Saint Paul’s Church, Bormla

Bormla (or Burmula, deriving from Bir Mula, which means [the] Well of the Lord), is an ancient city in the southeast of Malta. It is one of the cities overlooking the Malta Grand Harbour and facing the Valletta peninsula. It forms part of ‘The Three Cities’ locally called Bormla, Birgu and Isla, which the Hospitaller Grand Masters christened Citta’ Cospicua (prominent city), Citta’ Vittoriosa (Victorious city) and Citta’ Invicta (Undefeated city – today known as Senglea), respectively.  Tradition insists that Saint Paul left Malta from the shores of Bormla and that a Church was erected from the spot to commemorate the event.  Indeed, in a study by Dr. John Vella, it transpires that recorded toponyms at Bormla, their language and maritime meaning supported by an analysis of Biblical text, archaeology, architecture and pictorial sources (such as portolan charts, art and other evidence), substantiate the veracity of the legend surviving at Bormla as a historical event. Indeed, the linguistic and naval jargon of the analyzed toponyms and its topography show that Bormla was the main harbour of Malta from antiquity to the sixteenth century. It is thought that on the same spot another church was erected. In 1590, Francia Micallef, donated the land for a church to be built dedicated to the saint. The church was built in a site known as La Croce di Bormla. Such a nomenclature, meaning the cross of Cospicua, shows that the area carried special religious reverence. The second notarial deed, by which Francia donated even more land to this church, refers to the fact that this church was being built over what was called the mandragio or the only pen that existed in Grand Harbour offering shelter to boats. This reference shows the association that this place had with the overlaying shore. As a result of the increased number of devotees, the old church was pulled down in 1735 and replaced by a larger church, still standing today. The church was finished in 1740 and blessed by Bishop Paul Alpheran de Bussan on October 22, 1741. 

More information on other websites and books:

  • Vella J. Thalassic imaginaries: witnesses to (an) unwritten history. European Review of History: Revue européenne d’histoire. Published online: 07 September. 2021
  • Mercieca S. St Paul’s departure from Malta. Times of Malta, 19th April 2010
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