Reference: “ A Nation’s Praise-Malta: People, Places and Events” by A.E. Abela, Progress Press, Valletta, 1994. pp106-113.
HRH, Prince Louis d’Orleans, Comte de Beaujolais’ last resting place in St John’s Cathedral could never be described as humble. The Count’s funeral procession through Valletta and the service in the Cathedral in June 1808 lacked none of the trappings of a great and solemn state occasion. It was not, however, until 1843 – 35 years after his death – that the magnificent monument in St John’s, which we know and admire today, was erected.
The ailing Count of Beaujolais originally arrived in Malta on May 16, 1808. An intimation of his arrival was contained in a despatch dated April 5, 1808, from the Secretary of State for the Colonial and War Department, Lord Castlereagh, to the Civil Commissioner, Sir Alexander Ball. Lord Castlereagh wrote: “The health of the Count Beaujolais requiring the assistance of a warm climate, His Majesty has graciously permitted him to repair to Malta and has allowed his brother, the Duke of Orleans, who is most affectionately anxious for his recovery, to accompany him in his voyage.
“I am therefore to express my desire that as soon as these illustrious personages arrive at Malta, you will pay them every mark of attention in your power and procure for them the best accommodation which circumstances will allow.”
The accommodation, which Sir Alexander Ball decided to put at the royal brothers’ disposal, was the handsome building in South Street, Valletta, which now houses the National Museum of Fine Arts. The building was then known as “ Don Raimondo’s House”.
On the royal brothers’ arrival in Grand Harbour (on May 16, 1808), they were given a 15 – gun salute, to be followed, when they stepped ashore, by a further salute of 21 guns. Ball accompanied the royal party to the Palace, Valletta, and three days later, on May 19, the Count and his brother moved into South Street.
Louis-Charles de Orleans, Comte de Beaujolais, was born in the Royal Palace in Paris on October 7, 1779. He was the youngest son of Louis-Philippe-Joseph, Duc d’Orleans, better known as Philippe-Egalite. (Philip-Egalite was the cousin of King Louis XVI of France. During the French Revolution he voted for the execution of the King and was himself guillotined as well.)
Young Louis-Charles, Comte de Beaujolais, had two brothers and a sister. His elder brother, the Duc d’Orleans, who now accompanied him to Malta, was later to be crowned King Louis-Philippe I of France, though he preferred to be known as le roi citoyen . The Counts second brother, Antoine-Philippe Duc de Montpensier, died of consumption the year before the Count came to Malta. His sister, Adelaide, better known as Mademoiselle d’Orleans, who was non stranger to Malta was to die in 1847. (A memorial service was held for her in January 1848 at the Carmelite Church, Valletta. A kinsman, the Prince of Capua, then in exile in Malta, was invited to the service but did not attend).
The Count has been in Sicily with the Duc d’Orleans before they arrived in Malta in 1808. The Counts health was fast deteriorating and he died of consumption on the morning of May 30, 1808, a fortnight after his arrival on the island. He was only 19 years old. He received the Last Sacraments the day before, administered by the vice-parish priest of Porto Salvo church. On May 31, the Counts body was embalmed and then lay in state in a large hall of the house. The funeral took place with the greatest magnificence – as befitted royalty – on June3. Flags were flown at half-mast and troops lined the streets as the cortège followed a seemingly circuitous route to St John’s Cathedral. Processing in a long train were the clergy, the cathedral chapter, the nobility, judges, members of the vice-admiralty court and members of the business community.
In the cathedral a cappella ardente was set up with hundreds of candles, which produced a dazzling illumination. Dirges were intoned, and the Bishop of Malta, Mgr. Ferdinando Mattei, celebrated High Mass. Fra read the funeral oration. Prospero Xuereb, Conventual Chaplain.
The remains of the Young Count were sealed within three boxes and the catafalque was draped with black velvet edged with gold tassels. On the coffin was placed the Count’s insignia as Grand Cross of the Order of St Louis. His heart was preserved in a special box with an inscription in silver. This was later to be deposited in the church of our Lady of Liesse in Valletta.
Ten years were to pass before the Count was finally laid to rest. On April 10, 1818 his remains were buried in the chapel of St Paul of the former Langue of France in St John’s Catheral. The Malta Government Gazette of April 15, 1818, reported on its front page: “Since the decease in this island of … Count de Beaujolais … during which period his body, already embalmed, had laid unburied in the Co-Cathedral of St John, the Court of France deemed it proper to direct the burial of the same, with the solemnities due to so high a Prince..”
The report continued: “The Co-Cathedral Church of St John was decorated with black hangings, in the most elegant manner, and in the nave a magnificent bier and canopy were displayed, surrounded by numerous lighted candles and adorned with the arms of the family of Orleans. The coffin contained the remains of the illustrious deceased, covered with red velvet and decorated with various emblems in solver, was placed on the bier.”
Archbishop Mattei celebrated High Mass, after which a procession took placed within the cathedral. Two of the pallbearers were Maltese noblemen – the Marquis Giovanni Niccolo Testaferrata and the Marquis Giovanni Antonio Apap.
A fine neo-classical memorial plaque marked the Count’s burial place in the chapel of St Paul. Augustin-Felix Fortin sculptured it in Paris in 1819.
In 1843 King Louis-Philippe I of France presented the famous marble monument in memory of his beloved brother, the Comte de Beaujolais, to St John’s Cathedral. The celebrated sculptor Jean-Jacques Pradier executed the work. The monument was brought to Malta in October 1843 in the French steam frigate Veloce. On its unpacking, the Malta Mail of October 27, 1843, commented: “It is a beautifully chaste piece of sculpture from the chisel of Pradier and reflects the highest honour on the talented artist.” We learn that it cost 20,000 francs.
The consecration of the moniment took place on December 5, 1843. Describing the ceremony in St John’s, il Mediterraneo of December 6 wrote: “The church was hung throughout with deep black tapestry. In the centre a catafalco was raised, illuminated by numberless wax lights… Two ranks of French seaman belonging to the French steamer in port flanked the cataflaco.” The Archdeacon, Mgr Salvatore Lanzon, conducted the funeral service. The orchestra was described as “very numerous”. The Governor, Sir Patrick Stuart, was present with his staff and with members of the Council of Government. Attending the ceremony were the French consul and other foreign consuls as well as Baron Taylor, French naval officers and all French subjects residing in Malta. Twenty –nine minute guns were fired during the service. National flags were flown at half-mast and church bells tolled.
After the consecration ceremony, the monument was on public exhibition. The Daily Mail of December 8, 1843 describes its beauty and again its “chasteness”.
The Duc d’Aumale, son of King Louis-Philippe and nephew of the late Comte de Beaujolais, was on a short visit to Malta in November 1843 when the monument was being erected and he made it a point of calling at St John’s to inspect the work in progress in the chapel of St Paul.
For over a century and a half Pradier’s reclining status of the Comte de Beaujolais has added noble lustre to the chapel of St Paul’s in St John’s Cathedral