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When it comes to religion in Malta there’s really only one player in the game. The island is staunchly Catholic with roughly 98% of the people here answering, effectively, to Rome and the Pope. Now, you don’t have to be a genius to figure out that if nearly everyone is Christian then they’re going to need lots of churches.
Well, they’re in the right place! There’s a widely known, though not verified, saying on Malta that you’ll find a different church on this island for every day of the year. And though no-one seems to be able to give a definitive total number, judging by the amount of spires and towers you see on the skyline, that sounds like it’s a reasonable claim.
Whether the total reaches or exceeds 365, every one of them is a historical and cultural haven. There’s something about churches that are used and regularly attended by a society that so clearly believes in and follows their chosen faith. The atmosphere is more serious and foreboding and in Malta, where the buildings are beautiful too, even a confirmed atheist must feel some kind of twinge while wandering down the aisles.
Being churches, you are more than welcome to visit and have a look around but please bear in mind that these are not tourist attractions. They are very active sites of worship so treat them and those inside with due respect.
Be sure to dress appropriately if you enter. That means women should cover shoulders if you’re wearing a ‘strappy top’ and not wear short skirts or shorts. For the men it’s the same story. No vest tops, and if you must wear shorts, make sure they come to or past the knee. No-one wants to see you walking around in budgie smugglers – and that’s a general life lesson not just for church visits!
This dress code goes for all churches on Malta and Gozo, even the very well known ones that are frequently visited by hordes of tourists. For example; St John’s Co-Cathedral and St Paul’s Church in Valletta, the Cathedral in Mdina, the Mosta Dome, the Xewkija Church, the Ta’ Pinu Sanctuary and Rabat Cathedral in Gozo may be packed with sightseers but they are still working places of worship.
Those who prefer their holy places slightly less commercial and busy, however, should take time to check out some of the smaller parish churches on the island as these can be equally fascinating. Each one comes with its own stories and legends, some are fine examples of architecture and others harbour artistic riches.
In Borla (also known as Cospicua), one the Three Cities of the Cottonera, for example, you’ll find a statue of the Immaculate Conception that is said to have once been the figure-head of an ancient ship.
Close by in Isla (Senglea) you’ll discover a beautiful Statue of the Redeemer - for centuries a major source of national devotion. And then in the third city, Birgu (Vittoriosa) you can visit the Knights of Malta’s first church in Malta.
All churches and other religious buildings on the island reflect the Maltese people’s deep faith. So take a look inside and you’ll instantly get a better handle on what makes these people tick!
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