The Ta Pinu Sanctuary
The Maltese countryside is dotted with tiny wayside chapels. Larger churches are invariably found in the centres of towns and villages – with one notable exception. The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Blessed Virgin of Ta' Pinu, to give it its full name, stands in splendid isolation some half a mile away from Gharb
– Gozo’s westernmost village.
The origins of this Basilica go way back in time – a chapel is recorded in the area since the middle ages. The chapel went through several reconstructions and by the late 19th century had become rundown. In the year 1883 a young girl from Gharb had a mystical experience at the chapel followed by mysterious healings which in turn soon made the place a pilgrimage site. The popularity of the place eventually led to the church we see today – a project started in 1922 and completed ten years later.
Although non-believers will be excused their scepticism on the veracity of other-worldly interventions in the construction of this unlikely place of worship, the present sanctuary remains one of the most beautiful and atmospheric of the islands’ many churches and one of the finest 20th century constructions. Ta Pinu Church Gozo is built in a Romanesque style with a tall central dome and an elegant belfry attached to the church’s north transept. Its lonely setting adds to its mystique – the church is backed by a gentle cliff and a steep hill rises from near its front – the latter being the site of a Via Crucis set of statues which make for a trying climb to the top, although pilgrims who do this route are rewarded with a spectacular view of the church and its surroundings.
The interior of the church is sparsely decorated and the walls are made up of local dressed limestone. The bareness of the walls is contrasted by rich carvings on the columns and arches – one of the church’s artistic highlights, with no design being quite like the other; the carved motifs recalling styles ranging from classical to what appears more akin to Celtic runes.
One of the church’s more unusual features is a huge collection of ex-voto offerings. These are mementos left by pilgrims for supposed blessings or healing received, and range from small paintings to actual accident memorabilia like crash helmets, babies’ clothes and prosthetic devices. Although arguably not to everyone’s taste these offerings bear silent witness to a robust faith that has seen pilgrims coming here in their thousands over the past century or so. The most famous of the church’s visitors remains undoubtedly Pope John Paul II, who celebrated open air Mass on the spacious church parvis on his only visit to Gozo on 26th May 1990. It is reckoned that more than half of Gozo’s population was present at the Sanctuary on that day.
The Ta Pinu Sanctuary is open daily throughout the year from 6.30am to 12.15pm and from 3.30pm to 7pm. The Sanctuary can be reached from Victoria via the hourly bus no. 308. Admission is free.
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