|In the Pjazza Tal-Parocca (Parish Square), Rabat. Entrance in main square.
|All year daily 9:30-13:30, 14:30-17.
|free, but be sure to make a donation to the church.
|St Paul's Grotto.
|As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
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|Pope John Paul II visited Rabat and came to pray in the grotto..
The parish church of Rabat, founded in 1575, but remodelled in 1692, was built over one of Malta's earliest Christian chapels. The Grotto of St Paul, below the adjoining Chapel of St Publius, is the main point of interest. According to the locals, it was here that St Paul spent several weeks preaching Christianity: another story has it that the Apostle was imprisoned here. It is also said that stone scraped from the grotto walls has special healing powers and that, however much is scraped away, the cave never alters in size. The prominent feature, below a series of dimly lit catacombs, is a marble statue of St Paul.
The custodian will inform you that the grotto was once a Roman prison and show you the holes in the roof from where the prisoners' chains once hung. Two tiny chapels are dedicated to St Paul and St Luke, each one with a statue of its Apostle. Also at the end there is a further chamber with a small alcove on the far side.
In 1990 Pope John Paul II visited Rabat and came to pray in the grotto. His parting prayer "God Bless Malta and God Bless you all" is inscribed on a plaque on the exterior wall of the church.
For more on St Paul and how he was shipwrecked at St Paul's Bay on Malta in AD 60, see Acts of the Apostles, Chapter 28.
From the Grotto a set of stairs leads under the road to the next tourist attraction: the Wignacourt Museum qv and the 2nd World War air raid shelters.
Text by Tony Oldham (2002). With kind permission.