- The Pauline Cult in Malta and the Movement of the Counter-Reformation: The Development of Its International Reputation
- The Catholic Historical Review
- The Catholic University of America Press
- Volume 85, Number 1, January 1999
- pp. 15-34
- View Citation
- Additional Information
THE PAULINE CULT IN MALTA AND THE MOVEMENT OF THE COUNTER-REFORMATION: THE DEVELOPMENT OF ITS INTERNATIONAL REPUTATION BY Thomas Freller* The erection of Christian sacred shrines and places of worship is a historically complex phenomenon. It goes back to the very early beginning of Christianity. These concrete manifestations despite substantial differences due to time and place share common elements.As an object of research it cannot, of course, be isolated from its cultural context. Especially in early modern times the revival or erection and installation of a place of worship and devotion was always a product of various factors : intellectual activity, topographic and administrative organization, and pastoral, theological, and often political endeavors.1 This essay tries to outline aspects ofthis phenomenon vis-à-vis an important shrine neglected by international research: the Grotto of St. Paul at Rabat in Malta, the center of the Pauline cult in the island. Since it can be claimed that there has been cultural continuity in the Christian Mediterranean from the period of late Antiquity, the time of the Fathers of the Church, up to the beginning of the nineteenth century (with the possible exception of the Arab period), where does the sacred Pauline shrine in Malta fit in this picture? *Mr. Freller is a lecturer in German studies at the Junior College (Malta) and the University of Malta. He holds an MA. degree in General and Comparative Literature from the University of Mainz (Germany). He was granted a scholarship by the state of RheinlandPfalz (Germany) to carry out his doctoral studies about early modern Malta and the Mediterranean travel routes. 'For examples of the genesis and development of Catholic sacred shrines and places of devotion see Luca da Monterado, Storia del culto e delpellegrinaggio a Loreto (secoli XLV-XV) (Loreto, 1979), and Antonio Rigon,"Déviation et patriotisme communal dans la genèse et la diffusion d'un culte. Le bienheureux Antoine de Padove surnommé le 'Pellegrino ,'" in Faire croire (Rome, 1981), pp. 259-278. 15 16THE PAUUNE CULT IN MALTA AND THE MOVEMENT OF THE COUNTER-REFORMATION Traveling to visit Christian cult centers is a phenomenon known since the fourth and fifth century when Christianity finally established itself as the dominant religion in the Mediterranean. Those self-imposed exiles, those peregrinations and often dangerous voyages were undertaken for the sake of purification of the soul and spiritual salvation. In many cases also material ends and the desire to break away from the dependence on the ruling class mattered. Places of miracles, martyrdom , death, and resurrection and burial sites of holy men and women of Christianity caused Jerusalem, Rome,2 and Santiago de Compostela3 to become the most important pilgrimage centers of the Christians. This pilgrim traveling continued into the early medieval period and grew considerably in extent in high and late medieval times.4 However, during the time of the Reformation, especially in the third and fourth decades of the sixteenth century, pilgrimages fell into disrepute in Protestant countries although they retained their popularity in the Roman Catholic countries of southern Europe, in spite of the attacks by Luther, Melanchthon, and Erasmus. Nevertheless, the Roman Catholic Church was becoming highly aware that the people were not rallying behind a mere theological formula any more.As an answer, they made efforts to renovate and re-establish concrete objects ofveneration and cult. The initial revival of places of devotion in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century was far from random but part of a carefully planned program of Catholic policy.5 Although it had existed beThis phenomenon and its mechanism is discussed in general by Alphonse Dupront, "Anthropologie du sacré et cultes populaires. Histoire et vie du pèlerinage en Europe occidentale," in Miscellanea Historiae Ecclesiasticae, V (1974), 235-258. Cf. for a comprehension Pietro Bargellini, L'anno santo nella storia, nella letteratura e nell'arte (Florence, 1974). 'For the origin and early development of the cult of St. James see Bernhard Schimmelpfennig ,"Die Anfange des heiligenJahres von Santiago de Compostela im Mittelalter," Journal ofMedievalHistory, 4 (1978), 285-303. 4For a collection of papers on the various aspects of medieval and early modern pilgrimages and their main cult places see the catalogue Wallfahrt kennt...