The Grey Lady
By correspondent Daniela Frendo in Vittoriosa, Malta.
Standing proudly at the heart of Malta’s Grand Harbour, the medieval fort of St. Angelo has throughout the ages borne witness to some of the worst war atrocities of the Mediterranean. Some fishermen insist that they can still hear the agonized screams of the Ottoman soldiers who were captured and slaughtered by the Knights of St. John during the Great Siege of 1565. The prisoners’ heads were literally sawn off and floated across the harbour on a raft to act as a deterrent to the other Ottoman militants. These gruesome events turned the fortification and its surroundings into the most haunted place on the island.
But within its high and indestructible walls, Fort St. Angelo harbors a centuries-old dreadful story about an unfortunate maiden in a lavish grey gown, whose restless soul might still be lurking deep in the chambers and passageways of the fort.
The maiden’s ghostly presence at St. Angelo was first recorded during the British rule in Malta in the early 1900s, when an English captain and his family took up residence at the fort. The rustle of skirts could often be heard during the dead of night, and was often followed by cold blasts of air. Doors would slowly open and close by themselves, but the spirit of the maiden never inflicted any harm on the family. The children of the captain had seen her on countless occasions, and described her as a nice, beautiful lady who always looked so sullen. Nevertheless, the wife of the Captain decided to have a mass said at the fort for the repose of the maiden’s soul. The wife’s plan backfired. The Grey Lady turned into a poltergeist, terrorising the family with her deafening screams and banging of doors. An exorcism ensued, and the ghost of the Grey Lady was forever banished. Or so they thought.
The Grey Lady is believed to be the mistress of the Sicilian Aragonese Captain De Nava, who inhabited the castle in the late thirteenth century. De Nava had taken a fancy to a young Maltese woman and he would often invite her to balls and dinner at the fort. Although the spark between them grew more radiant, they still managed to keep their affair under wraps.
One day the Maltese maiden put on her best attire, a graceful grey dress, and decided to pay De Nava a surprise visit. She called at the gate of the fort, and one of the guards heralded the maiden’s visit to the captain. That morning De Nava was having breakfast with his wife, who had come over from Sicily to spend a few weeks with her husband. Flustered at the news of his sweetheart’s visit at such an inconvenient time, De Nava ordered his guards to get rid of the girl. The guards were shocked at their captain’s outrage and got the wrong end of the stick. They immediately killed the girl, and dumped her body in one of the castle’s dungeons.
A few weeks passed, and De Nava started to wonder why he hadn’t heard from his mistress again. Assuming that she might have been hurt by his recent rejection, he approached his guards to see what they had told her exactly. The guards could have lied through their teeth, and this would have saved their lives, but they decided to come clean with their master. De Nada spared no mercy on his guards. They suffered the same fate as the young woman.
The year is 1940, and Malta, still under British rule, has entered war against Germany and Italy. Superstitions and fear of spirits are replaced by the horrors of war as hundreds flee to unhygienic underground shelters and pray endlessly for protection. The Grand Harbour, which served as a naval base during WW2, was the most heavily bombed location in Malta. Fort St. Angelo was still being used by the British Navy, and the building suffered at least sixty-nine direct hits. Amid the turmoil of relentless bomb attacks, the Grey Lady decided to make an unexpected reappearance at the fort. This time, however, she returned with a different purpose in her mind.
Four soldiers who shared sleeping quarters in one particular chamber claimed to have often seen a spectre of a woman beckoning them towards the door. One night they decided to follow her out of the room. She led them through the fort’s passageways and down some stairs until they reached a dead end. The rest of the passageway had been sealed off by a brick wall. The woman disappeared through the wall, leaving the soldiers stranded in the fort’s underground paths. Before they had time to register the night’s supernatural events, a sudden blast shook the building. The soldiers rushed upstairs to the aid of their follow combatants, but thankfully no one had been injured. The bomb had pierced the roof of the sleeping quarters that the four soldiers had just abandoned. The Grey Lady had saved their lives.
The discovery of the sealed passageway aroused the soldiers’ curiosity. It was later knocked down, revealing a stairway that went down into the dungeons. There, amid the grit and dirt that had accumulated throughout the years, lay two male skeletons which might have belonged to De Nava’s guards. A few feet away rested the skeleton of a woman, together with scraps of moldy grey fabric.
The Ghosts of Malta by Joseph Attard, published in 2012 by BDL Publications.
The Last Bastion by Captain Eric Brockman, published in 1975 by Progress Press.
Daniela Frendo is an avid writer and photographer who’s passionate about cultures, history and the occult. She currently resides in Malta, but considers Scotland, particularly Edinburgh, to be her second home.