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Report 2011: Gozo, Calypso’s Isle

By Eleanor from UK, Spring 2012

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Page 3 of 26: Churches

photo by MAW

Chapel of St Joseph in the Citadel, a typical example of an early church

The church is still very important in Gozo and most of the population are devout Catholics. The original churches were small rectangular buildings. Typical examples are St Dimitri, north of Gharb, the Chapel of the Annunciation of Our Lady in the Lunzjata valley and St Joseph’s Chapel in the citadel. These buildings are plain with little decoration. There is always a large painting above the altar and there may be paintings hanging on the side walls.

As the population grew, the churches became too small and were replaced by larger, more splendid Baroque style buildings which dominate the village and can be seen all over the island. All have a large dome, often painted red, transepts and side aisles. There are usually two bell towers on either side of the main door. Inside are lavish altars with paintings, carvings and lots of gilt paint. Ceilings are painted and have decoratively carved gilded ribs across. On special occasions the pillars are hung with red damask.

There are two modern churches, the Rotunda and Ta Pinu.

The Parish Church of St John the Baptist (the Rotunda) in Xewkija has the largest dome in Malta and Gozo and it can be seen from all over the island. It took twenty years to build with money and labor supplied by the parishioners and was finished in 1971. Inside it is a plain, rather austere building but you are overwhelmed by the size of it. To the left of the high altar is a small museum in part of the original Baroque Church. The contrast between the two has to be seen.

Ta Pinu Sanctuary is an important pilgrimage site built in open countryside near Gharb after a young local girl heard a voice coming from the image of the Virgin Mary. Offerings in thanksgiving for prayers answered are on display. These include everything from plaster casts for broken limbs to baby clothes.

Opening times of churches vary depending on how many masses are held during the day. Masses are held on the hour and usually last for 30 minutes. We found the best time to visit was about half past the hour just as mass was finishing but before the next service began.

When visiting churches as a tourist, please remember to respect the dress code of no shorts and making sure shoulders are covered.

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