William runs it by posting something from time to time.

Sister Zammit was born in the village of Zebbug “in the square” and has two sisters with large families. Her favourite food is spaghetti with rabbit.  Each of the sisters cook and take turns.  Their typical day includes waking at 5am and mostly praying with meditation. They do have free time throughout the day at certain hours where they play the piano or guitar or do restoration works. Complete silence time is between 1 and 2pm. The importance of prayer to the sisters within the monastery is highly connected with the country.  When the Knights were fighting, they prayed for them and the country to be victorious. Now they pray for the strength of the religion in the country.

I hear a bell ring in a distance so I begin to wrap up the impromptu interview. She tells me (again) that her English is not good and that I should take out the mistakes.  I reassured her that I thought her English was perfect and we had a laugh. “Please close the door behind you”.

Excerpt from: “Valletta – A Personal City Guide by 8 tourist guides from Malta” Midsea books

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