Sunday, March 20, 2011

St. Agatha's

Last Wednesday(the 16th) we had a great opportunity to head back to Mdina and Rabat and revisit a couple of sites that we were unable to reach in the first 2 weeks due to time constraints or unexpected problems that arose. One such site was St. Agatha's catacombs.

This is another catacombs site in Rabat and is basically across the street from St. Paul's catacombs, which we visited during our first week in Malta. One of the water features was located in one of the gardens in the historical complex near the entrance to the catacombs. This site was mostly dried up, and barely contained enough water to drive the ROV around. We took a couple of sonar scans for good measure, and decided to move on since the space was small and we knew not much data could come from it.

The next site was behind the complex and required a bit of a trek though the brush to reach. Unfortunately, this well too, was very shallow. On the way down to the water, however, we saw the sides of the well shaft, and saw that it branched off in 2 opposing directions. By the time we hit the water though, the open area was a simple circular shape, and there were no tunnels or passageways to be explored. Maybe we can come back after some heavy rains and explore again!

Since we finished a bit early, the priest who was our contact there, Father Tony, invited us in for some coffee and tea, which was great. We sat around a big table and talked for a while, until Brig mentioned how cool it would be to see the catacombs. Father Tony offered to take us in and see - a private (free!) tour!

We walked down the large stone staircase outside the complex with Father Tony. When we got inside, he gave us a bit of background of what we were looking at. We were inside of a crypt which is essentially an underground church. This room was decorated with "frescos" - paintings done directly on the wall that usually showed saints or other religious figures. Father Tony explained that most of the frescos had been ruined during a period where Muslims were invading. To show their discontent with the frescos and with the Catholic religion, they scraped the faces off of the paintings of the saints.

We moved deeper into the crypt and began to see the catacombs. Some of these burial sites actually still had the bones in them! This was a bit strange, but really helped give the catacombs a more realistic feel than the empty ones of St. Paul. Father Tony also told us about stone tables that might have been used for a kind of offering to or for the dead. One of the tables was in the shape of the Greek letter "alpha," the one on the other side of the room in the shape of "omega." At the very end of the catacombs was another crypt decorated with more frescos. There was an altar here decorated with many Christian symbols including shells, pelicans and Greek letters (chi and rho). There was also a special tomb big enough for a single person, and most likely was meant for the priest.

This was an awesome experience and we were very grateful for Father Tony's hospitality! St. Agatha's was definitely another interesting place to visit, filled with centuries of history.

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