Did you know Gozo has 46 churches and chapels, each with a unique style and history just waiting to be discovered? From 17th-century Baroque architectural wonders, through to 20th century neoclassical tributes hand-built by parishioners. Cast your eye over Gozo’s skyline and it’s easy to identify many of our Baroque style churches because their distinctive red domes pierce the sky while reaching for the heavens.
Why not take a quick glimpse into the glory of Gozo’s churches in our short video:
The Baroque period, during the rule of the Knights of St John was one of the most artistically creative eras in Maltese history. Wander inside any of Gozo’s Baroque churches and you’ll wonder at flying trumpeting angels, friezes with sculptures and cherubs and evocative religious paintings – yes our Baroque Churches are richly decorated inside and out.
Throughout Europe, from the 17th Century to the late 18th Century many artists and architects practiced this fashionable flamboyant, opulent Baroque style, characterized by ornate gilded furniture, marble carvings and dramatic paintings, enhancing the aesthetics of churches, theatres and grand civic buildings, enchanting onlookers and transporting them on an almost spiritual journey. The Baroque artistic movement was embraced by the Catholic Church in opposition to the Protestant Reformation. Baroque styling aims to create an emotional connection with the onlooker whilst being easily understood by the masses.
So, this VisitGozo blog explores the artistry and ancestry of some of Gozo’s beautiful Baroque churches.
Gozo Cathedral, Cathedral of Assumption – dedicated to the Assumption of Mary.
Although Gozo Cathedral inside The Cittadella is over 300 years old, the religious site proves that great design withstands the test of time. The Cathedral, commissioned by Alof de Wignacourt was built between 1697 and 1711 and is made from local limestone, set out in the shape of a Latin Cross. Pioneering Maltese architect Lorenzo Gafa who designed the Cathedral is now hailed as one of the most influential architects in Maltese Baroque architecture.
According to historical data, the site where the Cathedral now stands was once a Roman temple dedicated to the goddess Juno. Climbing the steps to enter the Cathedral, the bronze statue on the left-hand side is of Pope Pius IX and on the right of Pope John Paul II. The niche outside features a statue of Santa Marija (The Assumption of Our Lady) made in Rome in 1897.
Although the Cathedral hosts daily snap-happy visitors, keen to capture its exuberant, ecclesiastical beauty, many will be surprised to discover the building was actually unfinished. The typical side buttress screens weren’t built and although a stone drum was built over the crossing, a dome was never erected. The Cathedral has a flat roof, yet visitors inside are often tricked into believing there is a dome when gazing upwards to view artist Antonio Manuel’s ‘trompe l’oel’ painting, originally installed in 1739 – which uses geometrical perspective to trick the eye.
Parish Church of our Lady of Virtu, Għarb, Gozo
Għarb’s Parish Church is dedicated to Our Lady of Virtu. Designed by architect Guzeppi Azzopardo, this fine Baroque building with its central concave façade and symmetrical twin towers is praised by many as one of the most architecturally perfect churches in all of Gozo. Completed back in 1729, it was inspired by Francesco Borromini’s, Sant’Agnese in Agone at Piazza Navone in Rome.
The beautiful cherub and figurine statues occupying its exterior niches, together with the statue of the Virgin Mary positioned above the doorway entice the visitor’s gaze inwards. Once inside, you will witness truly amazing artistry, such as that of renowned Gozitan sacred artist, Paolo Camilleri-Cauchi who’s classic style paintings depict scenes relating to Our Lady, framed by his monochrome portraits, which also trick the observer giving the illusion of looking upon 3D carved statues.
Basilica of St George, Rabat, Gozo
The parish church of St George in Victoria is an imposing masterpiece overlooking St George’s Square, one of Gozo’s most popular tourist areas. This parish has been in existence since the 15th century. However, the foundation stone of today’s church was laid in 1672. In case you didn’t know, a basilica is a title bestowed to an important church acknowledged by the Vatican in Rome and in 1958, Pope Pius XII raised St George’s Church to the dignity of basilica.
The church’s original dome was damaged in the 1693 Sicily earthquake of 11th January and was later rebuilt. In 1818, the façade of the church was remodeled to the designs of Priest/Architect and Artist, Don Salvatore Bondi.
Step inside the Basilica’s highly opulent interior and you’ll easily understand why it is known as ‘Gozo’s Golden Church’. With stunning ornate detailing, such as the bronze and gold gilded canopy above the high altar, modelled on Bernini’s baldacchino for St Peter’s, complete with gilded Solomonic columns.
Make sure you witness the statue of the patron saint, St. George, sculpted in wood by Pawlu Azzopardi in 1838. This statue, now over 180 years old was the first titular statue acquired by any parish church in Gozo.
The paintings inside St George Basilica’s dome and ceiling read like a Who’s Who of master artists, with artwork by Giovanni Battista Conti of Rome, Mattia Preti, Giuseppe Cali, Michele Busuttil, Giuseppe Fenech, Francesco Zahra, Ramiro Cali’, Filippo Cosimo, Giuseppe D’Arena and Salvatore Bondi’ amongst others.
If you enjoy the ecclesiastical and artistic splendour of Baroque artistry, then Gozo has so many churches to explore from the Church of St Margaret in Sannat, Corpus Christi Church in Għasri, through to the stunning Jesus of Nazareth Church in Xagħra and more.
With thanks to: Chris Galea, Paolo Camilleri-Cauchi and jjpzammit.