to a strong local tradition, during the persecution of the Roman
Emperor Trajanus Decius (AD 249-251), Agatha, together with some
of her friends, fled from Sicily, her native land, and took refuge
historians believe that her stay on the island was rather short,
and she spent her days in thr crypt at Rabat, in prayers and teaching
the Christian Faith to the children. After some time, Agatha realized
that it would be better for her, to return to her native land and
witness for her faith there, even at the risk of martyrdom. On landing
in Sicily, Agatha was arrested and brought before Quintanus, praetor
of Catania, who condemned her to torture and imprisonment. After
a few days, on the 5th of February 251, she died in prison as a
martyr. Our fore-fathers dedicated in her honour the same crypt
where she used to pray and named after her a nearby Catacombs and
later on a Church over the crypt.
crypt of St. Agatha is hewn in live rock. It is an underground basilica,
which from early ages was venerated by the Maltese. At the time
of St. Agatha's stay, the crypt was a small natural cave which later
on, during the 4th or 5th century, was enlarged and embellished.
the far end of the crypt, there is the main altar dedicated to
the Saint. Till 1647, this altar was still used for worship.It
was built over another rock altar, in 1666AD. It was made to accomodate
the alabaster statue of St. Agatha.
Mgr Lucas Buenos was bishop of Malta (1664-1668), he visited this
sacred place, and donated to the crypt an alabaster statue, representing
the saint undergoing her martyrdom. It is a fine work of art, sculptured
in Trapani, and represents the Saint tied to a tree trunk and a
small puttino is holding a crown of roses above her head.
statue is set on a baroque pedestal within which, there is a tiny
statue of the Saint put on fire. Nowadays, this statue could be
admired in the Museum. In its place, there is a new fibre-glass
statue of the saint, the work of the Maltese artist, Anton Agius.
the acts of the pastoral visit by Mgr Pietro Duzina in 1575, there
is recorded that there were many altars in the crypt. Nowadays,
only two remain. The main altar and a side altar dedicated to Our
Lady, Mother of Divine Grace.
crypt is adorned by a good number of frescoes. Some of them date
back to the 12th century and are in Byzantine style. The others,
which are in Greek style, date back to the 15th century (1480).
There are 30 images of saints, out of which, 13 represent St. Agatha.
The remainder represent bishop saints, virgin and martyr saints.The
15th century frescoes are attributed to the Sicilian painter Salvatore
D'Antonio. These were donated to the crypt by various devotees,
offered in thanksgiving. Other paintings are still visible in the
ceiling at the entrance on the right hand.
frescoes were restored by George Farrugia between the years 1984-1989.
Restoration was sponsored by the Lions Club, Sliema (Malta.)