ON THIS DAY: The Miracle of the Rotunda

In this period 77 years ago, Malta was undergoing a huge blitz, with German aircraft flying over from Sicily daily to bomb the islands.  Indeed, Malta was for a long time the most bombed place on earth (Laos then took that title after it’s merciless bombing during the Vietnam War) because of these weeks in 1942.  On April 7th, those bombs had already destroyed the Royal Opera House in Valletta; but only 2 days later, it could well have deprived Malta of another iconic landmark; the Mosta Rotunda.

April 9th was, in reality, like any other day in the Blitz.  That month had seen a vast increase in air raids, so much so that it became known as “Black April” due to the destruction and loss of life that occurred.  This being said however, many survivors of the war describe this time as a time when fear was a foreign concept. Indeed, when the air raid siren rang out at around 16:00 on that faithful Thursday, between 250 and 300 people remained inside the Rotunda to continue with the day’s mass.

At 16:40, three bombs were released towards the church. Dun Angelo Camilleri was 12 years old on that day.  He didn’t go down into the shelter when the sirens rang out; staying above ground instead to watch the airplanes pass by.  He saw the bombs being dropped onto the Rotunda;

I saw them passing over Naxxar, and then I saw them taking the route over the Church.  I saw the bomb, with two others tied to it, dropped.  I ran down into the shelter and told my mother; “Today the Church got hit”, because the bombs fell right onto it.  

Two deflected off the roof, however one crashed through into the church.  It slammed into the floor and skidded across the church before coming to a halt.  That’s where it sat, unexploded, until it was removed by members of the Royal Engineers Bomb Disposal unit.

The hole left in the Church’s ceiling as a result of the bombing.

Lawrenza Falzon was 13 years old on that day, and she was attending mass that day with her sister and two others.  She describes the events inside the Rotunda the moment the bomb hit;

The Church was terrible.  Beams and debris falling everywhere but despite all this, by some miracle, only one person was slightly injured.  It was Thursday, the hour long prayer meeting was about the start.  We were a group of 4; me, my sister, Katarina Agius and Mary Anne Gauci.  All four of us ended up running all over the place; I ended up losing half my things, because as soon as we moved, the bomb skidded through our own chairs.  It was a terrible day and a terrible time.

The bomb itself was 500kg in size.  That’s the same weight of a Grand Piano, and two thirds the weight of a Smart Fortwo car – just so you can get an idea.  Contrary to some rumours, the bomb was not filled with sand, and it did not have a message of greeting on it. It was a live bomb like any other, and was defused and then dumped off the west coast of the island into the sea, as was standard procedure.  A replica of it, shown below, now sits in the Church’s sacristy.

There are several theories for the actual motive of the bombing, with some thinking that it was accidental.  However, Dun Camilleri thinks otherwise;

They wanted to, in my opinion and according to how the plane was flying, destroy the Church and break the morale of the Maltese people.  Because if the Maltese had heard that the Mosta Rotunda had been destroyed; would have been left in them?

The Rotunda was not destroyed however, and to this very day it remains one of Malta’s most prominent landmarks.

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Albert Galea

Co-Founder of The Yuppie back in 2017 and a History graduate.

Albert Galea

Co-Founder of The Yuppie back in 2017 and a History graduate.