An underground catacombs complex in Rabat, rarely seen by the public, has recently held an open day – offering a glimpse at Malta’s ancient Christian history.
On 16th May the Abbatija Tad-Dejr complex in Rabat held an open day to the public to mark the week that museums and historical sites were able to reopen with the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions.
Through the open day members of the public were able to explore the underground catacombs which are typically closed for conservation reasons.
The complex started out as a singular shaft and chamber tombs dug into the vertical face of a quarry. Sometime between the fourth and ninth century AD, four larger complexes were added.
Though smaller than the catacombs found in Rome, the catacombs in Malta, especially Abbatija Tad-Dejr, are considered among the most important in early Christian burial rituals south of Rome.
One can even find a stone altar and a number of crosses carved into the rock surface to further show the early Christian use of the site.
Throughout the centuries, the catacombs have seen use for various purposes. In the post-Roman period, the largest catacomb was enlarged and turned into a small church while other uses included being cow pens and the quarrying of stone used to produce lime – the latter of which has led to extensive damage to the complex.
Since it is a site that has rarely ever been opened, seeing the photos of the catacombs offers a whole new side to Malta’s historical Christian roots – from a time period that is not always focused on in our country’s history aside from St Paul’s Shipwreck.
Tag a history buff