One cannot explain the fact
that there are so many churches in a small island such as Malta,
if not by consenting that the Maltese are a very religious people.
It is said that there are over 360 churches and wayside chapels
all over the island and it is practically possible (though not probable)
to go to a different church every day for a whole year!
The religious devotion of the Maltese is no new phenomenon. There
are so many prehistoric temples (some of which at a very short distance
to each other) that some archaeologists believe that Malta was some
sort of sacred island where different groups of people used to come
here, perform their cult rituals and leave to their respective places
of origin afterwards.
The principal deity which controlled the lives of these prehistoric
clans was the so-called ‘goddess of fertility’. Statues and pottery
statuettes of this deity have been found in various temples not
only in Malta but also in other places in the Mediterranean region.
The structure of the temples themselves resemble the shape of this
goddess which must have been seen as the provider of food and the
sustainer of life. It was quite customary that a conquered people
would start worshipping the gods of the conquering nation. So the
Maltese followed a normal pattern from those days when they started
to worship the Roman idols when they found themselves under their
new conquerors during the Second Punic War.
At Tas-Silg, in Marsaxlokk
one still finds the remains of the renowned Temple of Juno, a temple
so venerated that Cicero himself felt outraged when it was robbed
by the corrupt Roman consul, Caius Verres.
In 60 AD something very
important happened to the Maltese. They were introduced to Christianity
by the Apostle of the Nations, St. Paul. The site where
this event allegedly took place is St. Paul’s Bay. The narration of the
shipwreck of St. Paul is still told to this day on the 10th February,
a national holiday and a religious feast.
During his stay on the islands, St. Paul healed the father of the Roman
Governor Publius who later became the island’s first bishop. Tradition
says that Publius’ house was the site where the first church (the Mdina
cathedral) was erected. Publius was eventually martyred in one of the
fierce persecutions against Christians in Rome.