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Of venomous snakes & saints: the Maltese legend of St Paul and the viper
Do you know this popular local legend?

Jillian Mallia

Christian roots run deep in Maltese culture and it all goes back to one man: St Paul. As the biblical story goes, St Paul brought Christianity to Malta following his shipwreck caused by a violent storm.

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And, like many things surrounding Maltese history and prominent locations, there’s a legend surrounding this event – quite a few actually. But, this time, we’ll be taking a look at St Paul and the Viper, which is possibly the most enduring legend surrounding this biblical event.

As legend has it, St Paul was on his way to Rome to stand trial when the violent storm hit the ship he and others were travelling on, wrecking it. They managed to get to shore, where they were welcomed and looked after by the Maltese – pagans at the time.

According to the account by St Luke, Paul was helping gather firewood for a bonfire when he was bitten by a viper. A distressing feeling was bestowed upon the group of people, thinking that he’d die a painful death by poisoning right before their very eyes, convinced that he’s a criminal that God was determined to punish.

However, they soon had a change of heart when St Paul didn’t suffer – they even thought he was an untouchable god, which was a huge factor in the population’s conversion to Christianity. Legend has it that all snakes present in Malta lost their venom from then on (this is not entirely true: according to reports, there are four kinds of snakes on the islands, one of which is venomous).

27th June 2021


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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