Where did St. Paul suffer shipwreck?
The Acts of the Apostles in the New Testament describes the storm and shipwreck of St. Paul. Paul had been imprisoned at Caesarea in Israel. Since he was a Roman citizen, Paul was able to appeal his case to the emperor in Rome.
Paul and other prisoners were placed on a ship heading for Rome. They came to Myra in southern Turkey on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. From there they boarded a new ship that encountered a terrible storm or hurricane near the Greek island of Crete. Eventually they saw a bay with a sandy beach. The ship hit a sandbar, ran aground and sank. The passengers swam or walked on planks to the shore. Eventually they learned they were on the island of Malta. Here a poisonous snake bit Paul with no ill effects, so the natives thought he was a god. The father of Publius, the chief of the island, was sick in bed with a chronic fever. Paul cured him and eventually all of the sick on the island.
The island of Malta is also called Melita. M. Grant says St. Paul was shipwrecked there about A.D. 60. Father John McKenzie says Malta lay 60 miles south of Sicily and 200 miles from Cape Bon, the nearest point in northern Africa. Malta is 17 miles long and 9 miles wide at its greatest extent.
St. Paul’s Bay on the north side of Malta fits well for the site of the shipwreck, even to the direction of the prevailing winds. Hayit says Malta is almost directly in the center of the Mediterranean Sea. This archipelago is a remnant of what was once an isthmus connecting Sicily and North Africa.
In Malta they celebrate the official holiday of St. Paul’s shipwreck on Feb. 10. Within the few months that St. Paul wintered in Malta, he was able to spread Christianity. At the time of his departure, some of the Maltese had already been converted. Today 98 percent of the Maltese are Catholic. The Apostle Paul is Malta’s patron saint.
In the city of Rabat on Malta, you can visit St. Paul’s catacombs. Hayit says there you go down into this Christian burial site dating back to the fourth through fifth centuries. It is a complexity of branching tunnels. The corpses were buried in tombs dug out of the soft sandstone. Also in Rabat is St. Paul’s Church built in 1575. This church is built above a cave in which St. Paul supposedly lived after his shipwreck. A statue of the apostle and a model ship can be seen in the grotto. At Rabat are also the St. Agatha catacombs where some of the tombs are decorated with frescoes.
One of the largest tourist centers in Malta is St. Paul’s Bay, the traditional site of the shipwreck. Here there are coastal cliffs and stretches of sand. Then there are the small St. Paul’s Islands off to the north of St. Paul’s Bay. Hayit says in A.D. 60, St. Paul landed on the nearer of the two islands after having been shipwrecked. He then used this opportunity to spread Christianity. In 1845 a marble statue was erected on the site where the apostle presumably landed.
Valletta is the capital city of Malta. Here you can see St. John’s Co-Cathedral finished in 1577. Hayit says the ceiling depicts the 18 stations of St. John the Baptist’s life. The floor is comprised of 400 marble grave slabs on which the names are written in mosaic. This cathedral’s museum houses the famous painting “The Beheading of St. Ian” by Caravaggio.
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