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Your Guide to Malta and Gozo - The Churches of St Paul & St Publius

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The Side-by-side Churches of St. Paul and St. Publius

 

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The Church of St. Paul

History

St. Paul is revered by the Maltese as the Apostle who brought the Christian faith to the country and it is with pride that the devout refer to him as Missierna San Pawl or St. Paul, Our Father. Acts 28 in the New Testament describes Paul's three month stay on the Island. If tradition is anything to go by it is in Rabat that Paul lived during this time. The construction of a church dedicated to him was completed in 1578, but a swelling population and blatant structural damage meant that a few decades later, this temple would be torn down to make room for its successor. This is the church that stands today as one of Rabat's foremost landmarks.

The project was in its entirety financed by Guzmana Navarra and an inscription above a statue of Christ the Nazarene set within a niche to the left of the main door gratefully acknowledges this. Guzmana was born in 1600 to Giovanni Cumbo and Cornelia Navarra, and aged 25 she married Mdina resident Lorenzo Cassar. It must have been highly gratifying to Guzmana as she would gaze from her window, just opposite the construction site to see the church her church – take form, reaching for the sky. The building took thirty years to complete – from 1653 until 1683, four years prior to Guzmana's death. The construction process was stalled for ten years as the church, particularly the Chapel dedicated to St. Stephen - would have encroached on its next-door neighbour – the Church of St. Publius which belonged to the Order of St. John.

The church was built on a design by Fancesco Buonamici, military engineer of the Order whilst Lorenzo Gafa' was entrusted with the supervision of the project. The dome itself was by Gafa', yet this was replaced with a new dome by Carmelo Micallef in 1919 due to concerns regarding its structural integrity. A mere four years later a strong tremor jolted the Island, once again devastating the dome.

 

 

What to Look Out For

The titular painting is by Stefano Erardi and shows in vivid detail the Apostle's eventful landing on Maltese shores; Paul is flanked by St. Luke next to whom is a Roman Centurion; he shakes the venomous viper into the flames as he clenches the Scriptures in his right hand whilst startled on-lookers with focussed gazes expect the serpent's deadly bite to take effect.

 

The Church of St. Publius

Lorenzo Gafa' was simultaneously responsible for the construction of the church of St. Publius, contiguous with that of St. Paul. This church was demolished in 1726 and a new church on a design by Salvu Borg was erected. The Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament was completed in 1753. The titular painting is attributed to Mattia Preti and shows an ascended Madonna and Child as St. John the Baptist and St. Publius below are overwhelmed with reverence and emotion.

On the parvis is the Chapel of St. Mary Magdalene constructed within 3rd and 4th century catacombs. A statue of St. Paul with a raised hand, proclaiming the Word of Christ has been standing here since 1679.