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Your Guide to Malta and Gozo - St. Paul's Shipwreck

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The Church of St. Paul's Shipwreck (San Pawl Nawfragu)

74, St Paul’s Street, (Triq San Pawl) - Valletta;  Tel: 2123 6013

Open daily 09.00 until 12.30 

 

This Church is built on the former site of a smaller temple dedicated to St. Paul. As the city became more populated, this small church was   demolished and the present church was erected in its place. Work on this church commenced in 1639 and lasted some forty years.  The present façade dates from 1885 and was designed by Nicola Zammit whilst the sculptures are by Antonio Busuttil. Statues of St. Peter and St. Paul stand prominently under the belfry and a statue of the Immaculate Conception towers above the main portico.

 

The Interior

The Church used to serve as a burial ground and contains the remains of many of its prelates and benefactors under some forty intricately decorated tombstones. The organ that sits atop the balcony over the main entrance is by Gaetano Turiglio from Messina who made Malta his home after a severe earthquake hit his home town. It is flanked by paintings representing the Christian martyrs St. Stephen and St. Lawrence, by Cali'.

The elliptically shaped dome designed by renowned Architect Lorenzo Gafa' is spectacularly adorned with paintings by Attilio Palombi (1860-1641). These depict: a gloried St. Paul surrounded by a host of triumphant angels; Paul with the Prophets; Paul with the Doctors of the Church; and Paul proclaiming Christ to the Gentiles.

The vault was designed by Bartolomeo Garagona (1584-1641). The frescos in the nave and apse are by Palombi and underwent restoration in 1960. The frescos in the main vault depict scenes from the life of St Paul; Ananias laying his hands on St Paul after his conversion to Christianity; St Paul preaching to the wise men of Athens at the Areopago; the Apotheosis of the Apostle in the glory of the Holy Trinity, and Our Lady recommending Malta to St. Paul.

The six windows in the main nave are each flanked by depictions of two of the Apostles. Early Christian saints flank the two windows in the choir vault. The sixteen massive marble columns that run along the main nave were imported from Portosanto in Italy and the fourteen bronze statues representing the stations of the Way of the Cross (the Via Sagra) originate from Milan. These were installed in 1935.

The richly decorated white marble pulpit was designed by Palombi. Further contributions by Palombi are the frescos in the transepts: the one on the right representing St. Paul's shipwreck and the fresco in the left transept shows Paul's departure from Malta. A column donated to the Church by Pope Pius VII in 1818 in the niche in the choir is allegedly the one on which St. Paul was executed. The chancel was given its present form in 1762 by Pinto to accommodate the Grand Master's throne.

It is thought that Grand Master de Rohan requested that after his death his heart be buried in a silver casket beneath one of the columns in this church.  The marble Altar holds relics of St. Aurelius, bishop of Carthage and St. Boniface. The altar is adorned with thirteen richly decorated silver candlesticks.

The main altarpiece is by Matteo Perez d'Aleccio and shows St. Paul and St. Luke arrival in Malta with Paul shaking off the viper into the fire. The Chapels in this church were owned by specific guilds – akin to modern day trade unions. The trade guild would conduct its religious functions within its respective chapel.

 

 

Chapels on the Left Hand Side

 
Chapel of St Michael

This used to belong to the guild of retailers, meat, fish and vegetable sellers. The altarpiece is by Bolognese painter Guido Reni and depicts a triumphant St. Michael trampling over a defeated Satan. The altar-table contains the remains of Saint Candidus.

 

Chapel of St Crispin and St Crispinian

The Chapel of St. Crispin and St. Crispinian came under the auspices of the Guild of cobblers and harness makers. The altarpiece shows St. Crispin and St. Crispinian who were martyred during the reign of Diocletian. A painting of Our Lady of Christian Doctrine is centrally placed on the chapel's altar.

 

Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament

This is the former chapel of St. Elegius, patron Saint of blacksmiths and smelters. In 1743, Don Cesare Passalaqua commissioned the construction of the present chapel, dedicated to the Blessed Sacrament.

The decoration of the lesser dome was entrusted to Lazzaro Pisani and shows the adoration of the Eucharist by the Saints. The altarpiece itself is by Antoine de Favray and depicts the Last Supper, during which Jesus purportedly founded the Sacrament of the Eucharist. The decorations of the larger dome are the work of Emvin Cremona and were painted as recently as 1956. These depict the glory and the triumph of the Blessed Sacrament as it is adored by St. Paul and celebrated by jubilant Angels. A silver and bronze gilt tabernacle richly studded with diamonds adorns this chapel; it has been donated in more recent times by Paul Francalanza.

 

Chapel of St Cajetan

This was designed by Francesco Sammut, and dates from 1656. The altar is the final resting place of St. Placidus, martyr. The Confraternity of St. Agatha and the Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary were founded in this chapel. These devotions are jointly depicted in the altarpiece by Giuseppe Hyzler, which shows the Immaculate Heart of Mary flanked by St. Cajetan and St. Agatha.

 

Chapel of the Holy Crucifix

This chapel was constructed in 1729. This Chapel is unique within this Church as in place of an altarpiece, it has a large Crucifix and several reliquaries. Lazzaro Pisani was responsible for the decoration of the small dome, which shows the Crucifiction and victory of Constantine (and hence Christianity) over the pagan Maxentius.

 

 

Chapels on the Right Hand Side

Chapel of St Martin

Since 1620, this Chapel served the spiritual needs of the guild of merchants of basic commodities and drink and is dedicated to St. Martin, Bishop of Tours. The altarpiece is by Stefano Erardi and is a representation of the titular Saint holding a staff, overseen by two angels as the Holy Spirit – in the form of a white dove descends upon him. The paintings on the small dome were contributed by Palombi The altar is flanked by two marble sculptures by Francesco Sciortino and depict Moses and Jacob.

 

Chapel of St Homobonus

In this Chapel used to congregate the guild of drapers. It is appropriately dedicated to St Homobonus, himself a merchant from 12th century Cremona. He is depicted in the altarpiece by Filippo Giacomo Ceci. The dome represents the seven virtues of the Holy Spirit.

 

Chapel of Our Lady of Charity

The former chapel of St. Helen, patron saint of the guild of gold and silversmiths was dedicated to Our Lady of Charity in 1903. The altarpiece is by Palombi and shows Our Lady of Charity with a raised right hand and an infant Jesus on her lap, acknowledging compassionately the poor and suffering. The inner dome shows the Jesus feeding of the multitude and is by Emvin Cremona. Also by Cremona is the outer dome which represents the Wedding at Cana, in which Jesus is said to have miraculously transformed ordinary water into wine. The altar is flanked by two marble framed paintings by Francesco Zahra and show scenes from the Passion of Christ: Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane as an angel offers him the Chalice; and Jesus carrying the cross to the site of his Crucifixion. Ramiro Cali contributed two lunettes to this chapel which show the Nativity and Jesus with the Wise Men. The Wedding at Cana is reprised in the altarpiece by Erardi in the Oratory which is annexed to the Chapel of Our Lady of Charity.

 

Chapel of St Joseph

This is dedicated to St. Joseph's hour of death. The altarpiece shows a moribund Joseph with Jesus and Mary flanking his deathbed. This is Palombi's final painting. This chapel houses the church's most prized possession: a gilded bronze reliquary studded with precious stones in the form of raised lower arm containing what tradition hold to be a bone from St. Paul's wrist.

 

Chapel of St Theresa of Avila

This Chapel belongs to the Confraternity of Our lady of Charity. The altarpiece is by Francesco Zahra and depicts the titular saint flanked by saints and angels as the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove descends upon her. A statue of Our Lady of Charity is housed within a niche in this chapel.