The weird and wonderful things at the Żabbar Sanctuary Museum

Although not as famous as some of our national museums, the Żabbar Sanctuary Museum houses some truly exciting exhibits, including sedan chairs that belonged to Grand Masters, a huge array of ex-votos, and a unique survivor from the 1813-1814 plague outbreak.
Rare dead cart at the Żabbar Sanctuary Museum. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Visiting Malta’s most popular museums and art galleries is a rite of passage every child born on these islands goes through. While these never really lose their allure, there is something quite beautiful about discovering a new collection of fascinating artefacts. And that is exactly what you can find at the Żabbar Sanctuary Museum. 

Housed in a purpose-built, post-War-baroque building, the Żabbar Sanctuary Museum is home to hundreds of exhibits that belong to the Sanctuary, that have been donated to the museum, or that were bought at auction over the years. The scope of the museum is vast, with everything from antiquities dating back to the prehistoric period to contemporary pieces being exhibited across two floors.

There are many noteworthy pieces that will pique your curiosity. These include sedan chairs that were used by the likes of Grand Masters Cotoner, Rafael, and Hompesch; huge wooden panelling from the World War II armed merchant cruiser, the RMS Alcantara; a whole room exploring the military aviation accident that took place in the locality, which became known as the 1975 Żabbar Avro Vulcan crash; and the largest collection of Knights of St John-donated ex-voto paintings. Apart from this, you can find a collection of medals and coins, portable altars, a medieval fresco, plenty of paintings, and WWII artefacts. 

For our money, however, the most chilling of all the objects on display is a plague hearse from the 1813-1814 outbreak. This unique object is so special that it received a whole chapter to itself in Fiona Vella and Oliver Gatt’s best-selling book, Bizarre Malta. As they explain, this is a rare survivor indeed as objects made from wood that came in contact with plague victims were usually burnt to avoid them carrying and spreading the disease.

This fascinating museum is located just behind the Our Lady of Divine Grace church in Żabbar and is open Monday to Sunday between 9am and 12pm. 

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