Immortalised in the Act of the Apostles, the shipwreck of St. Paul in Malta, almost 2.000 years ago, is still celebrated by the Maltese. Through parades and festivities, they make sure that their patron saint is not forgotten, and so history becomes alive. Only 3 days before carnival, this is a great time to visit this fascinating island.
February 10 is a public holiday in Malta, where they celebrate the national patron saint of Malta – St. Paul – and commemorates his shipwreck on this island at around 60 AD. The day is celebrated with a confetti covered parade in Valletta and is held in high esteem, being the first public holiday of the year.
On this very day with fierce winds and freezing temperatures (chill-factor-wise nonetheless) it’s not hard to imagine it being a very cold dip indeed to shipwreck on Malta. At around 60 AD., from nowadays Turkey, this particular ship carried and shipwrecked with some 275 prisoners of whom miraculously no one drowned. Wet and cold, the shipwrecked gathered on the beach and the local Maltese were kind enough to light fires for them to warm themselves by. Among the shipwrecked was St. Paul. The shipwreck and the kindness offered by the Maltese people was later immortalised in his Act of the Apostles.
On the 10th of February this day is celebrated with a confetti covered parade in Valletta – in which all Maltese can attend, because it is the first public holiday of the year. The feast is centered around the Collegiate Parish Church of St. Paul’s Shipwreck, one of the oldest churches in Valletta dating back to 1570 AD.
The whole day, mass is held at this church. And at every mass the church is cramped with people, as this feast is the Maltese way to celebrate their catholic beliefs.
In the afternoon, the statue of St. Paul is carried from the church in a procession around the city; celebrated and confetti adorned. Decorated, red banners are hanging over Merchant’s Street, people are throwing confetti from the windows onto the statue of St. Paul and the parade, a marching band plays on and people are greeting, yelling and praying at the statue.
This adoration of the Saint is a prelude to the Carnival which follows only 3 days later. Music will be played, confetti will be thrown and people will party.
Because 2000 years after St. Paul’s Shipwreck, the Maltese will still try to light a fire and brighten your way on a cold February day.
If you’re visiting Malta – on the fringe of Europe but in the heart of its history and want to discover more, go to the ancient town of Mdina, featured in Game of Thrones, and visit the cool Fortifications Centre museum in Valletta. It’s free!