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Mediaeval chapels on roads less travelled

The Mediaeval chapel of the Assumption of Our Lady, Bir Miftuħ.

The Mediaeval chapel of the Assumption of Our Lady, Bir Miftuħ.

Although Malta may be happily littered with churches and chapels, few get to visit those found in the more remote areas or the ones that only open to the public a single morning per month.

This is the case with the chapel dedicated to the Annunciation at Ħal-Millieri, in Żurrieq. Only available for visits every first Sunday of the month, for a total of three precious hours, few have had the opportunity of visiting this chapel, measuring just 7.3 by 5.2 metres, lies below ground level.

The Ħal-Millieri chapel has many prominent characteristics marking it as one of the most important religious monuments of the late 15th century. The chapel's interior is essentially bare - compared to Baroque standards and prototypes - save for a series of frescoes depicting 11 different saints. The box-like single cell building has four pointed arches rising from wall piers, which, together with the stone benches, are characteristically mediaeval.

This is just one of the 32 chapels prominently featured in the latest 360° publication by Miranda Publishers, the first in a series of five volumes featuring the chapels of Malta and Gozo.

The chapel dedicated to the Assumption of Our Lady, Bir Miftuħ, in Gudja, is another holy place pertinent to the mediaeval period, yet it dates to some 40 years prior to the Ħal-Millieri chapel. Like the latter, Bir Miftuħ is only open to the public once a month. It was listed in 1436 among the first 10 mediaeval parishes in Malta. Most people would barely notice this small church while whizzing by to the airport, its next-door neighbour.

This chapel underwent a number of changes along the years. It was enlarged in the 16th century while the parapet and the bell-cote are 17th century additions. Both the Ħal-Millieri chapel and the Bir Miftuħ church were entrusted to Din l-Art Ħelwa heritage foundation.

Other chapels/churches belonging to roughly the same period and also featured in this volume are the chapel of St Basil, Mqabba, which was dedicated to the saint circa 1486, and the Annunciation chapel at Balzan.

This series of volumes aims to document some of the Maltese islands' more prominent examples of church/chapel architecture, both with regard to façades and interiors while firmly placing these buildings in context. However, the series is not a mere visual document and each of the examples carefully selected for inclusion have been researched and analysed by the book's author, Joseph F. Grima.

A selection of images found in this book is on show at the Carmelite Priory Museum in Mdina.

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