This chapel full of myth and legend is built on a promontory just outside the village of Għarb, close to a cliff called Ras San Mitri (The Cape of St. Demetrius). Approached by a country road from Għarb, the chapel stands in a delightful spot and is Gozo’s westernmost chapel.
An early fifteenth century chapel was rebuilt in 1736 to create the building we see today. The altarpiece above the stone altar shows St. Demetrius on horseback with an old woman praying and a young man in chains. This relates to one of several legends about the chapel.
This legend – a favourite of historians and poets alike – tells how an old woman called Natalizja Cauchi, nicknamed Żgugina, was at home one night with her son Mathew when Barbary corsairs swooped on the island, broke into Żgugina’s house, knocked her down and made away with her son. The unfortunate woman ran weeping to St. Demetrius’ chapel and poured out her heart in passionate prayer, saying: “San Dimitri, bring me back my son, and I’ll light your lamp with a measure of oil.”
St. Demetrius heard her supplication. She saw him moving in the painting, whence he rode out in pursuit of the Turkish galley. Soon he was back holding the boy in his arms. He re-entered the picture, but a mark from his horse’s hoof remained imprinted on the rock. The grateful Zgugina kept a lamp lit to the saint day and night.
A coda to this legend has it that during an earthquake the rock on which this first chapel was built, broke off and fell into the sea but the chapel did not break up. Sailors and fishermen have often reported seeing light in the depths of the sea – Zgugina’s lamp still burning under the water!
Another version of this tale tells of a ship that dropped anchor close by. The anchor stuck and could not be recovered so a sailor dived overboard to try to pry it loose. When he did not resurface, another sailor went to look for him. After a while both sailors surfaced and recounted to the awed crew how on the sea floor they had seen the chapel with the lamp in front of the painting still alight
The chapel’s mosaic pavement was laid in 1935, and the walls were coated with mosaic in 1950. Other paintings in the chapel represent St. Paul, St. Aristarchus (one of Paul’s companions in Malta), the Assumption and the Holy Face of Christ. The chapel has a small sacristy and a pleasant zuntier (front terrace).
The feast in honour of St. Demetrius is celebrated on the Sunday following the 9th October. The church is well looked after by the Għarb parish with the Archpriest of Għarb also being the chapel’s rector.