From the grandiose to the tiny, these are the loveliest places to duck out for a quiet—and very beautiful—moment in Malta.
When St Paul’s boat was beached in Malta two millennia ago, the island’s fate as one of the world’s original Christian outposts was sealed. In the years following the portentous shipwreck, a growing flock of churches, chapels and cathedrals sprang up across the island. With the count at roughly 360, it’s an architectural population that is seriously impressive. Among these soaring spires and crumbling façades are some true treasures. Etched with character and with plenty of stories to tell, here are our favourite churches in Malta.
Basilica of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Valletta
Valletta’s skyline is immediately recognisable for an immense dome, thrusting high above the capital. Meet the Carmelite Church, likely one of the easiest World Heritage stamps that UNESCO has ever awarded. Step beyond its gold stone façade—admittedly pocked from the ravages of the Second World War—to discover a spectacular interior replete with polished marble columns, inlaid floors, intricately carved shrines and gleaming gold icons.
St John’s Co-Cathedral, Valletta
Enter St John’s Co-Cathedral and you’ll have the sensation of walking into an almost absurdly ornate jewellery box. Everywhere you look, there’s glorious pomp: from the gilded arches and ceiling frescos to the colourful, marble-inlaid floor and masterpieces by the likes of Caravaggio. This Baroque wonder is undoubtedly the most breath-taking church in Malta.
St Paul’s Cathedral, Mdina
St Paul’s Cathedral—also known as the Mdina Cathedral—may not be quite as ostentatious as St John’s Co-Cathedral, but sumptuous is the operative word for its interior. Think marble in all colours of the rainbow, inlaid floors, frescoes on every available surface while every other available space is licked with gold. Subtle it isn’t, but who cares about subtle when you can have sheer decadence?
Rotunda Santa Marija Assunta, Mosta
Marvelling at the soaring columns and gilded frescoes of the blonde Mosta Dome, you’d never know it was bombed during the Second World War. The offending Luftwaffe pierced its domed roof, but failed to explode on landing. This lucky escape marked the church as something of a miracle. And it is—the magnificent dome, the faultless symmetry, the spectacular acoustics verge on the angelic.
Sanctuary Of Our Lady, Mellieha
One of the oldest churches in Malta, rumour has it that St. Paul himself used to frequent the Sanctuary of our Lady, and may even have dabbled with painting—many of the church’s murals are (probably apocryphally) credited to his hand. Saintly talents aside, this church’s exterior views of the nearby bay are as captivating as its interior. Plus, the creepy crypt is housed within one of the island’s many natural caves.
Church of Saint Catherine of Italy, Valetta
Not as grandiose as the others on our list of lovely churches in Malta, the Church of St Catherine is often overlooked for its neighbouring grande dame, Our Lady of Victories Chapel. But what it lacks in grandiose ostentation, it more than makes up for in a pared-back elegance that’s unusual in Maltese churches. Dwarfed by the grand cathedrals elsewhere in the capital, it is nevertheless a go-to for the weddings of Malta’s polite society.