San Pawl Tal-Ħġejjeġ (aka as The Church of Saint Paul’s Shipwreck)

In Saint Paul’s Bay, close to the fountain of Għajn Rażul, the diocese of Malta had from ancient times a church dedicated to Saint Paul, known one as San Pawl Tal-Ħġejjeġ (aka Saint Paul’s Shipwreck Church). “Ħġejjeġ” means “Bonfires”, indeed, this site is the place where it is believed a bonfire was lit to keep the stranded survivors warm after the wreck, and where the Apostle was bitten by a viper which left him unharmed. The Miracle of the Viper Chapel is located here. It is not known when the original one was built, but it is certainly very old, and has been rebuilt several times. In the first printed description of Malta, written by Jean Quintin and printed in 1536, this church is mentioned as “a church of great worship“. In 1781, Enrico Pantaleone in his book lohannitarum Rhodiorum mentions this church as the place where the sick used to go and find healing. Historical documents show that the various churches rebuilt on this site housed many valuable works of art.

At the beginning of the 17th century, Grand Master Alof de Wignacourt became Malta’s ruler. He was a refined diplomat and a deeply religious man, possessing a strong devotion to Saint Paul. Also, Saint Paul was the patron of the French language, the Order’s Language. Thus, Wignacourt cultivated the places linked to Saint Paul, and did everything he could to take over and enrich both the Grotto in Rabat and the church in Saint Paul’s Bay. For him and the Order, it was also politically convenient to have control over the churches and sites linked to the Apostle, which would help them captivate the hearts of the Maltese. Pauline sanctuaries also gave the Order greater international prestige, since during the Counter-Reformation a site connected to an apostle conferred great status. Wignacourt was determined to link Saint Paul’s Bay with the Grotto to create a chain of Pauline devotion on the island. He also wanted to protect and embellish the exposed area of San Paul’ Bay by erecting a tower overlooking the coast. However, the primary interest was to guard the coast, so the church was relocated, but kept in the same area. In a very short time, the church was completed and decorated with three beautiful paintings, depicting the same subjects as works of art housed in the previous church. Unfortunately, during World War II, the Church was bombed, and the three paintings suffered great damage. The new church was blessed on the 3rd May 1617. In 1619, the Wignacourt Foundation, established in 1617, obtained the official Papal confirmation, where it was also stated that both Saint Paul’s Church and the Grotto form part of the same Foundation. 

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