Thursday, July 28, 2016

MALTA: The Catacombs and St. Paul's Grotto in Rabat

Remember my post on Rabat a couple of posts ago, when I mentioned that mid-day we stopped to visit the catacombs and St. Paul's Grotto?  Well, here's what we saw:

1.  Catacombs

First of all, there are supposedly 24 catacombs in the St. Paul's cluster in Rabat, only two of which are open to the public.  They represent a large, communal burial ground/cemetery outside of Mdina and Rabat, dating back to the 4th century AD, deep in the bowels of Mother Earth.

The one we visited is the smaller of the two, adjacent to the grotto,
and is not the one called the St. Paul's Catacombs.
When you turn left at the bottom of the stairs, you enter the catacombs,
which we decided to do first, before the grotto on the right.

I mentioned on Facebook that if you're claustrophobic...not a good idea!
And if you don't like mazes...not a good idea.
At one time we had no clue how to get out.  Seriously.

But it was still worth seeing what we saw!
As you can see, they're still excavating...or at least letting you see what it was like.

Some of the burial chambers were "not like the others."
We wondered who the rich and famous were.  

And on our way out, we wondered why we couldn't get out there?!
We couldn't, which is why we almost panicked.
If this is the smaller of the two open to the public, we picked the right one!

We did eventually find our way back to where we could then turn right to enter the grotto.

But first, here's a reminder of what St. Paul's church looks like in Rabat, built from 1656-1681.
Near the main entrance is the stairway leading to the grotto underneath the church.
Supposedly the church inside is "gloomy and dull," which we didn't see to verify for ourselves.
But it has a statue of the Madonna said to have miraculous powers.

The grotto itself is off of a large hallway with side niches...

honoring Paul, I assume?

But the grotto itself is where Paul and his missionary party sheltered for 3 months around 60 AD,
after being shipwrecked off the coast of Malta (near where we stayed in Bugibba).

"During his stay, Paul was bitten by a snake and remained unharmed, prompting the natives to regard him as a god.  He later healed the father of the governor of the island, Publius, and many other people."  (Acts 28:1-11)

When we are able to connect the dots from early Sunday School days,
man alive, we'd be stupid not to, right?!

Thursday, July 21, 2016

MALTA: St. John's Co-Cathedral and the Mosta Dome

How many times have I mentioned that the Maltese Islands are Roman so many other countries in the Mediterranean area!

Malta covers just over 122 sq. mi., with a population of ca. 450,000, "making it one of the world's smallest and most densely populated countries."  (Wiki)  It's 16.8 miles long by 9 miles wide.  Add the island of Gozo to the north, at 8.7 miles long by 4.5 miles wide, and count up all the churches/cathedrals in that combined space:  359.

Today's post is about two of the most most famous of the Maltese churches:  St. John's Co-Cathedral in Valletta and the Mosta Dome in Mosta.

We visited the churches on two different days, Monday and Thursday, 
starting from our home base in Bugibba.

1.  The Mosta Dome/Rotunda of Mosta/Church of the Assumption of Our Lady in Mosta.

For the sake of build-up, let's start with the "lesser" of the two churches.
We saw it almost every day as we took the bus here and there.  
You can't miss it...outstanding in its field!

Technically, it's the Church of the Assumption of Our Lady or the Rotunda of Mosta.
It's the "third largest unsupported dome in the world and the third largest church in Europe."  (Wiki)
It was built from 1833-1871.

And because it's known for its dome, that's what you see..outside AND inside.
The space is magnificently filled with light.

And because it's a round church, the inner space/sanctuary is round.
To be honest, I think that's why I never took a close-up of the high altar area (bottom-left).
Almost every alcove had it's own altar.

I was much more interested in the pulpit, as so often happens.
My preacher dad, remember!
I think of how humble he was...not wanting to be "high and lifted up."

We didn't stay long, since we visited it on the way home on our Blue Grotto day.
But we were there long enough to get our usual impressions...

and to see a replica of the WWII bomb that fell through the roof without exploding.
Yup, that's the other thing for which the Mosta Dome is famous.
Made in Germany was it's tell-tale status, miraculously saved

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

2.  St. John's Co-Cathedral in Valleta (Malta's capital city).

Considered one of Valletta's most iconic sights, the outside is deceiving.
But once you're inside, O M G.

Sometimes seeing the floor plan helps!
The nave itself is a no-brainer...but all those side chapels!

In fact, since that's what you see first, let's start with the chapels,
with the long hallways connecting them.

Here are 4 of the 8 chapels, representing the 8 langues or chapters 
of the Knights of the Order of St. John.
Our tourist book says they vied with each other to create the most lavish chapel.

I didn't care, of course, whose was the best.
I just gawked.

And then we walked into the nave!
They say "all that glitters is not gold," but don't believe a word of it.

This conventual (that's the Co part) cathedral was completed in 1577,
dedicated to St. John the Baptist, the patron saint of the Order.

But it was during the 17th century, when the flamboyant Baroque style was ushered in,
that Mattia Preti was commissioned to redecorate the interior.
And he did, starting with the barrel-vaulted ceiling, 
depicting episodes from the life of St. John the Baptist.

At one end of the nave is the high altar.

180 degrees opposite the altar, in the back, is the tomb of Grand Master Zondadari,
the 65th Grand Master of Malta from 1720-22.
We heard a LOT about the Knights and Grand Masters while in Malta!

Speaking of tombs, this is how they're shown in Maltese churches.
There are 400 Knights buried beneath their coat of arms here.

You felt their presence everywhere you looked,
accompanied by the 8-pointed Maltese Cross.

Jesus, too, was there, of course.

As well as other impressions...impressions...impressions.

I'm guessing the cleaning of the gold-leaf is never-ending?

But look what I leave you with:  the pulpit, high and lifted up.
See, Dad, I really do think of you, often.

This is a longer video than I usually make but I didn't want to forget it.
It's harder for static images to give the real feel of a place.

And, once again, this is why we call these cathedrals the museums we like to visit!

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

Totally changing the subject, tomorrow we drive to Amsterdam to pick up
sister Ruth and hubby from Michigan for a week's visit.
Are we ever excited!

Thursday, July 14, 2016

MALTA: Rabat, the Suburb of Mdina

Just when you thought the Malta trip was done and over with, here we are again, picking up from where we last left off...outside Mdina, the former capital city.  (Bugibba to the north is always our starting point.)

Just outside the walled city of Mdina is the bus stop and the horse-n-buggy hitching post.
Instead of turning left to walk into Mdina, this day we turned right to walk into Rabat.
The bus stop...and the wall...separate the two cities.  That's how close they are.
In fact, Rabat is derived from the Arabic word for suburb.

One difference between the two cities is population size:  300 vs. 12,000.
So as we walked past the landmarks to find the main street in, we were prepared to see a lot.

We had been told that the Feast of St. Joseph was on Sunday, when the city would be celebrating.
Crowds don't work for us, so we made the decision to visit the preceding Friday,
little knowing it was when the city was prepping for the big day.

Everywhere we walked around city center, banners were flying...

and workers were setting up the props, attaching light bulbs, and having fun.
How many men does it take to change a light bulb???

While we watched, we suddenly saw we were standing in front of a church.
And because it was open, yes, we walked right in...little knowing it would close 20 min. later.
It's the Santa Marija ta'Gesu (ta' Giezu) church:  Our Lady of Jesus.

It, too, was being prepped for the Feast of St. Joseph!
Everything that could be covered in red velvet...was.

And as we were politely shooed out, a gentleman said THIS was the church 
from which the procession of St. Joseph would commence on Sunday.
Lucky for us that we could see it before they closed the doors.

As we continued walking through town, we paid tribute to all the saints:
Abraham, Moses, Isaac, Jeremiah, David, Jacob, Joseph, Isaiah....

and untold angels, plus assorted others.
Talk about a feast and calling everyone to take part!

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At this point in the late morning, we visited St. Paul's Grotto and the Catacombs,
for which Rabat is known.  But that's another post.

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

It was time for our koffie break, which we took in the main square,
opposite the Collegiate Church of St. Paul, consecrated in 1726.
Sadly, it was not open.

But it didn't matter, because there was so much else to see while walking around.
Malta is a Roman Catholic country, so there are RC churches everywhere.

And enough wabi-sabi to last a lifetime (not that she is, mind you).

How is it that walking around makes us hungry for carbonara!  HA!
And for the beers the locals love (all those 150 years of Bristish Empire influence)!
And for the Maltese bragioli we grew to love!

Impressions.  Impressions.  Impressions.

Did we mention that we OFTEN saw men together like this in Malta...but never women.

I suppose these were getting ready for Sunday's Feast.
Good for them to remember the flowers.

And then, as we headed back to the bus stop, another wee church beckoned,
Santa Maria ta' Doni (Ta' Duna):  St. Mary Duna, from the 17th century.

It's actually a chapel and doesn't appear to be used for services?
But there he was...St. Joseph with baby Jesus on the altar.

And there he was again as we left the city.
He's the patron saint of Rabat.

Happy Feast of St. Joseph!