The first building to be constructed in the new capital city, this often overlooked gem of a church is well worth a contemplative stop.
Of the 25 plus churches in the capital city of Valletta, there is one that stands out for its historic significance. No, not the superlative St John’s Co-Cathedral, magnificent as it is, but the small and perfectly formed Church dedicated to Our Lady of Victories.
Situated adjacent to Castille Square across the road from Auberge de Castille (a.k.a. the office of the Prime Minister), the church was the first building to be constructed and completed in the new city after the Great Siege of 1565. It marks the foundation stone of Valletta and was built as a form of thanksgiving for the victory over the Ottomans.
Grandmaster La Valette (after whom the capital was named and whose statue was only recently erected just metres away from this church) paid for the church himself. It is believed to have been designed and constructed by Francesco Laparelli and Girolamo Cassar, the architects of Valletta.
The original church was little more than a chapel constructed on the very site where the foundation stone of Valletta was laid during a religious ceremony on 28th March 1566, barely six months after the siege. The church was originally dedicated to the Nativity of Our Lady, and the titular painting behind the altar depicts just that.
When La Valette died of fever on 21st August 1568, he was buried in the crypt of this church, until St John’s co-cathedral was completed and his remains were later transferred there.
In 1617, the Order of St John chose it as their parish church which they dedicated to St Anthony the Abbott. Over the next 150 years, the church was further enlarged, its facade embellished with baroque trimmings and the spectacular paintings on the vaulted ceiling were completed by Alessio Erardi.
During the British era, the church became the Garrison Church to the Royal Malta Fencibles (later known as the Royal Malta Artillery). The years were not kind to the old building, and it suffered considerable deterioration and damage including bombing during World War II, until it was fully restored to its former glory by Din l-Art Helwa, the national trust of Malta, together with the Valletta Rehabilitation Project and the Museums Department.
Its small size means you can take in all of its beauty even from the doorway, as your eyes are drawn up the white columns towards the elaborately painted ceiling. Pause a moment at the entrance to take it all in in one breathtaking moment, before stepping forward to explore it in further detail. You’re quite likely to be one of the few visitors to step inside, as everyone else rushes to see the more famous churches of the capital. But this little gem is a must see.