Located in the very center of Rabat, the Parish Church of St Paul is a mandatory tourist destination in Malta both for its historical significance and beautiful design. Decorated with multiple Baroque elements, the church provides a good idea of typical Maltese architecture of the 17th century, while offering visitors an exciting journey into the history of Christianity in the islands.
The history of the church is inextricably connected with life of Paul the Apostle, being dedicated to this patron of Malta. It is believed that during his three-month stay in Malta, the Apostle lived in the local underground catacombs, and therefore this site is especially revered by Maltese Christians. It is known that they built churches on the site before the 14th century, while the foundation of the present church was laid in 1653.
The construction was funded by the local noble woman Guzmana Navarra, who was a real devotee of the Apostle. Initially, the building was designed by the famous Italian architect Francesco Buonamici, but since he had left the island 10 years later, the project was taken up by the prominent local architect and sculptor Lorenzo Gafa. Under his charge the construction was completed in 1683.
An interesting fact is that the design of the building with its three portals originated from the idea to combine several spaces behind one façade, since the new church had to provide access to ancient sanctuary and cemetery, as well as to comprise the smaller church of St. Publius (he was the Roman governor of Malta and one of the first among the inhabitants, who adopted Christianity).
Nowadays, visitors can go down to the Grotto of St. Paul through the church and see the famous marble statue of the Apostle, presented by Grand Master Pinto in the middle of the 18th century. Within easy reach of the church, there is an entrance to widely known St. Paul’s Catacombs. While visiting the church, tourists can admire its magnificent interiors decorated with frescoes, which shows different events from St. Paul’s life. One of the most famous works is the altarpiece by Stefano Erardi, representing the Shipwreck of St. Paul. Also, the interior features rich decoration with stucco molding, gilding and carving. After sightseeing, visitors will be glad to have some rest in a beautiful green square right opposite the church.