Attractions
Must visit this week: the little known St Paul’s Islands (aka Selmunett)
The island has quite the history under its belt.

Jillian Mallia

St Paul’s Island is one of the islands which form part of the Maltese archipelago. Also called Selmunett, this island is near the north-east coast of Malta. Interestingly, this small piece of land is sometimes split into two by a shallow isthmus (a narrow passage with sea on either side), which is why it is referred to as St Paul’s Islands (in the plural).

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A biblical story

As the Bible story goes, Paul the Apostle was shipwrecked on an island called Malta while on his way to Rome to face charges. It was he who brought Christianity to an island whose locals worshipped the old gods. Traditionally, St Paul’s Bay and St Paul’s Island are identified as the spot for the shipwreck.

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Jumping back in time

Fast forward to 1575, and the islands were named after the Salomone family who also owned the nearby land which is now Mellieha - an area also called Selmun (a variation of the family name). The island was referred to on maps as Isola Salomone and Isola Salomonetto, interpreted as Selmun and Selmunett in Maltese.

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In 1576, Marco di Maria was being chased by Barbary corsairs off the coast of Malta. He navigated towards the narrow channel between St Paul’s Island and Malta to seek refuge. When the pirates followed him they ran aground and were captured by the Knights. As a result, the Grandmaster Cassiere gave the island to di Maria and it was called Tal-Barba Marku.

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After Marco’s death, the island was passed on to his family. After some time it was handed down to Marco’s nephew, Narduccio, who died in a battle at sea against the Ottomans, which resulted in the island being transferred to the Religion and it came into the Order’s possession.

The statue

A few hundred years down the line, in 1844, a prominent statue of Saint Paul was erected on the island. Sculpted by Segismondo Dimech and Salvatore Dimech, the statue was inaugurated and blessed on 21st September 1845. It has been restored by the NGO, Din L-Art Helwa, a number of times in 1996, 2007, 2014 and 2015.

Life on the island

Until the 1930s, a farmer called Vincenzo Borg lived on the island in the tower built by Grandmaster Lascaris which he converted into a farmhouse. He abandoned the dwelling just before World War II began. The structure resembled the other Lascaris towers on the coast of the islands. Since it was abandoned, the upper room collapsed and is now in ruins.

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During his papal visit to our rock in 1990, Pope John Paul II visited the island by boat. In the same year, a statue named Kristu tal-Bahhara (loosely translated as Christ of the Sailors) was sunk near the Island before being moved to Qawra point 10 years later. 

7th February 2024


Jillian Mallia
Written by
Jillian Mallia
A book lover, writer and globetrotter who loves exploring new places and the local gems that the Maltese Islands have to offer. An avid foodie and arts fanatic, Jillian searches the island and beyond for the perfect settings to write about.

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