This Żebbuġ chapel was built to ward off bubonic plague

Dating to 1592, St Roque’s Chapel in Żebbuġ was constructed when the bubonic plague epidemic hit Malta. Today, it’s a quaint museum run by Din L-Art Ħelwa.

Malta has more than 100 wayside chapels dotting its villages and (ever decreasing) country lanes. Each of them tells a story of devotion and hope, and is a reminder of times gone by. One such chapel is St Roque’s in Żebbuġ. 

Erected in 1592, the chapel was commissioned by husband and wife, Tumas and Katarin Vassallo, when an outbreak of bubonic plague hit Malta. Probably brought over on galleys owned by the Grand Duke of Tuscany, it killed over 3,000 people in a short span of time. 

The chapel was aptly dedicated to St Roque, a saint from France who is said to have contracted the plague and was later cured when a dog licked his buboes and sores. Inevitably, by the 16th century, he had become the go-to saint for the plague. In fact, chapels dedicated to him were also built in Valletta, Birkirkara, and Balzan.

Today, the small and rather rustic chapel is run by Din L-Art Ħelwa. It is both an architectural gem and a museum, with exhibits here including artefacts related to famous Żebbuġin, like our National Poet Dun Karm Psaila, rebel priest Dun Mikiel Scerri, and famous artist Antonio Sciortino, as well as photos of Żebbuġ from the early 20th century.

The chapel is only opened by request. To visit, you can call Din L-Art Ħelwa on 2122 0358 or 9942 4176.

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