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Our Lady of Sorrows Church

Ref: HLBP1/005

Our Lady of Sorrows Church is a Catholic church in Gibraltar on the east side of the Rock. Overlooking the sea, the Church of Our Lady of Sorrows serves the spiritual needs of the residents of this quaint fishing village known as Catalan Bay Village or colloquially as La Caleta. Every 15th September, the Church’s statue of Our Lady of Sorrows is carried in procession to the Catalan Bay beach where the Bishop of Gibraltar blesses the sea marking the village’s main religious festival. Another such religious festival is observed every Good Friday when the statue and another of Jesus in death, is carried in procession along the Village. It is the only procession of this kind in the Diocese during Holy Week.1

The small, quaint fishing village on the eastern side of the rock was originally known as the Caleta de la Almadravilla. Pedro Barrantes Maldonado discussing the infamous Turkish raid on Gibraltar in 1540 stated that the Turks ‘arrived here on Thursday 9th September, at nine O’clock at night, and surged onto the rear end of the Rock of Gibraltar, in that part known as the Almadravilla…Then the Turks left the Almadravilla, from whence they had surged, and passed over to the Caleta del Laudero…’2

Turkish corsair galley 16th Century.

There are two schools of thought as to the adoption of the name Catalan Bay by the British during the early 18th Century when it is believed that a Catalan detachment serving under George of Hesse’s fleet landed in this cove and some of them later settled here. According to George Hills ‘the tradition is strong in Catalonia that some hundreds of Catalans who had rallied to Hesse's side when he landed at Barcelona were evacuated with him, and took part in the capture of Gibraltar… it is difficult to see how Catalans in any quantity would have made their way to Gibraltar at any time between August 1704 and August 1705. The conclusion would therefore seem inescapable that several hundred Catalans did in fact take part in the landing and during the whole siege served in the Catalan Company and Catalan battery to which there are numerous references in all the primary documents.’3 Moreover, it was the Catalan company of mountain riflemen, camped in reserve around the area of El Salto del Lobo (above Witham’s Batteries) who engaged, and annihilated the Spanish force led by Susarte the Spanish goat herder that had attempted infiltrated Gibraltar through precipitous eastern side of the Rock. It is quite likely that following the failed surprise attack, the Catalans contingent tasked with protecting the precipitous eastern side of the Rock right above this small bay subsequently gave rise to the name Catalan Bay. The adoption of such new names according to the regiment associated with the area would have been quite common in the early days of the British occupation. For example, Governor’s Parade was originally known as the French Parade due to the fact that the Corsican contingent erected their tents in the large open areas and gardens in this area. It was later called the Artillery Parade when barracks for the Royal Artillery built their barracks on the site of today’s Eliott’s Hotel.

However, not everyone shares this view, Archer, Vallejo and Benady, claim that although the name Catalan Bay does indeed date back from the 18th Century it was probably adopted between the years 1727 and 1745. Before that it was known as the ‘Caleta de la Almadraba’ – the cove of the tunny fishery.4 They also dispute the often made claim that Catalan Bay is a corruption of the Spanish word ‘Caleta’ (cove) insisting that the name is derived from Catalan fishermen who came here every year to fish the ‘boqueron’ (anchovy) which was salted and sent back to Catalonia as a delicacy. Gilbard stated that ‘the tunny fishery formerly was of the greatest importance, and yielded an enormous revenue. It is related that in 1558 some 110,152 fish were taken, giving a revenue of 800,000 ducats, and the average take of fish was over 100,000 yearly. Many of the watch-towers along the coast were erected as posts of observation for experienced fishermen, whose duty it was to signal the shoals.’5

1743 John Hardesty map which refers to the cove as the Calita de los Catalanes whilst Sandy Bay is referred as Calita de Hacho (Neville Chipulina collection)

Gilbard further notes that during the 18th Century the Catalans had their salting pans where they beached their boats at the mouth of the river Palmones but that after Catalonia declared for the Archduke in August 1705 they switched their camp to Catalan Bay under the protection of their new allies.6 Tunny fishing was not new in this area, with the tunny being engraved in coins found in nearby Carteia and the fish caught there was highly celebrated in Greece and at Rome in ancient times, as were also the sauces and condiments prepared in Cadiz.7 Such a tradition had persisted throughout the centuries. Bell quoting from Ayala’s own account declared that ‘the tunny fishing is not now to be compared with that of former times carried on from Cadiz, Santi Petri, Conil, Zara, Tarifa, Carteia and Gibraltar; it now being confined to Conil, the only celebrated place in our days.’8

It seems plausible that after the Treaty of Utrecht, when Catalonia was once more absorbed by the Bourbons the Catalans returned to their old fishing camp at the mouth of the river Palmones and that Genoese fishermen who also fished the anchovy began to use the cove instead. Father Jones, writing in the Gibraltar Chronicle in 1909, said that the Diccionario Universal published by Don Nicholas Serrano stated that the bay was so called because the inhabitants, a Genoese colony, follow the same trade of fishing as the Catalans’.9 There is also the theory that the people of the Ligurian Alps, dependent on chickpeas and chestnuts for their diet, were forced from the countryside to the cities whenever their crop failed – which it did with alarming regularity. Many were forced to emigrate either to Andalusia or South America and some made their way to Gibraltar. However, there is no evidence that these poor immigrants actually settled in Catalan Bay at all. Many Genoese who did arrive in Gibraltar were traders and seafarers and very shrewd businessmen rather than peasants any although some did settle, the majority returned to their native land once the period of prosperity (usually during times of war) ended. In any case, throughout the 18th Century there was no such thing resembling a fishing village at Catalan Bay even though the orders for the siege of 1727 refer to this bay as the Genoese Cove. Genoese fishermen did make use of the cove but came here for the anchovy season returning to their home ports once the fishing season ended and their fish had been salted. There is evidence that these transient fishermen slept in a number of caves along the edge of the cliffs surrounding Catalan bay during the tunny season but no permanent settlement. Robert Poole writing in 1748 observed these fishermen at work:10

During my being in this situation, (on the top of the Rock) casting my eye down the Rock upon the shore eastward, I was amused with the motion of something upon the sand, which seemed so small that I could not tell what to conclude them to be; till, using my telescope, I perceived that they were fishermen, busied in their occupation, walking upon the shore and spreading their nets.

The exceeding height of the Rock was such as reduced them so small. that I could not distinguish what they were, but by the help of the spying glass, I could perceive what they were of Moorish complexion, which by enquiry, I was afterwards informed were Genoese, who had their dwellings in holes in the rocks.

1779 Caballero map Bahia Catalanes.

The 1777 census gives a return of 54 Genoese fishermen of which only one, Joseph Chinchone was married to a local girl.11 The census, however, gives no indication as to where these fishermen lived, but the fact that almost all of these Genoese fishermen had no families in Gibraltar does suggest that they were transient rather than permanent settlers.

Indeed, it appears that the first dwellings within Catalan Bay only date back as far as 1787, a few years after the Great Siege when sand was transported by boat to the town for rebuilding purposes. There was a small track from the Devil’s Tower to the cove but this was only accessible by foot and susceptible to landslides during the winter months which made access to the eastern side of the Rock almost impossible.

A visitor writing in the Gentleman’s Magazine in 1804 wrote that ‘on the east side is Cataline Bay; here is only one house; there are several caves or holes in the Rock where the fishermen live; there is a garden belonging to the house where the owner sells wine, porter, fish etc., to those who go about the Rock visiting these parts.’

When the Yellow Fever epidemic afflicted the city the Governor contemplated using Catalan Bay as a way to quarantine those who fell sick from the fever. Captain Wright reported to the Governor that he had examined the different buildings at Catalan Bay and that these were follows:12
A wooden shed belonging to Ramione an inhabitant capable of containing eight people.
A stone house belonging to a fisherman capable of containing eight people.
A stone house belonging to Mister Parodi would hold eight more.
Two very small outhouses might contain four more. They are all in tolerable repair.

Settlement of the cove therefore appears to have been sparse and it was not until the Peninsular War that many inhabitants in the Campo area fled to the eastern side of the Rock when French General Laval and ‘6,000 foot and some hundreds of horse and a few pieces of cannon’, approached the Rock as far as San Roque.13 The Spaniards seeking refuge in Catalan Bay appear to have been substantial and not without tragedy as the Chronicle for the 14th December 1811 reported:14

1783 William Faden map of Gibraltar

Spanish civilians flee from San Roque to the relative safety of Gibraltar. British troops provide the rearguard. (Gerald Hare)

During the stay of the French at St. Roch, the inhabitants had taken refuge under the Rock, as they did upon a former occasion. We are sorry to have to add, that a number of them met there with an untimely death, on Tuesday afternoon, from the fall of an immense stone, which, probably loosened by the rain, detached itself from that part of the mountain which overhangs Catalan Bay, and as it rolled towards the sea, crushed four sheds, killing 18 individuals and wounded as many more.

This massive rock that rolled all the way down to the seashore would later be known locally as La Mamela due to the shape resembling a woman’s breast.

Most of the Spaniards returned home when the French forces retreated from the area but nevertheless, the civilian population in Gibraltar continued to grow unabated, prompted by a prosperity induced by war, by refugees from Genoa escaping conscription into Napoleon’s army and latterly by a far more open access during the war between Gibraltar and the Campo.15 Howes supports this view saying that ‘from all that is reasonable to deduce that there were many Italians in Genoa and Savoy who must have felt the desire to get away from all the wars, and, as many family documents belonging to Gibraltar residents whose ancestors came from these parts reveal, to escape conscription in Napoleon’s armies.’16 For the first time seasonal fishermen from Genoa arrived in Gibraltar together with their families and possessions. With the city having doubled in size – rising from 5,339 in 1801 to 11,173 by 1811 – many settled in Catalan Bay which now became a small, but mainly Genoese community. By 1816 the population had increased to around 200 individuals, none had not resided there for more than five years previously and many had just recently arrived.

1890s - J.Colman Dibdin La Mamela

Governor George Don imposed strict conditions on the residents of Catalan Bay to control their numbers stating that ‘the establishment at Catalan Bay’ should be confined to fishermen, with a few persons employed by them.’ A system of permits was issued to each property owner which in some cases were only issued for two months at a time. This system of permits was only abolished in 1928. The last permit issued to Mr Adolfo Catania’s family allowing them to reside at Mr Juan Olivero’s house for 6 months.17

The date for the first church building in Catalan Bay is uncertain, most probably erected as a small chapel during the period of occupation by the inhabitants of San Roque and the subsequent arrival of large numbers of Genoese fishermen who settled here around the same time – 1811 to 1815. A memorial written by Anthony Ledrun and dated 3rd July 1812 suggests the building of the church to around that time. Writing to the Governor he referred to the existence of a chapel stating ‘that your Excellency’s memorialist is appointed Chaplain to the chapel now building in Catalan Bay close to which he has pitched a tent to shelter himself, a sister advanced in years and a niece. Your Excellency’s memorialist therefore humbly begs Your Excellency will be graciously pleased to grant him fifteen yards of the said ground to enable him to build a sufficient dwelling for himself and said relatives...’ A few days later the order was given to a Lt. Latimer ‘to have it measured for him.’18

An 1825 map of Catalan Bay which was later copied by the lithographer Piaget et Lailavoix in 1830 reveals the location of the chapel exactly where it is today. However, the 1825 shows two separate buildings whilst the 1830 map shows the two buildings adjoined to each other. The 1830 map describes the adjacent building Pascual Fava’s store (Magusin de Pascual Fava), but the 1825 describes it specifically as an Anchovy Store, one of two in the village. A search of the 1814 Census describes Pascal Fava as a Genoese wine merchant.19 Fava owned a number of properties both in town (Tenancy No. 44, House 7 Cooperage District) and in Catalan Bay: House no. 36 where he resided and House No. 4 which he rented out to Jose Bagetto. By 1861, he was the landlord for five of the 24 dwellings erected there in addition to his store or shop.20 From the drawings we can clearly see that the chapel was much smaller than at present, measuring roughly 15x35 feet at most. Another interesting feature was that orientation of the chapel was from north to south rather than east to west as it is now.

1825 army map of Catalan Bay showing site of anchovy stores (d) and chapel (e). Note the two separate buildings. (Source - National Archives WO78 5431)

Before the existence of the chapel, a grotto of sorts may well have existed along one of the cliff faces surrounding Catalan Bay. It is recorded that before the establishment of the village, and for many years after that, transient fishermen often resided in many of the caves that dot the Catalan Bay landscape. A grotto dedicated to the Virgin Mary for her protection during the fishing season and before setting off on the long, dangerous sea voyage home would have been natural before the natural progression to an established chapel. The chapel, dedicated to Our Lady of Sorrows, follows closely the tradition of intense veneration of the Virgin Mary in southern Italy and in Spain. This view is shared by Archer, Vallejo and Benady based on local opinion, suggesting a connection with Lipari where Our Lady of Sorrows is also held in high esteem. However, Lipari is an island off Sicily, whilst most of the inhabitants of Catalan Bay descend from Genoa, northern Italy.

In Liguria the veneration of the Madonna and its association to the sea dates back to the March 25th 1637 when she was given the official title of Queen of Genoa. According to chroniclers this fervent veneration of Our Lady followed the events that occurred after the nights of 16th and 17th January 1636 when a violent storm struck the port of Genoa. Many ships were wrecked, among them was one called the Madonna della Pieta, which had the Virgin as its figurehead. A group of Genoese sailors bought this image as part of the salvage washed up from the sea. First, setting it up under a votive painting of the Virgin in the harbour, they repaired it, had it repainted, and on the eve of Corpus Christi brought it to the church of San Vittore, close by the port. A famous blind song-writer was commissioned to write a song in honour of the image. The statue became at once the focus of an extraordinary popular cult, thousands of people arriving day and night with candles, silver crowns, necklaces, and crosses in gratitude for the graces which had immediately begun to be granted. From 1637 until well into the twentieth century devotion to Nostra Signora della Fortuna remained strong, with frequent miracles or graces being recorded. The figurehead of Nostra Signora della Fortuna now stands on the high altar of the church of Saints Vittore and Carlo in Genoa.21 It is possible, given the strong Genoese connection to the village, that our own Lady of Sorrows is derived from this old devotion to Nostra Signora della Fortuna dedicated to the sorrow of fishermen lost at sea. The present statue of Our Lady of Sorrows was purchased in Malaga around a century ago, after failed attempts to purchase one in Italy.22 Four older statues however originated from Italy, probably from Genoa.

1850's C. Reiss - Catalan Bay.

Our lady of Sorrows and Nostra Signora della Fortuna (right) ...both traditions strongly associated with the sea.

Today, the tradition of veneration of the Our Lady of Sorrows at Catalan Bay is based on a religious festival which is observed every 15th September when the statue of Our Lady of Sorrows is carried out of the Church in solemn procession upon which the Bishop of Gibraltar blesses the sea. On Good Friday the statue and another of Jesus in death, is carried in procession along the Village. It is the only procession of this kind in the Diocese during Holy Week.23

Further modifications continued to be made throughout the 19th Century as the village increased in size and the requirements of the inhabitants demanded further improvements to their social well-being. By early 1840 a small school was attached to the chapel, suggesting that by then the anchovy store had been demolished and the chapel modified and extended.

The village school attached to the church opened in 1843 catered for pupils aged 5-12. There were 30 pupils in total, 15 boys and 15 girls, taught by a Mrs French who was probably the wife of one of the army sergeants stationed at the village. A year later it was one of the 15 Elementary and 6 Regimental schools in Gibraltar.24 E.F. Kelaart in his Flora Calpense mentions both chapel and school in 1846 when he wrote that ‘the population of the village scarcely exceeds three hundred souls; they are chiefly engaged in fishing. There is here a Roman Catholic chapel, with a small school attached to it. About thirty soldiers are always stationed here, in charge of a captain, who is also the civil superintendent of the place’. 25

Catalan Bay Barracks 1870’s (George Washington Wilson collection University of Aberdeen)

The building continued to be modified and a letter by Walter Eliott, Civil Engineer, dated to 1863 or 1868 records that ‘the Chapel at Catalan Bay having been completed I have the honour to transmit the keys.’26 The large Rock model now at the Gibraltar Museum which is contemporary shows a large rectangular shaped building facing the sea with two glass-stained windows on either side and an alcove for a statue above the chapel door. No boundary walls or other extensions can be seen from this 1868 model which is totally different to anything that the Chapel looks like today. This is due to severe damage the Chapel suffered only a few years after the model was completed. The danger of falling rocks and sand slips where a constant threat to the village. In 1870 a large slip wiped out the road close by but did not touch the village. In 1875, however, a flood occurred which loosened such immense quantities of sand and stones that much of the village, including the little St. Mary's Chapel, was wiped out.27

Major Gilbard in his book A Popular History of Gibraltar (1888) stated that ‘the flood of November, 1875, the little church was completely gutted by the torrent of sand and stones washed from the rocks above, and some of the out-buildings of the barracks were buried, but there were no casualties. The village passed, a path over the sand leads to the next bay (Sandy Bay), from which no further progress can be made’.28

Following this calamity, the Chapel had to be almost completely rebuilt. Permission was given for the Roman Catholic Church to extend the perimeter of the property to the west with a triangular shaped enclosure that served as living quarters and storeroom for the parish priest as well as to extend the Chapel length further down towards the sea, on land released to them by the War Department. The erection of a boundary wall enclosing the rest of the Church building appear to have been built as a preventative measure to redirect any future flood water around the Chapel rather than through it as occurred in 1875.

On the 22nd day of May 1902 a memorandum was agreed between the War Department and the Roman Catholic Church which allowed Letting No. 81 (Roman Catholic Chapel and School) ‘to occupy the existing buildings shown on the map annexed and the said Right Reverend Vicar Apostolic (Bishop Remigio Guido Barbieri) agrees not to erect any further building except of such size and materials as shall be previously approved by the Secretary of State for War.’ The rent for the entire premises being set at 2 shillings and 3 pence. This memorandum refers to an extension to the rear of the Chapel to include a store, living room and kitchen to serve as a residence for the village priest. The peculiar triangular shaped extension suggests that this was designed to again redirect any possible flood waters around the Chapel and straight down a ramp to the sea in the event of such an eventuality. As the building served as both a chapel and school such a precaution was considered very necessary.

Another possible reason for the requirement to move the Priest’s residence out of the church itself may well have to do with the fact that by 1901 the number of pupils attending the church school had increased to 58 making the argument that more space was required for their education. Classes were held in the Sacristy where according to the 1912 School Inspector T. H. Haycraft ‘the room is well-aired and there is a yard which is much used for teaching’.29 Haycraft recorded that the Head Master, Father Telmo Dodero, was in school ‘three times a week’ and that his assistant was ‘an old pupil of the Christian Brothers and a layman, and in my opinion quite able to teach as far as Standard 2.’30 The Church would continue to double up as a school until the outbreak of WWII.

Catalan Bay Chapel and school outline 1902

For most of the 19th Century, it was often difficult and inconvenient to access to the village as the only dirt track leading to Catalan Bay was often buried by landslips and rock falls. By the end of the century, however, the road access was greatly improved as the sand slopes directly behind the village began to be quarried as building materials for the new dockyard. Nonetheless, the colonial government continued to limit the number of residency permits within the village which by the end of the century did not exceed 300 souls. A vast area of sand was excavated from the Admiralty Quarry in what is now the Monteverde yard and evidence of the removal of huge quantities of sand is evident nowadays. In relation to these works, it is recorded that on the 24th December 1896, a huge blast blew a rock weighing through the rough of the village canteen injuring two. Another rock damaged the Chapel killing a Gibraltarian and a Spaniard. A Coroner’s inquest later concluded that too much powder had been used in the blast.31

During the 20th Century and right up to WWII the road behind the village continued to be improved and extended all the way to Sandy Bay and the fuel depot facilities. However, it was only in the 1960’s, with the opening of Dudley Ward Tunnel that full round the Rock access was finally completed. Catalan Bay was now accessible to visitors and the village became a popular beach destination for townspeople and created a very welcome economic stimulus for the village. The Chapel benefitted from this obviously, with the purchase of the new statue of Our Lady of Sorrows from Malaga to be used in the annual procession for example.

Beach outing to Catalan Bay early 1900’s (Neville Chipulina blogspot)

Catalan Bay fishermen early 1900’s (Neville Chipulina blogspot)

Although the removal of vast quantities of sand directly behind the village reduced the danger of flooding like in 1875, it did not prevent further large rock falls from crashing down into the village. In 1903 a large boulder weighing approximately 100 tons crashed down into cattle sheds, killing five cows and injuring two residents.

Destruction wrought by the 1903 rock fall which fell just to the right of the Chapel.

In 1917 a great rock broke loose and plunged down on the corrugated iron water catchments, tearing jagged holes and loosening such quantities of sand beneath that a great part of the village was again wiped out. However, there is no record that the Chapel was affected by this fall.

On the 22nd December 1930 the entire Chapel property was officially passed from the War Department to the Colonial Department.

Gibraltar maintained a ‘strict’ neutrality during the Spanish Civil War but the village suffered collateral damage from a fierce fire-fight at sea between Republican and rebel vessels on the night of the 29/30th December 1937. On that fateful night, the destroyer José Luis Díez of the Spanish Republican Navy had left Gibraltar in an attempt to evade a Nationalist blockade, rounding Europa point but was spotted by the gunboat Calvo Sotelo and a close-range battle ensued. The destroyer was attacked by several rebel ships, including the gunboat-minelayer Vulcano. It was during this intense sea battle that the José Luis Díez and Vulcano collided. A shell from the Calvo Sotelo disabled the José Luis Díez engines and she was beached at Catalan Bay in Gibraltar to avoid being sunk or captured. Some of the shells landed in the village, causing damage and wounding four. The Chapel of Our Lady of Sorrows was not hit, although a few shells landed nearby. The men of the village, alerted to the cries for help rowed to the stricken ship and took the dead and wounded ashore.

A photograph showing the damage to one of the buildings shows the Chapel of Our Lady of Sorrows as it looked in 1937. The older stone work building at the rear would have been the original Chapel/anchovy store, whilst the more modern front extension was the part of the extension probably erected after the 1875 flood. The right and left hand windows to the north were the original entrances to the Chapel and store respectively.

Damage sustained to the village of Catalan Bay showing the Chapel of Our Lady of Europe in the background.

During World War II, the Catalan Bay residents, with the exception of men of military age were evacuated, first to Morocco and later to Madeira. Units of the newly created Gibraltar Defence Force and allocated to the 4th and 27th Coast Batteries of the Royal Artillery protecting the oil tanks situated on the east side of the Rock. In temporary charge of the GDF section was Lt. Paul Cosquieri of the Royal Malta Artillery who was in Gibraltar awaiting transport to the islands. During his 3-4 months in charge, (late 1939 to early 1940) Lt. Cosquieri would muster the GDF personnel under his command and march them for a Sunday Parade to the Chapel of Our Lady of Sorrows. Much needed repair works, including painting of the interior and exterior was carried out by the GDF during Lt. Cosquieri’s brief period of command.32 The Chapel was now being used frequently by some members of the British armed forces and the 1940 procession of Our Lady of Sorrows was attended by a number of army and navy personnel.

1940 procession of Our Lady of Sorrows.

Note the members of the army and navy and absence of women.

Even as the threat of a German invasion (Operation Felix) subsided considerable, the military construction in all parts of Gibraltar continued unabated. The military establishment on the Rock simply lacked the manpower to undertake some of the immense projects required not only on the Rock itself, but also deep inside. Spanish labour was out of the question and a request in December 1943 for up to 600 Italian POW’s to assist in the completion of bombproof accommodation for men and materials and further works for the airfield and Naval Base was rejected by the War Office until agreement with the Italian Government concerning status of Italian prisoners had been reached as such type of work ran contrary to the Geneva Convention.33

Despite such reservations, the acute shortage of men to work in Gibraltar required urgent attention, and in February 1944, Nos. 650 and 656 Italian Pioneer Companies were ordered to Gibraltar. At full strength each Company would normally have consisted of 5 Officers and 275 Other Ranks. The ranks were further bolstered with the arrival of a further 70 Italian POW craftsmen from North Africa a few months later which brought the total number of Italian POW’s in Gibraltar to 6 Officers and 643 Other Ranks by September 1944 34 gradually falling to 541 by July 1946 as repatriations began.35 The Italians were regarded as co-operators rather than POW’s and so the men were issued with British-made chocolate-coloured battledress with the word ‘Italy’ as shoulder tab.36 Gibraltarian Lt. John Culatto of the Royal Artillery returned to the Rock and was attached to the Royal Engineers as Adjutant with 656 Italian Pioneer Company.

Most of the men in this Labour group were initially accommodated at a camp built in Glacis, and later in part of the old Isolation Hospital at Laguna although smaller units were often billeted closer to where they were required to work. A number of these POW’s worked at the oil depot on the east side and were also tasked with making Sir Herbert Miles Road which led to the critical oil depots in the east side safe for vehicular traffic. The Italians were credited with building most of the retaining wall all along this road up to the oil tanks next to where Dudley Ward tunnel is today, as well as the wall along Europa Advance Road all the way to Europa Point. They were billeted at Sandy Bay Camp, and being free to wander into the village, they soon made adopted the quaint old Genoese Chapel of Our Lady of Sorrows as their own; carrying out much needed maintenance repairs to the church, lovingly restoring with typical Italian flavour. Amongst the Italian Labour Group in Gibraltar was an Italian army chaplain who soon took over responsibility for administering regular church services for the men at this Chapel. Others are said to have joined the congregation at the Cathedral, forming their own choir to the delight of many locals who remembered hearing them.

The labour provided by these prisoners proved quite invaluable. When not engaged in labour by the military, these Italians were allowed to freely wander around the town and augmented their meagre allowances doing odd-jobs like painting and decorating in private homes. Italian prisoners remained in Gibraltar until 1945 by which time they were replaced by German POW’s.

Italian POW's returning from a work detail in what appears to be Europa Advance Road.

Italian Pioneer Company at Gibraltar, 17th February 1946. The Italian Army Chaplain can be seen seated on the second row, third from the left.

Military Road, Sir Herbert Miles Road showing the retaining wall built by Italian POW’s. The WWII military oil tanks can be seen at the very far end of the second photograph. (Neville Chipulina Blogspot)

The repatriation of the Gibraltarian evacuees now required the release of former military land for civilian use. The former Nissen huts vacated by the repatriated Italian POW’s was re-allocated to returning Catalan Bay families and these temporary structures remained in use well into the late 1980’s. Further land release resulted in the former Officer’s Mess being converted into a new village school. On the 27th April 1946, the Director of Education, Dr D. H. Howes, wrote to the Commissioner of Lands and Works stating that ‘As from the 24th April, the school at Catalan Bay is situated in the former Officer’s Mess. This means it is possible for you to hand back the original school attached to the Church to His Lordship the Bishop’.38

Bishop Fitzgerald wasted little time in converting the old school extension. Writing in January 1947 to the City Council he submitted plans to convert part of the vestry into a Chapel (Chapel of Lourdes). These were approved and declared completed by the 10th October 1947.39 Further alterations to the vestry were carried out with a further chapel with a baptismal font being carried out in and completed by the 24th August 1953.40 As part of the new alteration a partition wall was built converting part of the space between the two new chapels on the north side of the church into a store only accessible from the exterior of the building. Plans had been submitted for a third chapel on the south side in 1951 within the enclosed exterior area of the Church yard. These however appear to have been insufficient large enough and another set of plans were submitted in 1953 for consideration by the City Council which extended the length of the chapel beyond the enclosed perimeter boundary wall. Nevertheless, the City Council accepted the alterations and on the 15th June 1954, Luis Dotto, architect informed the City Engineer that the works had been completed in a satisfactory manner.41 This side chapel now houses the statue of Our Lady of Sorrows.

In 1956 the vestry was again altered with the enlargement of existing windows on the south side of the Church and a new door opening and removal of the existing partition wall in the vestry on the north side.42

1953 - Village women leaving the Church after a religious service (Neville Chipulina blogspot)

In the early 1960’s construction of the Caleta Palace Hotel to the immediate south of the Catalan Bay Village led the Gibraltar City Council to consider ways of enhancing the tourist product of the area by providing further amenities to the hotel guests within the village itself. The property had renewed its lease on the 1st January 1963 for a further 23 years but in 1964 Government proposed erecting a piazza at Catalan Bay which involved the demolition of the derelict store building at the rear of the Chapel. Mr. C. McGrail, then Commissioner for Lands and Works, proposed an arrangement to exchange surrender of the store for a small kitchen and water closet within the rest of the Chapel. The old storage spaces would be preserved under the new piazza once it was built with the Lands and Works Department committing itself to provide new doors to the storage spaces at the back of the Chapel once construction had been completed.43

Bishop Healy however, was concerned with the restrictions the new proposed piazza would incur on the Chapel. On the 22nd April 1964 he wrote to McGrail expressing his dissatisfaction ‘with the fact no progress had been made with his request, should the need arise, to enlarge the Church…’44

On the 16th May 1964, McGrail confirmed to Bishop Healy that he was ‘happy to confirm that the City Council will be prepared, when the time comes and provided that they are not put to any expenses thereby, to give up for the purpose a reasonable part of the Public Highway commensurate with the area you would be giving up now.’45

As to the priest’s quarters proposals a hall was to be provided, thus affording a private link between the flat and entrance door, with the kitchen and WC accessible from the hall and not from the habitable room. The flat above the vestry, therefore comprised of two rooms, kitchen, hall and internal separate WC and lavatory basin resulting in a self-contained flat. This compromise solution was accepted by Bishop Healy.

Lady of Sorrows 1950's.

In 1998 it was realised that subsequent renewals of the existing lease (which had expired in 1984) had not been regularized. On the 7th July 1998, A. V. Stagnetto acting on behalf of the Diocese of Gibraltar informed Government that his clients were anxious to have a more secure tenure in respect of the property and asked Government whether they would consider granting them a freehold for the property.

However, it was now Government policy not to grant freeholds on any of its properties. So, on the 7th September 1998, the Committee approved the issue of a 99-year lease instead, paying a nominal £1 per annum in ground rent. This new 99-year lease was to be effective as from the 1st May 2000.

On the 3rd October 2005 in a meeting with Government, Father Charles Azzopardi informed the Minister for Trade, Employment and Communications the Hon. J. Holliday that the Churches of St. Bernard’s, St. Paul’s, St. Theresa’s and Our Lady of Sorrows were not consecrated, and could not be consecrated, as Rome would only permit the consecration of Churches over which the Church enjoyed freehold properties. He nevertheless indicated that it would be acceptable to Rome if a 999-year lease were granted instead.

Having discussed the issue with the Chief Minister, the Hon. Peter Caruana, it was agreed that a 999-year lease should be grated in respect of the said properties. However, this concession would only apply to the Churches themselves and not to other premises owned by the Church such as Priest’s houses etc.46 A 999-year lease for the Church was granted and exchanged for the 99-year lease on the 7th November 2005 and dated to the 22nd December 2005.

The Chapel of Our Lady of Europe at the heart of the Catalan Bay village continues to manifest the religious, social and cultural character of this small and unique fishing community.

Original entry into the Chapel - 1

Original doorway into the Chapel.

Original entry into the Chapel - 2

Chapel interior today.

Present façade of Our Lady of Sorrows Church, Catalan Bay.


Further information on Catalan Bay Village: Gibraltar a Changing Land - The Fishermen of Gibraltar



1 Diocese of Gibraltar: Our Lady of Sorrows

2 BARRANTES MALDONADO, Pedro: Dialogo entre Pedro Barrantes Maldonado y un cavallero estrangero que cuenta el saco que los turcos hicieron en Gibraltar en 1540, (1566).

3 HILLS, George: Rock of Contention. (Hale), 1974., p. 170

4 ARCHER E.G, VALLEJO. E. P, & BENADY T: Catalan Bay. Gibraltar Bookshop, (2001)., p. 15

5 GILBARD, Lt. Col. George James: A popular history of Gibraltar, its institutions, and its neighbourhood on both sides of the straits, and a guide book to their principal places and objects of interest, Garrison Library Printing Establishment (1888)., p. 44.

6 Ibid., p. 15

7 BELL, James: The History of Gibraltar from the earliest period of its Occupation by the Saracens. Translated from The Spanish of Don Ignacio Lopez de Ayala with a Continuation to Modern Times. London, (1845)., p. 44

8 Ibid., p. 45

9 GILBARD, Opcit., p. 15

10 POOLE, Robert: Gibraltar in 1748, Gibraltar Heritage Journal No. 3 (1996)., p.

11 GNA: Civil Records - 1777 Census,

12 GNA: Letter from Captain Wright to HE the Governor dated 25th January 1805. Catalan Bay Box File 1805-1930.

13 ARCHER et al., Opcit., p. 23

14 GNA: Chronicle dated 14th December 1811 also in ARCHER et al., p. 23-24.

15 CONSTANTINE, Stephen: Community and Identity: The making of Modern Gibraltar since 1704, Manchester University Press (2009)., p. 29.

16 HOWES, Dr. H. W: The Gibraltarian – The Origin and Evolution of the People of Gibraltar from 1704, Sun Publishing (1991)., p. 25.

17 GNA: Catalan Bay permits 1815-1928 Box 8.

18 ARCHER et al., Opcit., pp. 61-62.

19 GNA: Register Of Inhabitants 1814 Proprietors Service

20 GNA: Catalan Bay permits 1815-1928 Box 8. House Nos. 19, 22, 23, 25 & 26.

21 GARNET Jane & ROSSER Gervase: The Church and Mary - The Virgin Mary and the People of Liguria: Image and Cult, Volume 39, Boydell Press, 2004., pp. 280-297.

22 ARCHER et al., Opcit., p. 63


24 ARCHER et al., Opcit., p. 66

25 KELART, Edward Fred: Flora Calpensis – Botany and Topography of Gibraltar and its neighbourhood, (London) 1846. Digital copy at GNA., p. 47

26 ARCHER et al., Opcit., p. 62

27 CHIPULINA, Neville:1540 - Catalan Bay - Dirty but interesting.

28 GILBARD, Opcit., p. 62.

29 ARCHER et al., Opcit., p. 68

30 Ibid.

31 Ibid., pp. 13-14.

32 Source: Ian Ballestrino GHT oral testimony dated 25th May 2019 at the GNA. He had met Paul Cosquieri in Malta some years before.

33 History Society Gibraltar Vol 10 No. 1 March 2019: Prisoners of War on the Rock 1940-1947 by Ian Reyes.

34 Ibid.

35 MOORE, B: Enforced Diaspora: The Fate of Italian Prisoners of War during the Second World War. War in History, 22 (2). (2015) 174 - 190. ISSN 0968-3445. p.8

36 MOORE, Bob & FEDEROWICH Kent: The British Empire and its Italian Prisoners of War, 1940-1947. London. (2002)., pp. 150-151

37 Source: Peter Lugnani, son of Pietro Lugnani, May 2019.

38 Ibid. p. 70

39 GNA: Properties in Catalan Bay 1947-1970 Box File. File: 1947 Conversion of part of the vestry into a Chapel.

40 Ibid. Letting No. 81 File: 1953 Construction of Chapel for baptismal font.

41 Ibid. Letting No. 81 File: 1951 Construction of a Chapel at Catalan Bay Church.

42 Ibid. Letting No. 81 File: Oct. 1946 Minor structural alterations.

43 Land Property Services: Catalan Bay Village (Chapel) CP1505 LDP Let 81

44 Ibid.

45 Ibid.

46 Ibid.

Our Lady of Sorrows Church Image