Shipwrecks are tragedies, of course, unless they somehow manage to instil a new religious faith to an entire nation for centuries to come. That’s how the story goes in Malta – St. Paul, now the Patron Saint of Malta, landed on our islands after a divinely fated shipwreck, and the rest is history.
To commemorate the event, The Feast of St. Paul’s Shipwreck is celebrated every year in Malta on the 10th of February. Though this is one of the most important days in any Maltese religious devotee’s calendar, the day can be appreciated by people holding any beliefs – and not just for the long weekend that’s coming their way, either.
Photo credit: www.palazzoconsiglia.com
The Feast of St. Paul’s Shipwreck is about the entirety of the Catholic Faith in Malta, but the implications here are much more than religious. Catholicism has such a huge cultural hold in Malta that to celebrate St. Paul’s shipwreck is also a way of celebrating its effects on a historical level, architectural level, and so on.
How the story goes: St. Paul allegedly landed in Malta in 60 AD, making Malta’s introduction to Christianity one of the earliest on a global scale. Showing the way of Christ to the Maltese wasn’t exactly St. Paul’s (back then known simply as Paul), though.
Paul was actually on the way to Rome against his will – he was going to be on trial for crimes against the Roman Empire for attempting to convert people to Christianity. However, the ship got caught in a storm, with the result being that two weeks later the ship was wrecked on the Maltese coast.
If that didn’t sound enough like a pretty bad weekend, Paul was later bit by a poisonous snake after the Maltese welcomed him and his peers around a fire. Here’s the thing though – Paul didn’t incur any illness as a result. We reckon that this is the time that the Maltese started taking Paul and his message a little bit more seriously.
Laurent de La Hyre’s ‘Saint Paul Shipwrecked on Malta’, 1630
After that, Paul stayed in Malta for quite a while longer, initially taking refuge in a cave in Rabat that is today known as St. Paul’s Grotto (to this day, Rabat is still one of the areas that is most associated with the Feast of Saint Paul’s Shipwreck). However, he eventually stayed at the house of Publius, who was the Roman chief of the islands. It was here that Paul allegedly worked a little bit more miracle magic by curing Publius of a fatal fever. Publius then converted to Christianity and became the first bishop of Malta, directing the faith of the Maltese after Paul left the islands.
Is St. Paul’s story Gospel truth? Even from a non-religious perspective, strong evidence seems to suggest that St. Paul did land in Malta, particularly because of the fact that there is archaeological proof that Malta was one of the first Roman colonies to adopt Christianity. On the other hand, some historians believe that St. Paul landed on an island closer to Greece. Ultimately, as is the case with most biblical stories, we’ll never really know – you either accept it or you don’t. The majority of the Maltese certainly do, so you might want to avoid stating controversial opinions within earshot!
What can you do on the 10th of February?
There are a few options if you want to join in on the celebrations. A special mass is heard all around the island, but you could opt to go to The Parish Church of Saint Paul in Rabat or the Church of Saint Paul’s Shipwreck in Valletta.
The Church of Saint Paul’s Shipwreck, Valletta
If you opt to go to Rabat, you could then visit Saint Paul’s Grotto, which as mentioned Saint Paul is said to have taken refuge in. Afterwards you could opt to eat at one of the many wonderful restaurants in the vicinity.
If you go to Valletta, there’s quite a bit of activity to look forward to. The church itself is a work of beauty and is home to several ancient relics and artefacts pertaining to Saint Paul, including his wrist bone. After the mass you could witness the procession of Saint Paul’s statue from the church through the streets of Valletta. This procession is of course accompanied by lots of confetti, marching band music, and overall liveliness. For the early birds, fireworks are exploded over the Grand Harbour after the 8 am mass in Valletta!