Churches & Chapels of Malta and Gozo

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St Cajetan Chapel and

St Cajetan Parish church

Some of the oldest temples in the world exist on our islands. Some of these are older than Stonehenge in England and even than the great Egyptian Pyramids themselves. We are even proud to say that we were among the very first to be converted to Christianity by none other than the Apostle Paul himself in the year 60.

With all the confusion that descends upon a conquered country and with Malta changing hands so often over the ages, it must have been something strong in our belief that kept us going all this time. The proof of what I say lies in the number of Christian churches, village and wayside chapels and niches with holy figures that dot our map in great numbers. I am only going to concentrate on Christian Holy places with largest part of this project consisting of snippets of knowledge about every church and chapel standing, which ever stood before, and those just being built. For clarity's sake I will follow an alphabetical order for Maltese names of towns and villages. I have also included chapters about early Christian catacombs and tombs, also troglodytic, early Byzantine and Siculo-Norman places of worship.

Boundary lines were a little of a dilemma for me. Keeping in mind the mushrooming of Parishes over the last few centuries, villages vanishing or being amalgamated, and disputed areas, it was difficult for me to place some chapels especially wayside ones, in their proper modern jurisdiction. Furthermore the relatively recent local council boundaries complicate matters because many times, they do not coincide with the ones of the dioceses. Since I am dealing with something more pertinent to religion rather than to politics, I decided to abide by the diocesan boundaries.

Of prime importance for my research, were old records left by Inquisitors' and Bishops' visits such as that of Bishop Senatore De Mello in 1436 who divided Malta into 10 parishes not including Mdina; Mons. Dusina who visited most of the chapels and churches in 1575; Bishop Gargallo who had his visit in 1594 & 1604; Mons.Cagliares in 1615; Mons.Balaguer in 1644 and Mons.B.Rull in 1762. Among the ones which helped me most, was Mons.Pietro Dusina's. He was sent as the first Inquisitor in 1574 by Pope Gregory XIII to prepare a detailed report according to the new requirements of the Council of Trent. It was just ten years after Malta and the Knights had repelled the Turkish invasion and Dusina found most of the existing churches and chapels in bad shape. With the help of the Knights, the Maltese set out on a vast program of rebuilding a large number of churches and chapels in the then fashionable Baroque style. Mons.B.Rull's report in 1762 on the other hand shows us how he classified each church or chapel's worthiness of carrying Ecclesiastical Immunity, that is the ability to keep a fugitive there in spite of civil law. His extensive list was very helpful. One must note that in Mons.Rull's day, the times were becoming ripe for the end of the Knights' rule in Malta.

The dedication of some churches to the different titles of Our Lady has been a source of confusion to different Bishops on Pastoral Visits. This confusion still exists nowadays with people freely interchanging the titles 'St.Mary', 'The Nativity of Our Lady', 'The Assumption of Our Lady' and 'Our Lady of Victory'. Sometimes there is even confusion of these titles with the 'Annunciation' or the 'Immaculate Conception'. My aim here is to state the proper Titular as it stands nowadays according to the Archdiocese of Malta and the Diocese of Gozo.

A special case comes up with Cemeteries, and since this is holy ground many times containing a chapel or even a church, I have created a section by itself about it. It has to be noted that until a couple of hundred years ago, the dead were still being buried inside churches and where these were too small or were filled up, an adjacent burial ground was created. Since Malta was hit by the Plague many times, hasty cemeteries were dug up for the victims, sometimes the church being built afterwards. In these cases we find many chapels dedicated to St.Roque who was believed to protect people from the Plague.

As I looked for more knowledge about my subject, I also came across some pictures of paintings and models of churches which I felt I must include in a special chapter about our churches in Art.

John Scerri

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