The Popes at the Wignacourt: Pope John Paul II

Loved unanimously by both Roman Catholics and practitioners of other faiths, Pope John Paul II was one of the most celebrated popes to-date. So much so, that his visit to Malta in 1990 is an event still etched in many people’s memory.

For thousands of years, Christians were told that pilgrimage was a great way to purify the soul, and for thousands of years, they flocked to many holy sites around Europe and the Middle East to experience something sacred and touched by God. But Pope John Paul II’s willingness to leave Vatican City and travel around the globe to meet his flock meant that the common folk, for the first time in history, could come face to face with the representative of Christ on Earth.

That, undoubtedly, is one of the reasons why Pope John Paul II is one of history’s most beloved Popes. His visit to Malta in 1990 – the first official papal visit to Malta by an ordained Pope – caused a frenzy of excitement and deep piety amongst one of the earliest and proudest Roman Catholic nations in Europe.

During his visit, Pope John Paul II pilgrimaged to some of Malta’s holiest sites, including Ta’ Pinu Sanctuary in Gozo, where he placed a halo of golden stars around the head of the Virgin Mary painted in 1619 by Amadeo Perugino; and St Paul’s Islands, where a statue of Christ by Alfred Camilleri Cauchi was sunk to commemorate the occasion.



On 27 May 1990, Pope John Paul II also visited St Paul’s Grotto, and the episode remains one of the Wignacourt Museum’s proudest moments. On this day, John Paul II blessed the Grotto and the statue of St Paul that was donated by Grand Master Pinto in 1748. He is also known to have asked to spend a few minutes alone in silence to pray where St Paul himself had once prayed. This visit is remembered at the Wignacourt by the series of pictures and plaques that adorn the chiselled walls that lead from the Wignacourt to the Grotto.



Although many people don’t know it, John Paul II actually visited Malta again just four months later, in September 1990, when he was en route to Africa. The visit was short however, and he never left the airport. The next time Pope John Paul II returned to Malta was 11 years later to beatify Dun Gorg Preca (now San Gorg Preca), Nazju Falzon and Sister Maria Adeodata Pisani. This, unfortunately, was Pope John Paul II’s final visit to the Maltese islands, as he passed away on 2 April 2005.

Pope John Paul II at St Paul's Grotto

Pope John Paul II at St Paul’s Grotto

His successor, Pope Benedict XIV would also make the journey to visit the holy site of St Paul’s Grotto. But that’s a story for another time.

For more information on the Wignacourt Museum and the St Paul’s Grotto, you can contact us on +356 2749 4905 or at