In the car that took us from the airport to our hotel at the arrival in Malta we saw from the highway a huge structure that was visible from distance and dominated the landscape. Mr. David, the driver explained that this is the third dome in dimensions in Europe.  Frommer’s guide says it’s the fourth in the word. The information was not confirmed from other sources, and I actually heard a similar claim about another church in the island of Gozo, but later in the afternoon, when we arrived in the city of Mosta to watch the Good Friday procession as recommended by Mr. Albert the knowledgeable receptionist at the resort, we all agreed it is BIG.

on the streets of Mosta

As we were warned the city was closed to cars for the event and we had to walk about two kilometers from the margin of the town to the church in the center. We encountered for the first time the feeling of familiarity we then experienced for the rest of the trip. The landscape and the style of building is very similar to the one in the Arab towns and villages in Israel, spoken Maltese sounds close to Arab, and with the silhouette of the church in the sky the city looked like a flat replica of Nazareth.

Mosta Dome or Rotunda of St Marija Assunta

The impressive church dedicated to St. Mary – Rotunda of St Marija Assunta in Maltese – was built between 1833 and 1860, and the plans were based on the model of the Pantheon in Rome. On April 9, 1942 a German bomb fell inside the dome but never exploded, event which is remembered as the April 9 Miracle.

the Dome

The Dome is impressive also in the interior. The ceiling is painted in an abstract patter, and enhances the feelings of dimension. The internal diameter is 37.1 meters, and the walls are 9.1 meters thick.

inside the church

The church was overcrowded, as it was the time of the Good Friday liturgy before the procession started to parade in the streets. We could not move freely in the church and admired the art, but we could see the allegoric cars, the statues and the relics that were prepared to participate in the event. It was quite obvious that in this deeply religious country many people had worked for days and weeks in preparation.

preparing the chains

When we exit we saw another kind of preparation on the stairs of the church. Heavy metal chains were waiting for people to carry them on their legs during the procession, as a symbol of the suffering of Christ. The folks who were to carry the chains had their feet protected with bandages.

waiting for the procession

It was already late afternoon and the streets began to fill with people waiting for the procession to start. The path of the walk in the streets was well marked, it started from the church and ended at the edge of one of the main streets in the city. Some chairs were sold for a few Euros, other people gathered in the balconies in expectation. We were inspired and lucky to find a coffee shop (with a cinema theme – more about this in the next episode!) at the second floor of a building in the corner of the square near the church. We took some beers and waited for the event that started around 5PM.

dignitiaries and local band

The first to walk in the procession were the dignitaries of the city followed by the local band. All seemed to walk on slow motion, and stopped several times so there was plenty of time to take photos from all angles.

Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane

Statues, paintings, icons from the church followed carried on allegoric cars. The logic became evident, as each one of the cars and groups of people were described and the story of Christ’s Passion told on loudspeakers first in Maltese and then in English.

carrying the chains

Our friends carrying the chains followed. They were in full costume – looking a little bit like Ku-Klux-Klan, but we were not that shcked as we have already seen these costumes at a similar procession in the South of Spain a few years ago. Some of them were barefoot, some were wearing sneakers, all carried the real and heavy metal chains. Slow motion was fully justified for them.

Jewish and Roman characters

Costumes reflecting the local vision of how the Bible drama characters looked like were carried by participants in the parade, as in a grave carnival. The comment advanced slowly through the Bible story. It was already 7PM, we were watching the procession for a couple of hours and it became evident that it will last until late in the evening or even in the night. When the commentary reached the episode in which Barabbas was pardoned by the Jews instead of the innocent Christ we decided that we watched enough and started to head back to our place.

the food booth

On the way back we could not miss the food booths with magnificent cakes and pastries. Easter follows a period of feasting for Christians, and this was probably only one of the elements of diet-breaking of the holiday.