ST. PAUL’S BAY
Saint Paul’s Bay is a town in the Northern Region of Malta and with its neighbours Buġibba and Qawra, form Malta’s largest, seaside resort. The resident population is around 20.000 persons but this goes up to about 60,000 during the period of June to September. The increase is due both to Maltese summer residents and tourists in hotels and apartments in Buġibba, Qawra and St Paul’s Bay.
St Paul’s Bay is densely populated with locals and permanently resident foreign nationals. Although its coastline is virtually all rocky, it does have many small inlets with easy access to the clear, shallow water of the bays which are all extremely well used in the summer months by the local residents. St Paul’s Bay, although very close to both Bugibba and Qawra, would be considered a much quieter location by comparison with these neighbours.
For visitors like me who prefer a relaxing and peaceful vacation, St Paul’s Bay is just perfect. I have lived here and I have nothing but fond memories of this idyllic spot. It began as a little fishing village and despite its extensive growth, it still is and feels a little fishing village. Deep in the heart of the bay the residents are all Maltese. They are proud of their tradition and their unique heritage. This is the sacred spot where St Paul scrambled ashore after being shipwrecked on his way to his trial in Rome in 60 AD. While here he gave them Christianity, which they have cherished ever since and Paul is revered as their Patron Saint.
ST PAUL’S SHIPWRECK CHURCH
In the square by the waterfront is the tiny St Paul’s Shipwreck Church. It was built on the spot where St Paul is believed to have come ashore after being shipwrecked on his way to his trial in Rome and his subsequent execution. The first church was built here in the fourteenth century and the site has been a shrine of worship ever since. During the World War 11 bombing raids, the church was destroyed, and today’s church is a new reconstruction. The story of Paul’s shipwreck and his stay in Malta is detailed in the Bible and the relevant chapter is shown in various languages on plaques outside the church.
This is a miniature church of stone structure with a plain interior. In contrast to other Malta churches it is not richly embellished, but it does have an impressive painting depicting St Paul’s shipwreck. For the residents of St Paul’s Bay, this little sanctuary is a spiritual treasure that they revere and cherish. During Masses and services they fill the little church and every evening for the 5.30 Mass, it is full of devout parishioners.
ST PAUL’S ISLAND
Directly across the bay is a little island rock known for centuries as St Paul’s Island. This is believed to be the area where the shipwreck occurred as Paul was being taken to Rome to be tried as a political rebel. The ship with 274 others on board was caught in a violent storm and broke up in the region of this little island. By some miracle which Paul had foreseen, all on board, though non-swimmers, managed to reach the shore which they then discovered was Malta.
The welcome given to the survivors is described in the Acts of the Apostles (XXVIII) by St. Luke:
“And later we learned that the island was called Malta.
And the people who lived there showed us great kindness,
and they made a fire and called us all to warm ourselves… “
As the fire was lit, Paul was bitten by a poisonous snake but he suffered no ill effects. The islanders took this as a sign that he was a special man. This scene is depicted in many religious works of art on the Islands.
In 1844 a prominent statue of Saint Paul was erected on the island. It was sculpted by Segismondo Dimech from Valletta and Salvatore Dimech from Lija. The statue was officially inaugurated and blessed on 21 September 1845. It has since been restored a number of times, first in 1996, then in 2007, in 2014, and 2015.
Until the 1930s, a farmer called Vincenzo Borg, lived on the island. His farmhouse was located close to the statue of Saint Paul. He abandoned the dwelling and the fields on the island just before World War II started. Since it was abandoned, the upper rooms have collapsed and the structure is now in ruins.
Pope John Paul II visited the island by boat during his visit to Malta in 1990. Many tourists including myself visit the little island as part of a day cruise which also takes in Comino and Gozo. It is a reassuring sight for the Maltese to gaze across and see their patron saint perched high on the rock, his hands outstretched and watching over them, keeping them faithful to the Christianity that he gave them almost 2000 years ago.
From ‘IN LOVE WITH MALTA’. (The Hidden Treasures)
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