Tag Archives: Grand Masters of Malta

St Publius’s Sanctuary

Camouflaged for centuries, St Publius’s Sanctuary honours Malta’s first bishop.St Publius's Sanctuary

Since 60AD, St Paul’s shipwreck has had a lasting effect, and from the episode being mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles to Roman Catholicism being included in Malta’s constitution, that one shipwreck changed not only Malta’s destiny but also its skyline.

As the story goes, St Paul performed several miracles while in Malta, with one of the most well known being the healing of the then-Roman governor’s father. That same governor would go on to become a follower of St Paul’s, Malta’s first bishop (consecrated by St Paul himself) and a saint in his own right; and disguised behind the façade of the Rabat parish church, is a second edifice paying tribute him.

The Sanctuary of St Publius was added to Rabat’s parish church in 1617, and was under the care of the Knights of the Order of St John. Evidence of the Order’s role in this sanctuary’s care can be found everywhere, particularly on the sides of the sanctuary decorated by eight-pointed crosses.

The current adjoining and connecting parish dates to the 17th century and was built thanks to the generosity of Comana Navarra, whose portrait can be seen at the Wignacourt Museum. The church, which is dedicated to St Paul, shares a façade with the sanctuary and some believe that architect Francesco Buonamici did this to alleviate the rivalry between the Church and the Order by giving both buildings’ entrances the same importance. This, however, often leads many to believe that there is only one church behind the baroque façade.

St Publius’s Sanctuary is richly decorated and hosts numerous works by some of the best artists creating under the Order’s rule. These include a titular painting by Mattia Preti, showing the Virgin and Child with St John the Baptist and St Publius. This painting is particularly interesting as Baby Jesus can be seen holding an eight-pointed cross, inferring that the Order was under God’s divine protection.

A further two lateral paintings in the main apse show St Publius preaching and the saint’s martyrdom during the persecution of Emperor Hadrian. In the main aisle there are also four canvases reflecting the sanctuary’s dedication and history. Two of these four canvases depict the baptism of Publius and his consecration as bishop of Malta; while the other two are portraits of Alof de Wignacourt and Pope Paul V.

The Last Supper of Christ, by Francesco Zahra, is also worthy of mention and can be found in the small chapel dedicated to the Blessed Sacrament to the right of the main altar built in 1753. This chapel’s rich stonework is also an artwork in itself and, along with that of the Sanctuary as a whole, surely deserves a visit.

For more information on the Wignacourt Museum and the St Publius’s Sanctuary, you can contact us on +356 2749 4905 or at info@wignacourtmuseum.com.

The Pictures of Alof de Wignacourt

We discover the power, prestige and opulence of the man who gave the Wignacourt Museum its name.

Alof de Wignacourt’s reputation as a protector of the faith, which stemmed from his deeds during the Great Siege of Malta, paved the way towards his becoming a Grand Master of the Order in 1601; and his popularity would indeed prove pivotal when, in 1617, the Spanish hermit Juan Beneguas Da Cardova handed over St Paul’s Grotto to the Order.

Wignacourt quickly saw the opportunity in having such an important location and used it to show off the Order’s, as well as his own, prestige and power. Within a few months he built a college for the Chaplains of the Order, whose sole job was to promote and look after the Grotto day and night. In fact, to this day, Alof de Wignacourt is still hailed as having been a central player in the promotion of the Pauline cult in Malta, and like many of his contemporaries’, his standing was translated onto canvas.

His most important portrait hangs at the Louvre in Paris and was painted by the most famous painter in Rome and Naples at the time, Caravaggio. Nevertheless the Wignacourt hosts two of Alof de Wignacourt’s most iconic pictures: one by Cassarino (1582-1637) and another by an unknown artist.

Alof de Wignacourt by Cassarino

The Cassarino, which is part of the Catania collection, is particularly interesting because of the three inscriptions that are found on it. The first is an anagram that reads ‘G NF DC’, which has also been found on several other paintings around the island and which most probably indicate the artist rather the collector. The second inscription reveals the age of the sitter – who was 70 at the time of creation – and the third records the commissioner of the piece, who was Fr Ludovicus Perrin Dubus.

It should be noted, however, that the Cassarino is not the official portrait commissioned by the first collegiate members of the Wignacourt Foundation. The official one is the piece by the unknown artist and is much larger in size.  This portrait still hangs majestically in the Chapter Hall at the Wignacourt together with the pictures of many other Grand Masters.

Alof de Wignacourt by Unknown

As a side note, when entering the Chapter Hall, one should also note the large, 17th-century portrait of Cosmana Navarra, the benefactress who constructed the present Rabat Parish church, holding the plan of the said church in her hand.

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