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Report 2011: Gozo, Calypso’s Isle

By Eleanor from UK, Spring 2012

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Page 19 of 26: Xewkija and the Rotunda

photo by MAW

High Altar

Xewkija is a large sprawling settlement with some nice old buildings with balconies on the side roads. It has a large central square surrounded by big splendid buildings as well as the post office and a small shop. The Rotunda is built across the top of the square.

The Rotunda is dedicated to St John the Baptist and not only does it dominate the town, its dome can be seen all over the island. The present church was built between 1951-71 with money and labor supplied by the parish. It has the biggest dome in Malta at 27m diameter and 75m high. Not only is the dome huge, so is the rest of the church which can seat three times the population of the village. We visited just as mass was finishing on a Monday morning and the congregation was swamped by the building.

It was quite a feat of construction as the shell went up round a smaller 17thC Baroque church. Most of this was removed apart from a small chapel to the left of the altar.

From the square, steps lead up to the massive rectangular facade with columns and statues, topped by a small dome with what can best be described as the angular circular building of the church behind. There is a separate tall, slender bell tower. Entry is usually through the smaller south or north doors rather than the massive wooden west door. Inside, the west door is covered with red damask and drapes.

Unlike most Gozitan churches, the walls and ceiling are unpainted and very white, giving it a stark feeling. The marble floor is made up of geometric patterns of white, grey and brown marble. There are eight load bearing pillars with decorative tops supporting the main dome. Windows round the bottom of the dome help light the church and at the centre of the dome is a painting of the risen Christ.

There are twelve pillars round the walls with paintings in the small apses between them and small shrines. There are small semi-circles of stained glass on the west, north, east and south walls giving a flash of color when the sun is shining.

The free standing mass altar at the east end is very plain table with two angels and a carving of the Lamb of God beneath. Behind is a statue of the risen Christ with angels and a centurion. In the apse at the east end is a painting of the crucifixion surrounded by more pillars.

There is a very decorative marble altar on the north wall reached by a short flight of marble steps. It has a small marble box containing the host, silver candle sticks with very tall candles and vases holding decorative sculptures of bunches of flowers. Above is a picture of the risen Christ.

A small doorway to the right of this altar leads into a small chapel, all that remains of the old church. It is a complete contrast with walls covered with paintings, each surrounded by highly carved decorative borders. There is a beautifully carved apse above the altar with the Lamb of God surrounded by cherubim. There are two small display cases with assorted church treasures and decorative marble tombstones on the floor.

In a corner is the lift (€2) that goes up to the balcony running round the base of the dome. There is a walkway with raised platforms at three viewing areas looking across to the Citadel, Xaghra and Mgarr. We had expected much better views but the high wall round the walkway completely blocked them.

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