St Agatha’s Catacombs

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St Agatha’s Catacombs are a short walk from St Paul’s Catacombs, signed down a side street. St Agatha was a Sicilian Christian who fled to Malta to escape persecution. She spent some time living in a natural cave before returning to Sicily where she was arrested, tortured and died. The cave was enlarged in 4th or 5thC and an underground basilica created. In the 16thC a church was built above the underground basiilca which was enlarged to form a crypt.

The crypt and catacombs can only be visited as part of a 20min guided tour and no photography is allowed. There were about 20 on our tour which was too many for comfort. The next tour looked a lot quieter.

Steps lead down from the courtyard into the crypt. There are two adjoining chapels. The further one is the larger and has a small free standing altar with a statue of St Agatha. This is a fibre glass replica as the original is in museum. The walls are covered with frescoes. The oldest dating from the 13thC are by the door, are in the Byzantine style, and of St Paul, St Agatha and the Madonna. The rest of the frescoes are 14th and 15thC, mainly of St Agatha. They are beautiful paintings mainly in shades of golds, reds and blues. Michael’s camera finger was twitching. Unfortunately the Turks defaced the paintings during attacks in 1551.

The tour then moves into the catacombs dating from second and third centuries. These are a network of long low passageways with tombs on either side, some still with skeletons and remains of the stone cover. There are a couple of Agape tables which are thought to have been used for the funeral feast. Small niches in the walls would have held oil lamps, the only lighting. We were taken to the site of an underground chapel with the remains of carved stones round walls and a small apse with a painting of two birds and flowers.

We didn’t bother with the small museum in the building above the ticket office.

This is worth visiting for the crypt. For catacombs, St Paul’s is the better place to visit.


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