8 Underappreciated churches in the Maltese islands
by Yellow 33 Days
With over 350 churches and chapels scattered around the Maltese islands, it’s difficult to pick and choose the best. Every single one of them comes with a rich story of devotion and dedication - to a village, a religion, a cause or a saint.
Some stand out more than others, often because of their sheer size or prominent location. We’re throwing the spotlight on eight of the lesser known churches and chapels, many of which played some part in shaping Malta’s history - through fact or legend. They might not be as popular as the Mosta Dome, St John’s Co-Cathedral or Gozo’s Ta’ Pinu, but they all have a unique story to tell.
1. Sacred Family Upon its Return from Egypt, Comino
This is the only church on the Maltese islands dedicated to the Holy Family’s return from Egypt - a scene depicted in the chapel’s main painting.
It is also the only chapel located on Comino - the 3.5-square-kilometre island situated between Malta and Gozo.
Comino's chapel, also referred to as St Mary’s chapel serves the island’s only resident family as well as tourists who visit, especially in summer. The exact date when the chapel was built is not known. However, documentation shows it was deconsecrated in 1667 and reopen for public worship in 1716. The interior is constructed on a neogothic style, with pointed archways.
2. Ta’ Wied Ghammieq Chapel, Kalkara
This was the burial place for hundreds of people who died during the 1837 cholera epidemic.
The cemetery located in Kalkara, where the chapel now stands, became the resting place of some 855 people who lost their lives to the contagious disease. As a result, the cemetery became a place of devotion for their relatives. In 1878, the victims’ remains were exhumed and re-buried elsewhere.
After the Second World War, the small chapel was built for those who went to the cemetery to stay and pray in silence.
3. Our Lady of Victories, Valletta
The first church built in Valletta and the original burial place of Grand Master La Valette (whose remains were later transferred to St John’s Co-Cathedral).
It was made where a religious ceremony was held to inaugurate the laying of the foundation stone of the new city in March 1566. The church commemorates Malta’s victory over the Turks during the Great Siege of 1565. The church suffered a lot of deterioration over the years. In 2000 works started on the restoration of the structure and the paintings.
4. St Demetrius, Gozo
The legend of the saint who leapt out of a painting to save a believer’s son.
Located just outside the village of Għarb, the chapel was originally built in the early fifteenth century - then rebuilt in 1736 as it is today. The altarpiece shows St Demetrius on horseback, an old woman praying and a young man in chains - a depiction of the popular local legend.
Legend has it that Natalizja Cauchi, nicknamed Żgugina, was home one night when Turkish invaders broke into her house and kidnapped her son. The woman ran to St Demetrius’ chapel and prayed: “San Dimitri, bring back my son, and I’ll light your lamp with a measure of oil.”
On hearing her prayers the saint leapt out of the painting on horseback, soon to return with the woman’s son. The grateful Żgugina kept a lamp lit for the saint day and night.
5. St Mary Chapel, Gudja
One of Malta’s oldest chapels, where riches were buried in tombs to keep them safe from invading Turks.
The Chapel of St Mary, located in an area known as Bir Miftuh, is believed to be one of Malta’s oldest chapels. It is mentioned in church records dating back to 1436 and is believed to have existed long before that.
It is said that during the 1565 Great Siege, locals buried the church’s treasures, including bells, inside the chapel’s tombs to hide them from the Turks. Over the years it took many beatings. After being desecrated by the Turks, in 1942 the ceiling collapsed during a World War II air raid. The church was restored but later abandoned until 1970 when it was handed over to the national trust Din l-Art Ħelwa for restoration.
6. Our Lady of Hope, Mosta
The legend of the girl miraculously spared from the Turks by a spider’s web.
Situated in a valley, this chapel was built between 1760 and 1761. According to legend, a girl and her sisters were being chased by Turks during the invasion. The girl, who had a limp, couldn’t run as fast as her sisters so she hid in a cave (now found under the chapel).
As she hid in silence she prayed for her life and promised to build a chapel dedicated to Our Lady if her life was spared. When the Turks arrived at the mouth of the cave they saw a spider’s web at the entrance and assumed no one could be inside.
7. The Chapel of St Bartholomew, Rabat
Rabat’s only medieval chapel, where the uprising against the French was planned.
The Chapel of St Bartholomew is the only remaining medieval chapel in Rabat. The present chapel was built sometime in 1440. Its façade is a typical medieval one with a pointed arc above the main door. Its interior also includes a number of pointed arches supporting the ceiling.
It was in this church that, in 1798, Emmanuele Vitale planned and organised the uprising against the French who were occupying Malta. During World War II the chapel was deconsecrated and used as a school room. Recently the chapel was restored and reopened for religious purposes.
8. St Anne’s Chapel, Dwejra
The last chapel to be built in Gozo's countryside.
This chapel offers a place of worship in one of Gozo’s most picturesque sites. It was blessed on July 25, 1963, and is built in a modern style that’s evident in the interior of the chapel, which consists of a rectangular room with a flat textured roof.
The main altarpiece depicts the young Virgin Mary being instructed by her mother St Anne.
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