Medieval Coat of Arms discovered at Mdina

A unique medieval ashlar block of stone bearing the coat of arms of Guglielmo Murina has been recently brought to light in Mdina.

This unique escutcheon, which dates back to the late fourteenth century, was accidentally discovered in the course of the ongoing restoration works on the fortifications of the ancient historic fortified city of Mdina that are being partly-financed by the European Union through the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF 039).


The small block of stone, measuring some 28 cms high by some 20 cms wide, bears the coat of arms of Guglielmo Murina, who was Governor of the island in 1372 and also keeper of the Castrum Maris (the later Fort St Angelo). The coat of arms depicts a shield bearing three undulating vertical lines, representing three eels (murina = ‘eel’ in Italian), enveloped by acanthus foliage that appears to have  formed part of a larger panoply.

The escutcheon was found incorporated into the revetment of an artillery platform erected on D’Homedes Bastion during the early eighteenth century.  The stone block was evidently cannibalized from some nearby medieval building and re-utilized in the re-modification of the bastion by the Knights of St John. These eighteenth-century remodeling works on D’Homedes Bastion (the original bastion was begun in the 1540s and completed in 1551) and its adjoining ramparts and edifices, were undertaken under the supervision of the resident French military engineer Charles François de Mondion during the course of the 1720s.  At the time, Mondion was also responsible for building the new magisterial palace at Mdina, later known as Vilhena Palace, which abutted D’Homedes Bastion. This new palatial edifice replaced Grand Master L’Isle Adam’s earlier palazzo, itself incorporated into the structural remnants of Mdina’s medieval castle, the so called ‘castellu di la chitati’ mentioned in the fourteenth and fifteenth century records of the Università of Mdina.

By the time of the arrival of the Knights of the Order of St John to Malta in1530, the larger part of this castle, particularly its inner walls facing the town, had been pulled down ˗ a process that had began in 1453 owing to the ruinous nature of the old walls, the upkeep of which had become a significant drain on the town’s purse.  Even so, at the time of Mondion’s re-hauling of the palazzo and its adjoining ramparts in the early eighteenth century, a few elements of the old castle were still standing. Amongst these were at least two towers, the Torre de la Camera (a sort of mastio) and the Torre Dello Standardo, both of which were eventually dismantled by Mondion to make way for his new palace layout and gateway into the old city. A large part of the ancient masonry from the city’s medieval walls was re-utilized by the knights in the construction of the inner revetments of their new ramparts, as can be seen in most of the parapets lining Mdina’s land front bastions. This process had been going on at least since the last quarter of the seventeenth century when the knights began reshaping the medieval curtain walls and encasing them with scarped ramparts alla moderna.

One of the possible sources for the provenance of the Murina’s escutcheon, therefore, may have been the remaining walls or palatial edifices pertaining to the old medieval castle which were still standing prior to Mondion’s intervention. The dimensions of the stone block (28 cm course height) on which the escutcheon is carved are equivalent to those of the other ordinary ‘kantuni’ employed in the construction of late-medieval ramparts and edifices at Mdina.

The escutcheon was discovered by Mr. George Grima, the Restoration Directorate’s Mdina site manager overseeing the ERDF restoration works at Mdina. Prof. Mario Buhagiar and Ms Charlene Vella, leading historians in Maltese medieval art and architecture at the University of Malta, as well as Dr. Stephen C. Spiteri, were called in to help evaluate the escutcheon.  A joint paper analyzing and discussing the escutcheon’s historical, architectural, and artistic significance is under preparation and will be published in due course.

Above, View of Grand Master Vilhena’s Baroque magisterial palace built by his French military engineer, Charles François de Mondion, on the site originally occupied by Mdina’s medieval castle and L’Isle Adam’s palazzo. (Image Source: www.militaryarchitecture.com).

Above, View of the Murina coat of arms coupled with that of the Francisco Gatto (following the merger of the two families) as can still be seen at Palazzo Gatto Murina in Mdina. (Image Source: www.militaryarchitecture.com).

Above, Prof. Mario Buhagiar (right), Ms. Charlene Vella, and Mr. George Grima examining the site shortly after the coat of arms was brought to light.  (Image Source: www.militaryarchitecture.com).


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