Christianity has almost 2000 years of history in Malta. According to tradition, it was brought to the Islands by none other than the Apostle Paul himself in around A.D. 60. Paul was being taken to Rome to be tried as a political rebel, but the ship carrying him and some 274 others was caught in a violent storm only to be wrecked two weeks later on the Maltese coast. All aboard swam safely to land. The site of the wreck is traditionally known as St. Paul’s Island, and is marked by a statue commemorating the event. The welcome given to the survivors is described in the Acts of the Apostles (XXVIII) by St. Luke:
“And later we learned that the island was called Malta.
And the people who lived there showed us great kindness,
and they made a fire and called us all to warm ourselves… ”
As the fire was lit, Paul was bitten by a poisonous snake but he suffered no ill effects. The islanders took this as a sign that he was a special man. This scene is depicted in many religious works of art on the Islands. According to tradition, the Apostle took refuge in a cave, now known as St. Paul’s Grotto in Rabat, Malta. During his winter stay, he was invited to the house of Publius, the Romans’ chief man on the Islands. It was here, according to tradition, that Paul cured Publius’ father of a serious fever. Publius is then said to have converted to Christianity and was made the first Bishop of Malta. The Cathedral of Mdina is said to stand on the site of Publius’ house. Archaeological evidence seems to support this tradition, as Malta was one of the first Roman colonies to convert.
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.
St John’s Co-Cathedral is a gem of Baroque art and architecture. It was built as the conventual church for the Knights of St. John. The Grand Masters and several knights donated gifts of high artistic value and made enormous contributions to enrich it with only the best works of art. This church is till this very day an important shrine and a sacred place of worship. It is also a venue for cultural events.
Described as the first complete example of the high Baroque anywhere, St. John’s Cathedral epitomises the role of its original patrons, the Knights of St. John. The Cathedral is testimony to the talent of Maltese military architect Gerolamo Cassar, with Mattia Preti’s intricately carved stone wall designs, as well as the painted vaulted ceiling and side altars with scenes from the life of St. John. The Cathedral also houses one of Europe’s most impressive and famous art works – Caravaggio’s Beheading of St. John the Baptist. The Cathedral was a shrine to the Knights, as many sons of Europe’s noble families from the 16th to 18th centuries lie buried here. Their intricate, marble-inlaid tombstones form a magnificently crafted pavimento. Also a resting place to the founder of Valletta, Grand Master Jean Parisot de la Vallette, his tomb lies in the crypt, a quiet sanctuary and place of contemplation away from the busy streets outside.
The Parish Church of Mellieha is dedicated to the Birth of Our Lady, and was built between 1881 and 1898. All the stone was cut from a nearby quarry at l-Ahrax tal-Mellieha and transported up to Mellieha by the local peasants, who worked laboriously to see their wish of having a new church come true. Once the church’s building was completed, the Parish Priests Dun Frangisk Magri, Dun Carlo Cortis and Dun Indri Fenech endeavoured to embellish the interior.
Thus between 1920 and 1940 the belfries and dome were erected, five bellsdedicated to St. Frances, St. Joseph, St. Anthony, St. Paul and the Virgin Marywere brought from Milan, and the church altars were decorated with paintings by the best Maltese artists, including the renowned Giuseppe Calì and Lazzru Pisani.
Many churches in Malta and Gozo have works of art made from this onyx but iż-Żebbuġ church is by far the most spectacular. It is covered with this semi-precious stone. The high altar, the choir, and the baptistery are all sculpted out of this onyx.
Iż-Żebbuġ became an independent parish in 1688 and the building of the present church (without the onyx) started in 1690. The church, dedicated to Santa Marija (St Mary) the Assumption, was consecrated in 1726. The Cathedral apart, it is the oldest parish church to be consecrated in Gozo.
Worthy of special mention is the altarpiece of the Immaculate Conception in a chapel in the left transept, known by the locals as tal-Virtut (of the miracles). Local folklore has it that the radiant face of the Virgin turns yellowish and pale before an impending natural catastrophe. It is also said that one day, when some corsairs dared to devastate the countryside as far as the village, a lady that resembled the image in the altarpiece appeared on the spot hurling stones to repel the enemy.
The Madonna Statue is located in front of the Immaculate Conception Chapel at the end of Marfa Ridge road. It was built in 1870 with an accompanying chapel which, legend has it, was built by a fisherman in thanks for surviving when his boat capsized. The original chapel was at one point in danger of collapsing so a new one was built in 1961. This is an idyllic spot for those searching for some untouched countryside, and is often used for picnics.
MARC BRADSHAW “Born on the 9th of September 1977 In everlasting memory of my dearest son who died tragically from these cliffs on the 5th of July 2000. Always remember his smile and his love and never forget him in your prayers. May God always keep you with him and grant you eternal rest.” Dad.
The parish church of Naxxar is dedicated to the Nativity of the Virgin Mary and was built by Tumas Dingli between 1616 and 1630. Later on, the church was enlarged and restored with a side isle and a new façade.
The monastery of Saint Ursula was first established at Vittoriosa, but in 1595 it was transferred to Valletta. The nuns follow the rule written by Blessed Raymond du Puy, first Grandmaster of the Order of Saint John. During the time of the Knights the monastery was subject to the Grandmaster, but since the departure of the Order from Malta, the monastery has been directly subject to the Bishop.