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Your Guide to Malta and Gozo - Wignacourt Musuem / St. Paul's Grotto

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The Wignacourt Collegiate Museum and St. Paul's Grotto

2, Triq il-Kulleġġ (College Street), Rabat, Malta;  Tel: +356 2749 4905

 

Monday to Saturday (09:30-17.00). Regular ticket: €5.00; senior citizens 61+, students 12+: €3.50; children 7-11: €2.50; children up to 6 years of age: free

 

 

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A Historical Note

Juan Beneguas de Cordoba, seeking to promote the Pauline cult acquired custody of St. Paul's Grotto from the Church authorities following negotiations with Pope Paul V in 1610. According to popular tradition, Paul resided in this grotto during his two-month stay in Malta. Seven years later, Grand Master Alof de Wignacourt raised the shrine to the status of a Collegiate and founded a body of Canons to officiate in it, under the auspices of the Order of the Knights of St. John.

The original plan of the Wignacourt College was laid out by Francesco Buonamici (1596-1677), a military engineer from Lucca, Italy. The building was completed in 1749 and continued to serve as the official residence of the canons post 1798 when the Knights were displaced by the French. The government retained the administration of the edifice until 1961 when it was returned to the Church in a historical agreement between the Archbishop Mikiel Gonzi and governor Sir Guy Grantham. During the second World War the subterrain served as an air-raid shelter for the residents of Rabat and some daily 2000 loaves of bread were baked here to provide food for the war striken inhabitants. The building also functioned as an infirmiry and a victory kitchen.

The Museum opened its doors to the public on 24th June 1981 following the untiring efforts of Mgr. John Azzopardi. It underwent an extensive upgrade, to reopen in 2013.


 

 

 

The Exhibits

St. Paul's Grotto is accessible through the a flight of steps connecting it to the Collegium building. A life-size marble statue of the titular saint was left unfinished by Melchiorre Gafa' – brother of Lorenzo – due to his untimely death and his mentor, Ercole Ferrata stepped in to complete the work. Another marble statue is the work of an unknown artist. It was donated to the shrine by Grand Master Emmanuel Pinto. Pope John Paul II and his successor Benedict XVI famously visited this shrine in 1990 and 2010 respectively.

The building itself sits atop part of the complex of chambers and passageways that comprise St. Paul's catacombs; some fifty adjoining rooms with two main corridors served as an air raid shelter during World War II. Until the late 19th Century, the Catacombs were only accessible through the garden on the ground floor. Within this garden is the 1930's car that used to serve Bishop Don Mauro Caruana.

Many of the items on exhibit were acquired by the chaplains to embellish the residence; the collection was further enhanced by later acquisitions from private donations - notably by Notary Francesco Catania (1872-1960). Amongst the more important items in this museum are paintings by celebrated artists such as Mattia Preti, Antoine de Favray and Francesco Zahra; 17th to 18th century silverware from Malta, Italy and Spain; and such miscellanea as coins, furniture, ecclesiastical vestments, sculptures, maps, reliquaries and rare books, including a copy of Henry VIII's Assertio Septem Sacramentorum (In Defence of the Seven Sacraments) written prior to his break with Rome, in response to Martin Luther's ninety-five thesis that sparked off the Protestant reformation.

Other must-see's include a portable altar that used to be on board the Order's galleys; a private chapel on the first floor that the residing chaplains used to use for their private devotions; and the treasurer's room, with a wooden chest placed in a high opening on an internal partitioning wall, in which money and other valuables used to be stored for safekeeping.