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Report 2012: Five Days in Malta

By Eleanor from UK, Spring 2012

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Page 19 of 24: Rabat - St Paul's Church and Grotto

photo by MAW

Remains of fresco in the grotto

The present building is 16thC and was built on the site of an earlier church. This was supposed to have been built over the cave where St Paul sheltered after being shipwrecked on Malta. The small chapel of St Publius was built onto the side of the church in the 17thC.

On the main square in Rabat, it is a splendid building from the front with three main doorways with columns on either side and curved roofs above. On either side of the main doorway are niches with statues. Above is a painting of St Paul. 

The church and grotto are popular with tour groups during the day and can get busy. When we arrived at lunchtime all the doors were closed and locked. We saw someone peering out through the left hand door so went to push it open to go in. We could see a group in the crypt. The person on the door said the church was shut and would reopen after lunch. By now several other people had joined us and we were told we could have a quick look in the chapel of St Publius, but we couldnít go into the main church. 

At this point we realized the guide with the tour in the crypt were going into the church so we tagged on behind and ended up having a guided tour of the church, chapel and crypt. 

St Paul's church is a big church with a central dome and transepts. The ceiling has a series of pictures showing the life of St Paul. The nave pillars are painted to look like marble. The side altars in the transepts are surrounded by marble pillars with a sunburst design above. In the right transept is the statue of St Paul which is carried through the streets during the festival. To the left is a small statue of the Virgin. There is a beautiful dome with gilt decoration round plain glass windows.

The small chapel of St Publius is built on the right side of the church and this doorway is used as the main entrance for the tours. It is a simple building with plain cream walls and ceiling. There are large paintings in gilt frames on the walls. There is a small mass altar with high altar behind with tall candlesticks and wooden choir stalls. 

Just inside the doorway to St Publius Chapel, steps lead down into the crypt which has three altars with statues of St Paul, St Publius and a shipwreck scene. There are the remains of frescoes on the walls. Beyond is the grotto, a small cave carved out of the rock. Passageways link it with St Paulís catacombs.

There is a large statue of St Paul holding a book. The small silver ship hanging from the ceiling was given by the Knights of St John to mark 1900 years of Paulís shipwreck on Malta. The four lanterns in front of the statue were given by Pope John Paul II.

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