There is a 2000 year old tradition, passed down through countless generations, that the apostle Paul met the Roman governor Publius on this site, where the cathedral dedicated to him stands today. Publius converted to Christianity and became the first bishop of Malta. This is not the first cathedral to grace this spot. The first cathedral, which is said to have been dedicated to the Blessed Virgin fell into disrepair during the Muslim period. This was followed by a Norman church in Gothic style, re-dedicated to St Paul, which was enlarged and modified several times. This building was destroyed by the earthquake of 1693 and the current edifice was erected in its place.
This Baroque structure was designed by Maltese architect Lorenzo Gafa and was built between 1697 and 1702. Gafa’s magnificent dome is considered to be one of the most beautiful in Malta. The interior of the cathedral is lavishly decorated with paintings, stained glass windows, inlaid marble tombstones, silver candelabra and gold leaf. One of the most famous paintings is Mattia Preti’s Conversion Of St Paul which used to hang in the old cathedral but somehow managed to survive the earthquake. Go here for a 360 view of the interior.
The Mdina sky-line (which you may see in my header photo), with the cathedral perched on the edge of the hill, is one of the most recognised views in Malta and can be seen from many places around the island, both during the day and at night - when it is lit up. The façade of the cathedral is divided into three bays with two bell towers at the corners.
Beneath each bell tower is a clock. According to legend, the clock on the left was purposefully placed there to confuse the devil since it does not appear to tell the correct time. In reality it shows the date and month of the year. The clock on the right is the time-keeper and it strikes every 15 minutes.
As a child I would often stand at the cathedral’s main door and look up into the sky. They scurrying clouds made it seem as if the spires were moving and dancing to some secret rhythm. At the time, this was one of the highest buildings that I had seen. These days, I am no longer awed by its height but I still like to stand at its base and gaze upwards towards the heavens. And still the spires seem to dance. And I smile, because for a brief instant I am child again.
Metropolitan Cathedral of St Paul
St Paul’s Square