St. Paul's Cathedral

Mdina, Malta

St. Paul's Cathedral in Mdina was built on the site where governor Publius was reported to have met Saint Paul following his shipwreck off the Maltese coast. According to tradition, the first Cathedral of Malta was dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, Mother of God but, having fallen into ruin during the Muslim period, it was rebuilt following the Norman conquest and re-dedicated to St Paul. The old church was modified and enlarged several times.

The building we can see today was designed by the architect Lorenzo Gafa, it was built between 1697 and 1702 to replace a ruined Norman cathedral destroyed by the 1693 earthquake on Malta. Despite this, several artifacts and edifices survived including the painting by the Calabrian artist Mattia Preti depicting the conversion of Saint Paul, a 15th-century Tuscan painting of the Madonna and Child, and frescoes in the apse which illustrate Paul's shipwreck.

The architect Lorenzo Gafa designed the Cathedral in Baroque style. It sits at the end of a rectangular square. The near-square facade is cleanly divided in three bays by the Corinthian order of pilasters. There are two bell towers at the both corners. The plan is a Latin cross with a vaulted nave, two aisles and two small side chapels. The Cathedral has a light octagonal dome, with eight stone scrolls above a high drum leading up to a neat lantern.

One of the main features of the interior is the rich colorful tessellated floor. Many of the furnishings of the cathedral, including the baptismal font and the portal, are carved out of Irish wood.

The cathedral also has a substantial collection of silver plates and coins, and some carvings by the German artist Albrecht Dürer.

References:

Comments

Your name



Address

Triq Mesquita, Mdina, Malta
See all sites in Mdina

Details

Founded: 1697-1702
Category: Religious sites in Malta

Rating

4.6/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

Rodica Mirlogeanu (2 years ago)
Rhidz (2 years ago)
Didn’t get to catch the Cathedral in time before closing but the little courtyard square its located at is really nice! Highly worth visiting if you’re already in the area regardless if you intend on going inside or not.
James Jones (2 years ago)
This cathedral is worth the time and few coins to visit and witness its beauty and intricacies. Bring a camera and take the time to read the tablets and postings throughout. Remember to use low voices as this is still an active church.
Big Boss (2 years ago)
Metropolitan Cathedral of Saint Paul (Katidral Metropolitan ta' San Pawl), commonly known as St. Paul's Cathedral or the Mdina Cathedral, is a Roman Catholic cathedral in Mdina, Malta, dedicated to St. Paul the Apostle. The cathedral was founded in the 12th century, and according to tradition it stands on the site of where Roman governor Publius met St. Paul following his shipwreck on Malta. The original cathedral was severely damaged in the 1693 Sicily earthquake, so it was dismantled and rebuilt in the Baroque style to a design of the Maltese architect Lorenzo Gafà between 1696 and 1705. The cathedral is regarded as Gafà's masterpiece.
Richard Ryan (2 years ago)
This was one of the first places I visited in Malta, fantastic value for €10, with access to the catercomes and gallery... staff are lovely.
Powered by Google

Featured Historic Landmarks, Sites & Buildings

Historic Site of the week

Quimper Cathedral

From 1239, Raynaud, the Bishop of Quimper, decided on the building of a new chancel destined to replace that of the Romanesque era. He therefore started, in the far west, the construction of a great Gothic cathedral which would inspire cathedral reconstructions in the Ile de France and would in turn become a place of experimentation from where would later appear ideas adopted by the whole of lower Brittany. The date of 1239 marks the Bishop’s decision and does not imply an immediate start to construction. Observation of the pillar profiles, their bases, the canopies, the fitting of the ribbed vaults of the ambulatory or the alignment of the bays leads us to believe, however, that the construction was spread out over time.

The four circular pillars mark the start of the building site, but the four following adopt a lozenge-shaped layout which could indicate a change of project manager. The clumsiness of the vaulted archways of the north ambulatory, the start of the ribbed vaults at the height of the south ambulatory or the choice of the vaults descending in spoke-form from the semi-circle which allows the connection of the axis chapel to the choir – despite the manifest problems of alignment – conveys the hesitancy and diverse influences in the first phase of works which spread out until the start of the 14th century.

At the same time as this facade was built (to which were added the north and south gates) the building of the nave started in the east and would finish by 1460. The nave is made up of six bays with one at the level of the facade towers and flanked by double aisles – one wide and one narrow (split into side chapels) – in an extension of the choir arrangements.

The choir presents four right-hand bays with ambulatory and side chapels. It is extended towards the east of 3-sided chevet which opens onto a semi-circle composed of five chapels and an apsidal chapel of two bays and a flat chevet consecrated to Our Lady.

The three-level elevation with arches, triforium and galleries seems more uniform and expresses anglo-Norman influence in the thickness of the walls (Norman passageway at the gallery level) or the decorative style (heavy mouldings, decorative frieze under the triforium). This building site would have to have been overseen in one shot. Undoubtedly interrupted by the war of Succession (1341-1364) it draws to a close with the building of the lierne vaults (1410) and the fitting of stained-glass windows. Bishop Bertrand de Rosmadec and Duke Jean V, whose coat of arms would decorate these vaults, finished the chancel before starting on the building of the facade and the nave.

Isolated from its environment in the 19th century, the cathedral was – on the contrary – originally very linked to its surroundings. Its site and the orientation of the facade determined traffic flow in the town. Its positioning close to the south walls resulted in particuliarities such as the transfer of the side gates on to the north and south facades of the towers: the southern portal of Saint Catherine served the bishop’s gate and the hospital located on the left bank (the current Préfecture) and the north gate was the baptismal porch – a true parish porch with its benches and alcoves for the Apostles’ statues turned towards the town, completed by an ossuary (1514).

The west porch finds its natural place between the two towers. The entire aesthetic of these three gates springs from the Flamboyant era: trefoil, curly kale, finials, large gables which cut into the mouldings and balustrades. Pinnacles and recesses embellish the buttresses whilst an entire bestiary appears: monsters, dogs, mysterious figures, gargoyles, and with them a whole imaginary world promoting a religious and political programme. Even though most of the saints statues have disappeared an armorial survives which makes the doors of the cathedral one of the most beautiful heraldic pages imaginable: ducal ermine, the Montfort lion, Duchess Jeanne of France’s coat of arms side by side with the arms of the Cornouaille barons with their helmets and crests. One can imagine the impact of this sculpted decor with the colour and gilding which originally completed it.

At the start of the 16th century the construction of the spires was being prepared when building was interrupted, undoubtedly for financial reasons. Small conical roofs were therefore placed on top of the towers. The following centuries were essentially devoted to putting furnishings in place (funeral monuments, altars, statues, organs, pulpit). Note the fire which destroyed the spire of the transept cross in 1620 as well as the ransacking of the cathedral in 1793 when nearly all the furnishings disappeared in a « bonfire of the saints ».

The 19th century would therefore inherit an almost finished but mutilated building and would devote itself to its renovation according to the tastes and theories of the day.