St. Agatha's Chapel - Photo by Mark Spiteri

St. Agatha’s Chapel

The chapel of St. Agatha in the ancient capital city of Mdina is of great historical interest dating back as it does to 1410. Originally built by the nobleman Francesco Gatt and his wife Donna Paola Castelli, the chapel was damaged during the great earthquake of 1693 and was remodelled and rebuilt in 1694 to a design of Lorenzo Gafa’, the architect responsible for the Mdina Cathedral with its splendid baroque dome.

It was opened by the Bishop, Fra David Cocco-Palmieri in the presence of Grand Master Adrien de Wignacourt, a Frenchman, on the 26th June 1696. Commemorative medals were buried in the masonry to mark the event.

In 1551, Muslim forces under the command of Sinan Pasha landed in St. Paul’s Bay and in what could have been a dress rehearsal for the Great Siege of 1565, camped in Mtarfa and laid siege to the capital then known as Notabile. When the supplies of the defenders were running low, the Vicar General, Don Giuseppe Manduca, was called to the Benedictine Abbey of Santa Scolastica then situated in Bastion Square (and now housed in Vittoriosa) to listen to a nun who claimed to have had a vision. The nun told the Vicar General that St. Agatha had appeared and had advised that Mass should be celebrated and that all soldier and civilians should walk in procession carrying her image which should be displayed on the bastions facing the enemy.

The Vicar General acted on this advice and the Bailiff Adomo, Governor of the city, together with the Knights of the Order of St. John and the Nobles and people of the city took part in a Service celebrated by the Bishop’s Vicar. The Muslim forces said to have been impressed by the numerous defenders lifted the siege and instead attacked the island of Gozo. To commemorate this event (recorded in documents now in the Cathedral Museum, as well as by the historian Giacomo Bosio), a procession used to take place every year on the 5th February led by the Cathedral Chapter; also in thanksgiving, Don Giuseppe Manduca commissioned a painting of St. Agatha, a copy of which is now in this Chapel; the original (in the Cathedral Museum) was the altarpiece until 1694.

The Chapel was used to house two refugee families during the Second World War.

After the war, the Chapel of St. Agatha, an important part of the island’s heritage, fell into disrepair. It was then that an appeal was launched and fund-raising commenced by the Mdina Cultural Association together with the Archbishop’s Seminary (owners of the Chapel) which successfully restored the chapel. 

The interior of the Chapel showing the painting of St Agatha
The interior of the Chapel showing the painting of St Agatha