Imnarja Races

The Imnarja races, one of the attractions of Imnarja, started well before the Order of St. John, as evidenced in documents dating to 1460 which show that this race was run by horses, mares, mules asses, small Spanish horses, men, black slaves and children.
For each race three "paljijiet" (sort of banners) as a prize were awarded to the first, second and third winners. These were made from a portion of damask some three meters wide and many of them ended up as church altarpieces. The first prize ‘paljijiet’ would have more worth than others.

The first race would be run by children behind the black slaves who were racing without shirts. At the beginning of the eighteenth century these three races were discontinued at Imnarja and become men and children only raced on the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Mdina.

The paljijiet were ready on the feast of Corpus Christi, to then be placed in the terrace of the Banca Giuratale. On Sundays between this feast and Imnarja, the Jurors would take them home each day and display them to the population in their village or town before these races.

The eve of the feast of Imnarja was dedicated to St. Paul. During the singing of Vespers and precisely during the singing of the Magnificat these paljijiet were borne by people from the house of the Master of the Rod, accompanied by the playing of drums. They were brought in through the great door of the Cathedral and laid in the middle of the church before the Jurors’ chairs to be offered to St. Paul. The paljijiet banners would remain by the door of the church until after the Second Vespers of the feast day when they were the Captain of the Rod and the Jurors would proceed to the Mnarja racecourse in their carriages behind the carriers of the paljijiet amidst the playing of drums and a salvo of musket gunshot at Mdina.
At the end the races, everyone would return to Mdina in the same order they left, and the paljijiet would be awarded to those who had come first, second and third. Then the winners would return to their village to boast that they won the prize in Imnarja races. Over time the prizes started to be awarded on the terrace of the Banca Giuratale overlooking the race road which was built in 1696 by Grand Master Adrien de Wignacourt.

References: Biagio Galea, Mdina of childhood, 1989. Pauline Dingli, Rabat.