From cathedrals to crumbling chapels, soaring basilicas to local parishes, there are some stunningly beautiful churches in Malta. And if we run the numbers, though measuring barely over 120 square miles, Malta’s rocky terrain hosts over 360 houses of worship. But given that this used to be St. Paul’s turf, the number of churches in Malta isn’t a shock – the Maltese are among the oldest Christian people in the world.
You don’t need to be religiously affiliated to be wowed by these landmarks, however. From the gilded interiors of St George’s Basilica, to the frescos of St Paul’s Cathedral Mdina and the rainbow marble and soaring vaults of St John’s Co-Cathedral, these are some of the most beautiful buildings on earth. Head inside when the weather starts to cool and the sun goes down – these candlelit churches in Malta were made to be admired.
Enter St John’s Co-Cathedral, and you’ll have the sensation of walking into an almost absurdly ornate jewellery box. Everywhere you look, there’s glorious pomp: from the gilded arches and ceiling frescos to the colourful, marble-inlaid floor and masterpieces by the likes of Caravaggio. This Baroque wonder is, quite literally, a gem.
The opposite of St John’s in terms of scale – and crowds – the Church of St Catherine of Alexandria is comparatively tucked away. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth a wander: after 10 years of restoration, its picturesque dome and gleaming altarpiece are at their very shiniest. Not to mention that it once used to be the stomping ground of the island’s Italian Knights.
Known colloquially as the “Mosta Dome,” this rotunda church has more than a few claims to fame. Built in the mid-19th century, it happens to have the fourth largest dome in the world. It also almost didn’t survive WWII: though a Luftwaffe bomb fell directly through the dome, it miraculously didn’t explode. Thus, the church happily remains – though a replica bomb can still be witnessed inside.
One of the oldest in Malta, rumour has it that St. Paul himself used to frequent this church and may even have dabbled with painting – many of the church’s murals are (probably apocryphally) credited to his hand. Saintly talents aside, this church’s exterior views of the nearby bay are as captivating as its interior. Plus, the creepy crypt is housed within one of the island’s many natural caves.
St Paul’s Cathedral – often called the Mdina Cathedral – may not be quite as ostentatious as St John’s Co-Cathedral, but sumptuous is the operative word for its interior. Think marble in all colours of the rainbow, inlaid floors, frescoes on every available surface whilst every other available space is licked with gold. Subtle it isn’t, but who cares about subtle when you can have sheer decadence?
Built by the same architect as the Mdina Cathedral, the Cittadella Cathedral is a little bit like its younger sibling. Said to occupy land that the Roman Temple of Juno once stood on, and inside ancient fortification walls, this one’s as pretty on the outside as it is inside.
It was the naval accident that changed everything for Malta, and the storied shipwreck of St Paul is here memorialised in a pretty little church in the capital city. Perhaps the biggest historical draw, though, is a shard of St Paul’s wrist bone, preserved in a gilded reliquary.
Known varyingly as “the gold church” and “the marble church,” St George’s Basilica’s nicknames should give a hint to its over-the-top levels of décor. One of Gozo’s best known architectural masterpieces, it’s plainer on the outside – lest you need to give your eyes a break.
From its clifftop location in rural Gozo, the Ta’ Pinu National Shrine offers postcard-worthy views of the surrounding region. First admire the natural beauty; then, head indoors for a more celestial aesthetic. The walls of Ta’Pinu are relatively untouched; instead, let your eyes be drawn upwards by the lines of the soaring vaults.
For those who’ve strolled into Valletta and wondered, “what’s that?” when seeing the dome that dominates the skyline, here’s your answer. Though the Carmelite Church wasn’t as lucky as the Mosta Dome – WWII left it scarred and battered by bombs – the restored structure is now gleaming and has become the poster child of all the churches in Malta.