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Crime Doesn't Pay pic
A figure in a white robe walks silently in the street to collect offering

A figure clad in a white robe, a white hood over the head, with two slits for the eyes, and a white, wide-brimmed hat, occasionally walked silently in the street, tinkling a small money box in his hand, to collect offerings.

Others similarly clad, could be seen in practically all towns and villages. Their mission was unsavoury and frightening, but merciful and voluntary. They collected offerings for someone condemned to die at the gallows, the money destined to be spent for masses and to support dependents.

These individuals were members of the Rozarjanti, a Confraternity of the Holy Rosary, associated with the Dominican Friars of Valletta, and amongst other social work and duties, they had to cater for the spiritual and temporal needs of the condemned, especially during the few days before, during and after the execution.

When the administration of justice moved from Mdina to Valletta, to the Klistanija, (the building where there is now the Ministry of Health), corner St. John Street with Merchants Street, the condemned used to be confined for three days chapel from passing of sentence to execution, during which the Rozarjanti took it in turns to assist, and provide a Capuchin Father to prepare him for death. Before the 1880's an execution was treated as a public affair.

Members of the Rozarjanti Confraternity came in procession from their oratory in St. Dominic Street, clad in their characteristic style, and went down to St. Paul Street, round to the Palace, Merchants Street, St. John Street and Republic Street, proceeding Floriana, through various gates then existing in the fortifications, to the gallows in the area of the present War Memorial.

All vantage points and streets used to be lined and crowded with silent onlookers, as the Head of Police rode in front, followed by bugler, the numerous Rozarjanti in two long rows, and the victim standing, surrounded by Police and accompanied by the executioner who held him tied from hands and neck, most often on a horsedrawn cart.

After the execution, the Rozarjanti took down the body and buried it in a sack in a hole in the ground, unmarked and unblessed. In time, burial took place in a cemetery. The Rozarjanti then walked back to Valletta church and offered high mass for the dead.

This Confraternity is still in existence, but its role has changed with the times, retaining only some of the spiritual activities especially in connection with the Rosary. At one time they were very numerous, with members all of high standing, including Knights of St. John.

Its members included all professions, especially those connected with the law. It originated in the 16th Century, and because of their work with the condemned, extended their name into Confraternity of the Holy Rosary and of Mercy. In the 17th Century it moved for some time to the Oratory of St. John's Co-Cathedral on the invitation of the Grand Master, where the theme of the Beheading of St. John was well suited for them, especially since they were also affiliated to the Rome Confraternity of that title since the 1570's, but to avoid losing their identity they eventually returned to the Dominicans.

Guido Lanfranco

Hearses used in the beginning of the previous century for funerals

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