Fondazzjoni Patrimonju Malti
Museum Contacts
Private Events
Supporting Palazzo Falson
Friends of Palazzo Falson
YouTube channel
» Back to Overview

Magic in Malta 1605: The Moorish Slave Sellem Bin Al-Sheikh Mansur and the Roman Inquisition


In April 2015 Palazzo Falson Historic House Museum will be hosting a private workshop and a public panel discussion on Magic in Malta, which brings together academics from major British institutions including the Universities of Exeter, Oxford and London and the British Museum together with other institutions and the University of Malta to explore in depth a trial document, from the Inquisition Archives in Malta, which contains witness statements, books of magic which form part of the evidence, the cross-examination of the accused by the Inquisitor Hector Diotallevio, and the final verdict in the Roman Inquisition’s trial of the Moorish slave Sellem Bin Al-Sheikh Mansur.


The principle Investigator of this project is Professor Dionisius A Agius 
FBA, Al Qasimi Professor of Arabic Studies and Islamic Material Culture, Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, University of Exeter. His Co-Investigator is Dr Catherine Rider, Senior Lecturer in Medieval History, Department of History, University of Exeter who will be joined by Research Fellow Dr Alex Mallett of the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, University of Exeter and Consultants Professor Jonathan Barry (University of Exeter), Professor Charles Burnett (Warburg Institute, University of London), Professor Carmel Cassar (University of Malta), Professor Frans Ciappara (University of Malta), Professor Pierre Lory (École Pratique des Hautes Études, Paris), Professor Ian Netton, (University of Exeter), Dr Venetia Porter (British Museum), Dr Liana Saif (Oriental Institute, Oxford University) and Professor Martin Zammit, (University of Malta).


Ideas of magic have existed in human society for millennia and are worldwide phenomena, continuing to this day through the use of amulets, crucifixes, and the evil eye, among others, in places such as the Islands of Malta, as well as more widely in Europe and the Islamic World.


Over the decades much energy has been expended identifying the causes behind, attitudes towards, and consequences of the perceived practice of magic in Medieval and Early Modern Europe, and, to a lesser extent, the contemporaneous Islamic world. Yet in a few comparatively neglected places, such as Malta, these differing cultures overlapped, with the result that ideas of magic could cross cultural boundaries and so start to influence other cultures.


In response to the use of magic on Malta, which was often accompanied by an Islamic influence, the Roman Inquisition on Malta, under the auspices of the Pope, attempted to prevent its practice through legal proceedings against suspected practitioners. The (Cathedral) Archives in Mdina, Malta, contain manuscripts of court proceedings of the Inquisition, dating from 1561 to 1798, which cover a number of charges ranging from apostasy through possession of prohibited religious literature to witchcraft and magic.


This project examines the proceedings (written in Latin, Italian and Arabic) of the Roman Inquisition on Malta’s 1605 trial of the ‘Moorish’ slave Sellem Bin al-Sheikh Mansur, who was accused and found guilty of practising magic and sentenced to solitary confinement. It will assess what these proceedings reflect about religion, society, and politics both on Malta and more widely across the Mediterranean in the early 17th century, as well as aspects of magic in both European and Islamic contexts.


Unlike earlier works on magic on Malta, a field dominated by the work of Carmel Cassar (1996), who has examined a large number of trials of Christians using a broad perspective, this project studies one trial of a Muslim in depth, following Professor Agius’ previous British Academy sponsored study of Georgio Scala and the Moorish Slaves, an inquisitional document also found at the Mdina archives. The study of the present project entails a transcription, translation and commentary of the trial proceedings, highlighting as broadly as possible its main points and thereby attempting to open the whole field of Maltese Inquisition trials to a wider audience than has previously been the case.


For further information follow this link: http://socialsciences.exeter.ac.uk/iais/research/projects/magicinmalta1605/

Copyright © Palazzo Falson | Disclaimer