If you’ve ever been to Malta you’ve probably been inside it, or at worst drove or been driven past it. If you have yet to visit Malta you’ve probably heard about it and it’s likely that it is on your to do list. The Rotunda at Mosta (or The Parish Church of the Assumption to give it its proper name) is definitely one of the most visited attractions in Malta. Here’s the rundown.
The Rotunda of Mosta occupies the exact site of Mosta’s former parish church which was built around 1614 to the designs of Maltese architect Tommaso Dingli – best known for his parish church at Attard. When this church had become too small for the parishioners’ needs it was decided to build a bigger one. A far larger one in fact – so large that it was built around the old church. The Mosta Rotunda started going up in 1833 and was completed by 1860 – and it was only then that the ’enveloped’ older church was demolished.
The design and construction of the church were entrusted to George Grognet, a great lover of the classics, and quite understandably (if somewhat unashamedly) he based his design on one of the greatest buildings of the classic era – the Pantheon in Rome. Grognet’s greatest feat was probably the engineering side of things – he managed to build this huge dome without any support whatsoever. To this day it is reckoned to be the third largest unsupported dome in the world.
The result is quite awesome – it is difficult not to be impressed by the dome’s huge size and its lovely patterned design. The church is also adorned by a good number of paintings by one of Malta’s finest 19th century artists, Giuseppe Cali, whose works adorn much of the church’s pendentives just below the dome.
The church is also famous for its very lucky escape during World War II. On the 9th of April 1942 the Luftwaffe dropped three bombs on the church while a service attended by some 300 people was in progress inside. While two of the bombs deflected without doing any damage, the third one – a 500 kilo high explosive monster – pierced the dome and fell to the ground but failed to explode. While this was interpreted as a miraculous divine intervention, it may also have been wilful sabotage by Czech munitions workers who manufactured the bombs for the Nazis. Whatever the case the bomb was defused and dumped in the sea off the west coast of Malta. An exact (and much photographed) replica is the unlikely highlight of the church’s much visited sacristy.
The main celebrations associated with the Rotunda are the Feast of the Assumption on 15th August, the Good Friday procession (one of the islands’ most popular) and the traditional run with the statue of the Risen Christ on Easter Sunday.
The Mosta Rotunda is open every day of the year and apart from being a prime tourist attraction it remains the town’s main place of worship. With this in mind it is best to plan your visit during the church’s official visiting times. These are Monday to Friday from 0900 to 1145 and from 1500 to 1700 and Saturdays from 0900 to 1145 and 1500 to 1600. Visits on Sundays are discouraged because of liturgical services.