St. Paul’s Catacombs

Rabat, Malta

St. Paul’s Catacombs are some of the most prominent features of Malta’s paleochristian archaeology. The archaeological clearing of the site has revealed an extensive system of underground galleries and tombs dated from the fourth to the ninth centuries AD. Two catacombs are open to the public, but these are only a small part of the entire St. Paul's and St. Agatha’s complex.

St. Paul’s catacombs are part of a large cemetery once located outside the walls of the ancient Greek city of Melite, now covered by the smaller Mdina and Rabat. It also comprises the catacombs of Saint Agatha, San Katald, St. Augustine and many others. The cemetery probably originated in the Phoenician-Punic period. Like in Roman tradition, Phoenician and Punic burials were located outside city walls. Many tombs discovered in areas outside the known line of the Roman city suggest that the city of Melite was close to equal size.

The early tombs consisted of a deep rectangular shaft with one or two chambers dug from its sides. This type of burial was used well into the Roman occupation of the islands, but the chambers grew larger and more regular in shape over time. It is probable that this enlargement joined neighboring tombs and led to the creation of small catacombs, which became the norm by the fourth century AD.

The site that is currently open to the public comprises two catacombs out of the 24 in the St Paul’s cluster. The main complex, covering an area of more than 2000 square metres, is so far the largest catacomb ever to be found on the island. It is large enough to have served as a communal burial ground in successive phases of Malta’s history. The two halls at the bottom of the entrance stairs show two agape tables (circular tables hewn out of the living rock and used for ceremonial meals commemorating dead relatives). One of the halls was transformed into an early church following the expulsion of Arab conquerors in the second century AD.

Although the complex contains almost all of the burial types found in the Maltese repertoire, the best represented are so-called baldacchino tombs. These free-standing, canopied burials dominate the main corridors of the complex; their four elegant arches and supporting pillars are exemplary. Other decorations within this catacomb include illustrations and written messages in red paint.

The second catacomb that can be visited is much smaller than the first. The surgical tools carved in relief on one of the three blocking stones in the inner chamber suggest that it was the burial place of a particular family or group of surgeons.

The catacombs of St. Paul illustrate the religious diversity of the Maltese islands during the Roman period. The 24 catacombs show evidence of Christian, Pagan and Jewish burials side-by-side and no visible divisions.

References:

Comments

Your name



Details

Founded: 300-400 AD
Category: Prehistoric and archaeological sites in Malta

Rating

4.3/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

Aynsley Anderson (38 days ago)
Very interesting and extensive collection of catacombs. There are a lot of them and we found it to get repetitive as there is not really anything specific about each one. The experience would probably be better in the format of guided tour, but we still enjoyed looking around and the price is very reasonable.
Alex Havermans (41 days ago)
A must visit site! The history is amazing and the newly constructed museum.around is is very interesting. The 2d movie introduction (about 20min) was very informative. The spaces can get quite cramped so if you're claustrophobic not every catacomd is right for you.
Viktor Kurochkin (4 months ago)
Well, it’s burial sights, a lot of them. There I are similarities, so it might get boring to look into all of them, if you are not having particular interest. But it’s very civilized, some are really small labyrinths, even using predefined tourists ways. But in overall the place is taken really good care of.
Nick Titcombe (4 months ago)
What an eye-opening experience. Such rich history and artifacts. Make sure you have enough time to explore the many catacombs. Some are very tight fits with small entrances, but worth the effort.
Radu Ilie (9 months ago)
Really nice place. But without too much info inside. You don't know actually what are you looking at inside catacombs and how were the things happening. A few info sites outside but not enough. All catacombs 23- look the same.
Powered by Google

Featured Historic Landmarks, Sites & Buildings

Historic Site of the week

Caerleon Roman Amphitheatre

Built around AD 90 to entertain the legionaries stationed at the fort of Caerleon (Isca), the impressive amphitheatre was the Roman equivalent of today’s multiplex cinema. Wooden benches provided seating for up to 6,000 spectators, who would gather to watch bloodthirsty displays featuring gladiatorial combat and exotic wild animals.

Long after the Romans left, the amphitheatre took on a new life in Arthurian legend. Geoffrey of Monmouth, the somewhat imaginative 12th-century scholar, wrote in his History of the Kings of Britain that Arthur was crowned in Caerleon and that the ruined amphitheatre was actually the remains of King Arthur’s Round Table.

Today it is the most complete Roman amphitheatre in Britain.