Last week part of my Medieval Mediterranean class focused on St. Paul’s shipwreck, as set forth in the Acts of the Apostles (If you need to refresh your memory, here’s the text from Acts 27-28:10, from the New American Standard Bible, courtesy of the site Biblegateway : http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Acts%2027-28:10&showxrefs=no&version=NASB
Paul shakes off the viper into the fire.
Woodcut by Bernard Salomon (1510-1561), from Biblia Sacra (Lyons, 1558).
Arca Artium Collection, Hill Museum & Manuscript Library, Collegeville, MN.
The Latin Vulgate says the name of the island was Militene, which the King James Version translated as Malta. The NASB also says the island was Malta, but offers Melita as an alternate. Melita could be Malta, near Sicily, or Meleda (also Mljet), off the coast of Dubrovnik in the Adriatic sea. Mljet has had its supporters over the years, (more about that below) but cannot compete with Malta when it comes to the modern celebration of the Pauline cult.
No visitor to Malta today can ignore the prominence of Paul in Maltese society. It is not just the numerous paintings and sculptures commemorating Paul and his shipwreck; at least twenty churches and chapels are dedicated to Paul, including the cathedral church in Mdina and the Anglican Cathedral in Valletta. Four churches commemorate Paul’s arrival on Malta: two churches are dedicated to St. Paul Shipwrecked, one to the Shipwreck itself, and one to his welcome on Malta.
|A panorama of St. Paul's Bay. Far left: the Wignacort Tower. St. Paul's island, where the shipwreck occurred, is on the right.|
Two closeups: one of the statue of Paul on the island, the other of the ducks in the town of St. Paul's Bay. The ducks mark the location where Paul came ashore.
You can travel to the town of St. Paul’s Bay, located on the bay where, according to tradition, the event happened. St. Paul’s Bay has a chapel named St. Paul’s Sanctuary. Nearby, the church of San Pawl Milqi (St. Paul Welcomed) in Bumarrad was built on the site of a Roman villa, where a chapel has stood since the 15th century. Local tradition (and an Italian Archaeological Mission) identifies this villa as the very one where Publius entertained the company for three days. (Heritage Malta, which maintains the site, is more cautious about the Pauline connection). If you can’t get to St. Paul Milqi, the Church of St. Paul’s Shipwreck in Valletta displays Paul’s right wrist bone and part of the column on which he was beheaded. February 10th, the Feast of St. Paul’s Shipwreck, is a public holiday (but not a national holiday) but if you’re in Valletta you can witness the fiesta of St. Paul’s Shipwreck.
Malta’s devotion to St. Paul and his shipwreck predated the arrival of the Knights in 1530. Jean Quintin’s description of Malta, published in 1536, recorded everything the Maltese people told him about the event. Quintin believed that Paul had been shipwrecked on the island of Melita in the Adriatic, but the Maltese sailors corrected him, explained the route of Paul’s ship and directed him to the very bay where it was wrecked.
|Quintin's map, showing a tiny chapel dedicated to St. Paul overlooking St. Paul's Bay, shown here on the lower right side of the island with an arrow pointing away from it. Woodcut, from Jean Quintin's Insulæ Melitæ Descrpitio (Lyons, 1536)|
Neither St. Luke nor Jean Quintin
told us that Paul also caused a spring
of fresh water to flow while he was
helping to build the bonfire.
This monument marks the spot;
the water, however, is no longer potable.
|St. Paul's Grotto today.|
Paul shows the location of
Mljet on a map of the Adriatic.
What more proof do you need?
Frontispiece of Ignatius Georgius,
D. Paulus apostolus in mari...
Stuff I read to write this post:
- Abela, Giovanfrancesco. Della descrittiione di Malta isola nel mare Siciliano con le sve antichita, ed altre notitie, libri quattro, del commendatore Fra. Gio. Francesco Abela. Malta: P. Bonacota, 1647.
- Ignatius Georgius, D. Paulus apostolus in mari quod nunc Venetus Sinus dicitur naufragus et Melitae Dalmatensis insulae post naufragium hospes, sive, De genuino significatu duorum locorum in Actibus Apostolicis: Cap. XXVII. 27. Navigantibus nobis in Adria, Cap. XXVIII. 1. Tunc cognovimus, quia Melita insula vocabatur : inspectiones anticriticae. Venice: Cristophor Zane, 1730. (The title says it all -- you don't have to read the book! In English: The Apostle Paul was shipwrecked in the sea, now called Bay of Venice, and after the shipwreck welcomed at the Dalmatian island of Melite, or, The true significance of two places in the Acts of the Apostles, chap. 27. 27. As we were sailing in the Adriatic, Chapter. 28. 1. Then we have known, because the island was called Malta: A critical inquiry.)
- Ciantar, Giovanni Antonio. De B. Paulo Apostolo in Melitam siculo-adriatici maris insulam naufragio ejecto dissertationes apologeticae in inspectiones anticriticas Reverendissimo Patri Domino Ignatii Georgii de Melitensi Apostoli naufragio, descripto in Act. Apost. cap. XXVII. & XXVIII. Venice: C. Zane, 1738. (Again, the title gives away the plot: The Blessed Apostle Paul was shipwrecked on the island of Malta in the Sicilian-Adriatic Sea, a rational discussion of the Reverend Father Lord Ignatius George's Critical Inquiry of the Apostle's shipwreck on Malta, described in the Acts of the Apostles chapters 27 and 28. Note that Ciantar went to the same Venetian publisher, who must have made a packet from the controversy.)
Modern sources I also read:
- John Azzopardi, editor: The Cult of St Paul in the Christian Churches and in the Maltese Tradition//Il culto di San Paolo nelle chiese cristiane e nella tradizione maltese. Malta, 2006. Acts of the International Symposium held June 26-27 2006 to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Wignacourt Museum. Msgr. Azzopardi is the curator of the Wignacourt Museum, which is housed in the former college established by the Grand Master to look after the Grotto (see above), and he has a special devotion to St. Paul. This volume contains numerous useful articles, including works by Mario Buhagiar, Stanley Fiorini, Horatio R. C. Vella, John Azzopardi, Thomas Freller and Winston Zammit on the Cult of St. Paul and the Maltese Tradition.
- Mario Buhagiar, "The St Paul Shipwreck Controversy: An Assessment of the Source Material." Proceedings of History Week. (1993): 181-213. Published in Malta : The Malta Historical Society, 1997. Available online at http://melita2historica.x90x.net/hw199310.html
- Otto F. A. Meinardus, "St Paul Shipwrecked in Dalmatia." The Biblical Archaeologist 39 (1976): 145-147. Available online at http://www.jstor.org/stable/3209426. A modern argument for Mljet, based upon: the testimony of older residents; the number of islanders named "Paul" or some form thereof; the failure of the local tourist industry or the church to promote the Pauline cult; a bay where the wreck may have occurred; the presence of snakes on Mljet; and the absence of any traditional Pauline cult. You don't have to be Maltese to remain unconvinced by these arguments.
- Horatio C. R. Vella, The Earliest Description of Malta (Lyons 1536) by Jean Quintin d'Autun. Malta, 1980.