Tag Archives: Malta

Reverence & Politics: St Paul’s Grotto

Close to the Wignacourt lies St Paul’s Grotto, one of Christianity’s most sacred locations.

St Paul's Grotto

As legend has it, when St Paul was travelling from Crete to Rome to be put on trial in front of Julius Ceasar, his ship wrecked just off the Maltese coast, and the series of events that followed his famous shipwreck have been hailed as probably the most crucial and altering to the island’s destiny.

Although St Paul was offered luxurious lodgings by the governor of Malta after he had healed the latter’s father, St Paul refused and chose to make this grotto his lodgings. From here he preached the word of God and gave Malta its Catholic religion. So strong was St Paul’s influence that governor Publius would later become Malta’s first bishop and a saint himself.

For this reason, the Grotto has become a sacred location to which many pilgrims and influential people venture. Amongst the most important, it visitors have included Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict, Fabio Chigi (who would later become Pope Alexander VII) and Admiral Lord Nelson.

There was one visitor in particular, however, who turned the grotto into an international place of pilgrimage. In 1600, hermit Juan Beneguas Da Cardova moved to Malta from Spain and acquired the land just above the grotto. He used it as the base from where he promoted his devotion for St Paul, resulting in the establishment of the cult of St Paul. A mere 10 years later, the Rabat Parish Church officially handed over the Grotto to him, but by 1617 he passed it over into the care of Order of the Knights of St John who had had their eye on it, both for its religious significance as well as for its political implications.

The Grandmaster at the time, Alof De Wignacourt, saw it of vital importance to build a college on the land above for the Chapter of Canons of the Collegiate of the Grotto of St Paul, also known as the Chaplains of the Order. These Chaplains’ mission was to promote devotion towards St Paul and to take care of the Grotto day and night. This was pivotal to showcase the importance of the site and the power the Order commanded.

Apart from its intricate history and religious significance, the Grotto boasts a statue donated by Grand Master Pinto in 1748 and a silver vessel donated by the Order in 1960 to commemorate 1900 years since St Paul’s shipwreck.

For more information on the Wignacourt Museum and the St Paul’s Grotto, 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