St Paul’s Island, also known as Selmunett, is a small island off Selmun near the north-east of the main island of Malta. St Paul’s Island is sometimes split into two islands by a shallow isthmus, and it is therefore sometimes referred to in the plural as St Paul’s Islands. St Paul’s Island has been uninhabited since World War II, and it is the largest uninhabited island of Malta.
The Acts of the Apostles tell the story of how Paul the Apostle was shipwrecked on an island which some scholars have identified as Malta while on his way to Rome to face charges. Traditionally, St. Paul’s Bay and St Paul’s Island are identified as the location for this shipwreck.
In 1576, Marco di Maria was being chased by Barbary corsairs off the coast of Malta. He navigated his vessel through the narrow channel between St Paul’s Island and Malta, but when the pirates followed him they ran aground and were captured. As a result of this, the Grandmaster Jean de la Cassière gave St Paul’s Islands to di Maria. Since he was a member of the Salamone family, the islands were often called Selmunett.
In 1844 a prominent statue of Saint Paul was erected on the island. It was sculpted by Segismondo Dimech from Valletta and Salvatore Dimech from Lija. The statue was officially inaugurated and blessed on 21 September 1845. It was restored by Din l-Art Ħelwa in 1996 and again in 2007. It will be restored once more in 2014.
Until the 1930s, a farmer called Vincenzo Borg, nicknamed Ta’ Bajdafin, lived on the island. His farmhouse was located close to the statue of Saint Paul. He abandoned the dwelling and the fields on the island just before World War II started. The farmhouse was a three-chambered structure with a heavily buttressed wall at its lower level. It resembled the Lascaris or De Redin towers, although it was never used for military purposes. Since it was abandoned, the upper room has collapsed and the structure is now in ruins. Pope John Paul II visited the island by boat during his visit to Malta in 1990.
Saint Paul’s Islands lie about 80 metres off the coast of Mellieħa, Malta. The island can split into two islands by a shallow isthmus according to the sea level, and when they are split the larger island on the west is known as Saint Paul’s Island while the smaller one on the east is known as Quartz Island. Both islands are made of upper coralline limestone. Saint Paul’s Island’s landscape is a maritime garigue dominated by Golden samphire, Maltese fleabane and other species. Quartz Island is more exposed and has less vegetation than the main island. A population of the land snail Trochoidea spratti can be found on the islands. Wild rabbits used to live on the island but the population died off due to disease. A subspecies of the Maltese wall lizard known as Podarcis filfolensis kieselbachi also lived there but the population apparently became extinct in 2005.