Tag Archives: Catacombs

Did You Like the Wignacourt Museum?

We spent a day touring the Wignacourt and mingling with visitors. We asked them what they liked, what surprised them and whether they’d come again. Here are our three favourites. 

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“It was the World War II shelters that did it for us, because you don’t quite realise what the Maltese had to go through to protect their families. Also, together with the artefacts, the paintings, and the chapel, we think the Wignacourt gives you a good overview of the island’s history in a nutshell! We’ll definitely come again.” – Tony and Sue Sheen, England.

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“We had never been anywhere like the catacombs! They offer fascinating insight into the lives of yesteryear’s people. We have to admit that we were very pleasantly surprised and we can’t wait to see what the rest of the museum has to offer!” – Stuart and Emma McDonald, England.

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“We love it!” – A group of Swiss visiting with one of the local tour providers.

Have you been to the Wignacourt? What did you think of it? Please leave a comment on our Facebook page!

For more information on the Wignacourt Museum, its adjoining complexes and its artefacts you can contact us on +356 2749 4905 or at info@wignacourtmuseum.com.

 

 

 

A History of the Wignacourt – Part I

From St Paul’s Shipwreck to the Middle-Ages, this is how the Wignacourt’s story began.

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The Wignacourt Collegiate Museum in Rabat is not just a place where you can go to see art and historical artefacts, but a conglomeration of spaces that, together, tell a story that started almost 2000 years ago.

The oldest part of the museum is St Paul’s Grotto, which is located underneath the museum. The grotto was made famous and named after Malta’s patron saint: Paul the Apostle, and the story of how St Paul ended up lodging there has been integrated into Malta’s popular history and folklore.

A native of Tarsus, Cilicia (located in the southern part of modern-day Turkey), St Paul was both a Jew as well as a Roman, and spent years persecuting early Christians. Then, while on his way to Damascus, Paul saw a blinding light and communicated directly with a divine voice, which many assume to be God’s (this is also where the phrase ‘road to Damascus,’ was coined and is used to describe how someone had a sudden turning point in their life). This event was so life altering for Paul, in fact, that he converted instantaneously, and spent the rest of his years evangelizing pagans to the new faith.

St Paul's Grotto

In time, many Jews felt that he was undermining their religion because his teachings promoted the forsakenment of Moses and cessation of circumcision. This led to Paul’s incarceration, attempted assassination and finally, when he was captured, his prosecution in front of Caesar, and it was on his way to be tried in Rome in 60AD that St Paul’s shipwreck took place.

During his time in Malta, St Paul preached the word of God incessantly and even performed some inexplicable miracles, including the healing of governor Publius’s father. As an act of gratitude, Publius offered St Paul lodging in his own villa, but St Paul refused and, according to tradition, it is believed that he lived out his days in Malta in this particular grotto.

When he left Malta, he appointed Publius as leader of the faith, and consequentially Publius would go on to become Malta’s first bishop and saint. The people of Malta had a great love for this site and embraced the new religion. A complex maze of catacombs was dug out next to the grotto and archaeological findings have proven that St Paul’s Grotto has been a place for veneration ever since.

The first major event to happen around this place after the shipwreck of St Paul was in 1366, when Father Ylarius, the then-Bishop of Malta, gifted the ditch of the church and St Paul’s Grotto to Bochius de Bochio, a citizen of Malta. From then on, the story of St Paul’s Grotto and all the buildings adjoined to it, took a completely different turn.

For more information on the Wignacourt Museum, its adjoining complexes and its artefacts you can contact us on +356 2749 4905 or at info@wignacourtmuseum.com.

 

The Wignacourt’s Shelters of War

Deep beneath the Roman catacombs lies a war shelter from World War II, and each inch of its pickaxed walls tells a story of survival. 

When World War II broke out, numerous war shelters were dug all over Malta, providing safety and protection to thousands of civilians. One of these shelters is located just below the Wignacourt’s adjoining catacombs, and consists of around 50 rooms.

What visitors will notice is that each of the 50 rooms found in the shelters is unique and numbered. This is because the government at the time was only responsible for providing the main corridors of the shelters in Rabat, and families had to then pay to have their own room dug within them.

The Wignacourt's War Shelters

Because the shelters are located right beneath the catacombs, the rubble that was removed from the shelters while they were being excavated was purposely put into the catacombs to provide cushioning from dropping bombs. This was crucial to ensure that the hollow catacombs did not give way and bury the people who had sought protection in the shelters below.

Families tried hard to adapt to their new living conditions, in fact, and those who could afford to laid down tiles, installed doors, and even had electricity connected. Nevertheless, money and supplies were very scarce and many rooms were relatively bare and basic, with oil lamps being the most popular way to illuminate and add warmth.

Thankfully, Rabat and Mdina were not heavily bombarded during the war and, although sirens would still go off periodically forcing the populace of the area to take refuge, these usually turned out to be an act of precaution. What the shelters prove, however, is that apart from physical protection, this series of underground tunnels also offered a sense of security and homeliness that must have heartened people during those trying times.

For more information on the Wignacourt Museum and the adjoining war shelters, you can contact us on +356 2749 4905 or at info@wignacourtmuseum.com

The Wignacourt & Its Catacombs

Beneath the splendour of the Wignacourt in Rabat lies an underground necropolis just waiting to be explored – its catacombs.

St Paul’s Catacombs

Before the Silent City became known as Città Notabile, and even before it got its name Mdina, Melite’s boundaries stretched all the way to Wignacourt College. Later resized to its current dimensions by the Arabs, its citizens during the time of the Roman era buried their deceased outside the city’s walls, deep under the Earth’s surface.

The catacombs adjoining the Wignacourt date back to around 200AD and are part of the hypogea of a Roman necropolis that is truly a feat in terms of its architecture. When venturing down into these vaults of history, in fact, you can appreciate a myriad of differently-styled tombs, from the saddle-backed baldacchino tombs (which are basically a hole with an semi-circular opening) to through-less baldacchino tombs (similar to the baldacchino tombs but, this time, with two openings), to window tombs and small loculi (tombs which are traditionally considered Egyptian in style).

This underground cemetery, which was positioned outside the city’s walls because of hygienic reasons, also doubled as a place for mourners to conglomerate. It was also the place where rituals could be performed. At the end of the tunnels, in fact, there is an Agape table, which was used for ritual meals to celebrate those who had died.

Today, because of the many cases of looting over the centuries, not much remains of what used to be inside the catacombs, yet visitors can still happen across century-old bones. The awesomeness of these catacombs, however, does not come from their eeriness but rather from our forefathers’ attention to detail. Some window tombs, for example, still have the purposely-carved indentations in the rock – the spot where the deceased’s heads would have once lain.

Although centuries have passed, there is still a solemnness to these tombs that cannot quite be explained in words. Going slowly down the steps that separate our everyday life from this underworld that is almost two millennia old, you can’t help but feel engulfed by a world that is long-gone.

For more information on the catacombs, which form part of Heritage Malta’s St Paul’s Catacombs complex, and the Wignacourt Museum you can contact us on +356 2749 4905 or at info@wignacourtmuseum.com