Mosta is a historic town for many reasons; it is the hometown of Joseph il-Kapxi Mangion, it’s been inhabited since pre-history and is the literal and spiritual birthplace of the Rotunda, featuring one of the largest unsupported domes in the world.
However, there’s one locally-known incident that happened 2nd May, 1983, that Mosta residents remember to this very day involving a taxi driver, a bet and a very damaged church door.
The incident had led to outrage throughout the quaint Northern town.
It was around 9.40pm on Monday when residents were shocked to hear the sound of a car crash coming from the pjazza. Somehow, a Mercedes had driven up the Rotunda’s staircase and rammed through the massive entrance doors to the church, coming to a halt in the middle of the church, metres away from the altar.
It had taken the vehicle three attempts to scale the stairs in front of the Rotunda, before making it between the massive columns on either side of the entrance. The door was locked at the time, however, the sheer force of the Mercedes was able to break through.
When the car came to a rest, it was reportedly still playing music and had its “brights” squarely aimed at the altar.
Police arrived at the scene, and arrested the driver; a crowd had formed at this time, and authorities worked till 2am to clear the rubble, according to the Mosta Archive.
The driver was a 27-year-old taxi driver from Ħamrun named Carmelo Aquilina. Months later, in February 1984, a court charged him with publicly tarnishing Malta’s religion by choosing to drive into the church. He was also charged with dangerous and negligent driving.
He had also committed over 580 Maltese Lira in damages to the entrance of the church.
The court found that his car had not suffered from any mechanical faults, and they found him guilty of voluntarily driving into the church.
Aquilina was sentenced to three months in prison and had his driving license suspended for three months.
Speaking to elderly Mosta residents today, the incident is still clear in their minds.
“The guy wasn’t from Mosta, and had apparently lost a bet. I heard that he had driven from that small street leading to the primary school and drove straight up the zuntier (churchyard),” one woman told Lovin Malta.
“He’s lucky he did it in Mosta – if he did it in his own home town or some other towns, he wouldn’t have escaped without residents attacking him,” a male local resident told Lovin Malta.
Online, other details emerge about the incident that shocked the town.
“The driver used to live next to use, I remember the incident well! He’s dead now – but his son now uses that vehicle as a taxi,” said one woman online.
“I heard that the church door had been left ajar on purpose by a third party because otherwise the car would have crashed hard into the door if it was locked as it should have been,” said another man.
“The bet was actually to drive into the door, so the driver actually won the bet,” said a third commentator.
Over a quarter of a century later, people still get heated when thinking about what may be one of the silliest bets in the history of the island. However, the Rotunda survived bombings by Italian Fascists to go on to become a basilica, and a celebrated church the island over.
Photos: Mosta Archives