Mdina Cathedral of Saint Paul

The earliest reference to a Cathedral Chapter in Malta goes back to 1244 (an extant reference to Giovanni Zafarana, Maltensis Canonicus). However, the history of the site of the Mdina Cathedral is much older. Tradition claims the cathedral is built on the very same place where the Roman Governor Publius met Saint Paul right after his shipwreck. Indeed, archaeologists have found Roman remains in the crypt of the cathedral. Even though it is virtually impossible to claim that this was, in fact, Publius’ own house, the finding still somehow supports this tradition. However, another strong tradition claims that Publius might have had his first encounter with the Apostle at San Pawl Milqi, also having archaeological remains of a Roman Villa and a close-by Paleo Christian / Roman site – Salina Catacombs. Both San Pawl Milqi and Salina Catacombs are very close to Saint Paul’s Bay, and hence the Islets of Saint Paul. 

Saying Mdina already had a cathedral (or a matrix church for the whole of Malta) in the 6th century is not at all inaccurate. Official ecclesiastic sources indicate that this was the case,  as maintained, for example, in letters from Pope Gregory the Great to Lucillus, Bishop of Malta dated AD 592 -599. The site of the cathedral in Mdina has been a distinct sacred space since time immemorial, given the fact that it is a privileged place, dominating the citadel of the old capital city of Mdina, in a particularly strategic place, à la the Athenian Acropolis. The first cathedral ever built in Malta is said to have been dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. This is not surprising. The Blessed Virgin has always found an important place within the Maltese Christian traditions that some claim can be traced to Paul’s shipwreck itself, considering Paul was accompanied by Luke, and that Luke’s has been deemed the most Marian of all four Evangelists. Some claim it is even likely that Luke preached to the inhabitants about the Mother of the Savior, and that the early Christian community consequently grew its own forms of Marian devotion. Numerous early Marian shrines built around the archipelago suggest this might have been the case. Today’s Baroque Cathedral was built between 1693 and 1703, after the old cathedral was irreversibly damaged by an earthquake in 1693.

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