Il-kappella ta’ San Mattew

Maltese churches are fascinating. Legends abound and the story of San Mattew’s church and the live-in lovers is one of a kind. St Matthew’s is in fact two chapels in one. The smaller one at the back was one of the first to be built after then Arabs were expelled from Malta. The larger one at the front was finished in 1682 and the two are joined by a stairway.

San Mattew's church

Legends abound in Malta and the story of San Mattew’s church and the live-in lovers is one of a kind. St Matthew’s is in fact two chapels in one. The smaller one at the back was one of the first to be built after then Arabs were expelled from Malta. The larger one at the front was finished in 1682 and the two are joined by a stairway.

The ground around the church apparently subsided during an earthquake  on  24 November 1343. Legend has it that a number of people who were shacked up (i.e. living in sin)  were suddenly engulfed. According to one legend, only one pious woman escaped – she was in the church at the time but she escaped even though the chapel itself was shorn in two. Another legend has it that the only survivors were nuns.  The surrounding fields stand on two levels and the great divide can still be seen.

San Mattew's church

When Mr M stopped to ask directions, we found out that there are no fewer than seven chapels in this area. We managed to find three. Some are out in the fields at the bottom of lane ways; others are tucked away between the rows of terraced houses that have been built up around them. All share the same simplicity of stone and colour, very much reminiscent of a time when churches, not only Maltese churches, had a function in our lives.

Maltese churches

Maltese churches
St Anna’s


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8 Responses

  1. Great stuff! But what an amazing proliferation of chapels – was this just an outpouring of devotion, because they must all have cost something to build and needed clergy etc to keep them going, or did they all really have a purpose? Were they private chapels on private land, such as you find on the big estates in UK? But there must have been some money about. More eagerly awaited!!

  2. ‘All share the same simplicity of stone and colour, very much reminiscent of a time when churches had a function in our lives’……………?? interesting statement, what did you mean by this?

    1. Back in the day, we could go to a church to sit quietly and think and/pray. Have you tried that lately? When churches are bare and minimalistic, there’s nothing there to steal. Nowadays, with all the gold and art and trimmings, they’re shut most of the time – collection boxes stolen, etc, or worse, the homeless camping inside (God forbid that a church should be used as a haven for people who have nowhere else to go and need to warm up for a while). How sad it is that these very places that once gave refuge are now only open a couple of hours a week. What functions do churches serve now other than for tourists to take pictures of…

      Mary Murphy http://www.stolenchild66.wordpress.com

  3. Why are churches and chapels so numerous and so ubiquitous on the Maltese Islands? One reason is undoubtedly the religiosity of the people. Another may be the fact that in the past, when the population was made up mainly of peasants and the roads were bad, every hamlet let sought to have it`s own church. A third reason is that in many cases the chapels were built in fulfilment of vows. These little chapels appered all over the islands and in most cases had cemeteries beside them. One comes upon the chapels in the most unlikely spots, like cliffs or tucked away under rocky outcrops in valleys. Some add sharpness to the outline of hills whilst others form part of the houses of the nobility. Villages have grown around them and some were once centres of thriving communities, whilst others now stand alone in flieds.
    others now standwhilst

    others now stand alone in the fields.

    1. There you go Bernard – from the man himself. Answered it much better than I ever could. I hadn’t realised that many of these chapel were built to fulfil a promise. I am so used to paying off St Anthony! Much easier. And that explains why they can be found in the oddest of places. Thanks Steve.

      Mary Murphy http://www.stolenchild66.wordpress.com

  4. No two chapels are exactly alike. One, for instance, will have a bell-cot growing out of the pedament; another a quaint lozenge-shaped window and a third might have a horse` trough beside it. Together they bring to life a picture of the islands` past such as the wars, the raids of the corsairs or Turks, the plague and cholera epidemics, the famines and droughts, the pageant of rulers from various countries and devout faith as well as superstitions, customs and folklore of the common people. Having been the centre of village life for centuries, it is not surprising that many stories, legends, traditions and quaint customs should be intimately connected with the chapels.

  5. Wow! this is moving into deep water………..I loved your comment re churches and havens.
    I agree we should be questioning the function of the church ( I am looking at the buildings not the religious aspect …….although clearly it is difficult to separate them). The church that we see today is a consequence of history, I thinked linked to power and not allways the power of God!…………it is hard to think of many organisations today that still use unchanged buildings built even a 100 years ago…….the church does. Life is nothing like it was when these churches were built yet we continue to use these ever expensive/impractical/unresponsive/crumbling edifices with services that seem to have little relevence to the way people live today.
    I have been involved in creating new churches and in converting old ones and from listening to the congregations you realise that their needs are not being met by the grand old churches that we have been discussing……..they are great as a backdrop to the grand wedding or indeed a grand funeral but for week in week out use they suck! People want somewhere that is welcoming/warm/responsive/flexible/able to be built for an affordable cost/economic to run………….interesting that the requirement for drama etc. comes fairly low down on their list. Trying to modernise old churches to meet these requirements is a nightmare………although I have been involved in creating a catholic chapel out of a very small redundant cow byre and when I attended a service there it was very, very special.
    Clearly we are now part of a fast changing world in which I do believe the church still has an important role but perhaps in the same way as we are all having to review the ways we will be living our lives in the future, the church has to urgently review the ways that it operates………….if it is brave and does it properly I suspect the changes will be dramatic.

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