The Feast of Saint Paul’s Shipwreck is a holiday unique to Malta because it was on Malta that the Apostle Paul was shipwrecked around the year A.D. 60.
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The feast is kept on February 10th each year, and as Paul is the patron saint of Malta, it is a much-anticipated event. Out of dozens of “saint days” on the church calendar in Malta, the Feast of Saint Paul is one of only a handful that have the status of a national holiday.
The account of Paul’s shipwreck and three-month, wintertime stay on Malta is found in the Bible’s Acts 27:27 through 28:11. He was being taken to Rome as a prisoner to eventually stand trial before Caesar. God let him know in advance he would be shipwrecked but would spare the lives of all on board, which promise was later kept and in answer to Paul’s prayers for their lives. The Bible says the storm was in the Adriatic Sea, though Malta borders the Ionian Sea, because in ancient times, the Adriatic’s boundaries were considered to extend much farther south.
The ship broke up on the rocks near the shores of Malta, and all swam ashore. The local population greeted them, but thought he might be a murderer whom the “goddess of justice” had finally caught up with after he was bitten by a poisonous snake. After he lived, however, they supposed him to be, perhaps, a god. Paul, however, soon showed them it was God’s power at work in a mere man by healing the governor of the island, Publius, and many others who were sick or disabled among the island’s population. No doubt, Paul preached the Gospel to them as well, and when he left Malta, the inhabitants gave him all necessary supplies out of gratitude.
The Feast of Saint Paul’s Shipwreck is kept at the “Parish Church of Saint Paul Shipwrecked” in Malta’s capital city of Valletta. It is also a day of processions and family get-togethers.
Three things to do should you visit Malta, though hopefully not be shipwrecked there, on February 10th are:
- Attend services at the Church of Saint Paul’s Shipwreck, which is among the oldest churches in Valletta, dating from the 1570s. Besides the homily and singing, you will see the church contains many significant works of art, including its altarpiece, a number of paintings, and a wooden, carved statue of Saint Paul that dates from 1659. There are also relics of Paul to be seen, including his alleged wrist bone and a piece of the column he is said to have been beheaded on.
- See the procession of Saint Paul’s statue from the church building through Valletta’s streets after the mass. It is taken up Republic Street to Saint John’s Square during the evening, amid marching band music, falling confetti, overhanging banners, and cheering crowds. There is also a noontime procession with just the marching band.
- Watch the fireworks explode over Grand Harbor in the morning, following the 8am mass, which is only one of several masses during the Feast of Saint Paul’s Shipwreck. Fireworks are a must at almost all Maltese celebrations, no matter how religious they may be.