A simple facade – totally unassuming and easily missed amongst the more ostentatious palaces and houses of the old capital.
A clean, uncluttered interior; for the most part unadorned – virginal, almost, like the saint it is dedicated to.
And as the eyes get used to the dimness they are drawn, by coincidence or by design, to the only source of light pouring down from the sky above.
In the silent sanctuary prayers are fervently whispered and comfort is taken in the certain knowledge that they will be heard ….
A chapel to St Agatha was first built on this site in Mdina in 1410 by the nobleman Francesco Gatt and his wife Donna Paola Castelli. The original building was destroyed during a major earthquake that shook the island in 1693. The current chapel, also dedicated to St Agatha, was built in 1694 and was designed by renowned Maltese architect Lorenzo Gafa who was also responsible for the design of the cathedral of Mdina. Grand Master Wignacourt was present for the opening of this chapel in 1696.
Saint Agatha is one of the patron saints of the island together with Saint Paul and Saint Publius. There is a common belief here that Agatha escaped from her native Sicily because she was being persecuted for being a Christian and that she found refuge in Malta for a number of years. When she returned back to her homeland she was martyred by having both her breasts cut off.
When the Turks attacked the island in 1551 it is said that a nun had a vision in which Saint Agatha told her that the people of Mdina needed to take an image of her and all the soldiers and civilians were to carry it in a procession and place it on the bastions facing the enemy. The Turks are said to have been so impressed by the sheer number of defenders that they left the island and attacked the sister island of Gozo instead – carrying away the majority of the population into slavery. Fact or fiction? What is certainly true is that the Turks did try to attack Malta in 1551 and, for some reason, turned away and attacked Gozo, decimating the population. The rest could be a unique mixture of fact and fiction that is so essential for the birth of legends.
In the past the chapel of St Agatha was only open on February 5th – the feast day of the saint – but in recent years, the chapel has been restored and is now open to the public on a regular basis.