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Your Guide to Malta and Gozo - Xewkija Rotunda

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The Xewkija Rotunda

 

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A chapel dedicated to St. John the Baptist existed in the village of Xewkija as long ago as 1608. Historical documents show that this chapel was a rather large one and had three altars.

In November 1678, four residents petitioned Bishop Michele de Molina to declare Xewkija an independent parish, citing a growing population as a principal reason. The bishop acceded to their request and by November 27th, Xewkija was elevated to the status of a parish.

The erection of a second church was spearheaded by parish priest Dominic (Duminku) Abela. This was in the shape of a Latin cross, as designed by Architect Ġużeppi Azzopardi. Ferdinand Vella was in charge of the construction work. A bell tower was erected in 1738. The dome was constructed in 1830.

This second church was replaced by the monumental construction that stands until today. Affectionately referred to as the Rotunda, it was designed by Architect Joseph D'Amato and the local community consisting mostly of farmers and fishermen raised most of the money that was needed for this project by committing themselves to contribute a weekly donation. The foundation stone was laid on May 4th, 1952 and the work was declared complete on May 30th, 1970. The second church around which the Rotunda was built was in use until 1972. Most of the sculptures in the second church were dismantled and are now kept in the sculpture museum that adjoins the church.

The Xewkija church is basically an octagonal structure. The dome is raised a lofty 75 metres above ground level. With a diameter of 27 metres, its estimated weight is an impressive 45,000 tonnes and is one of the largest in Europe. The church has a length of 63 metres and has a maximum width of 43 metres. The floor designed by Guze' Galea was executed in marble imported from the town of Carrara in Italy. Saviour (Salvu) Tabone and Toni Camilleri created the main portico measuring 10 by 4.8 metres.

The history of the Rotunda is recalled on a marble slab to the right hand side of the entrance. A corresponding slab on the left chronicles major events pertaining to the Xewkija parish since its inception.

A statue of Our Lady of Sorrows guards the entrance. Below this statue is the corpse of St. Theodora.

The biography of St. John the Baptist is succinctly represented in a series of six paintings by Pawlu Camilleri Cauchi, housed within the recesses as follows:

      I. The Archangel Gabriel predicts the birth of St. John the Baptist to his father Zacharias
      II. The Birth of St. John the Baptist
      III. John the Baptist indicating Jesus as the Lamb of God
      IV. The Baptism of Jesus by John
      V. John the Baptist admonishes Herod
      VI. The beheading of St. John.

The marble altar of the chapel was foremerly the main altar of the old church (1755). Next to the  there is an entrance to the rotunda museum and the panoramic lift.