Copyright © The Malta Historical Society, 2005.

Source: Melita Historica : Journal of the Malta Historical Society. 1(1954)3(185)

[p.185] Reviews 1954

BURRIDGE, W., Seeking the Site of St. Pauls Shipwreck. Malta, Progress Press, 1952, pp. 51.

CUTAJAR, LURET, Fejn niżel Malta San Pawl, Offprint from “Leħen Is-Sewwa” of 7.2.53. Hamrun, Dar ta’ San Gużepp. 1953. pp. 14.

The controversy over the place of St. Paul’s Shipwreck has been going on since the Xth Century, when the Emperor Constantine Profirogenito in his De Administrando Imperio (c. 36) for the first time maintained that the Melita mentioned in the Acts of St. Luke was Meleda, an island in the Adriatic. In the 18th century the controversy flared up with great intensity, culminating in Count G.A. Ciantar’s review of preceding writers on this subject entitled Critica deCritici Moderni che dallanno 1730 infino al 1760 scrissero sulla controversia del Naufragio di S. Paolo Apostolo (Venezia, 1773). Other writers turned their attention to the subject in the 19th Century, among them the historian Mons. O. Bres and Capt. Smith, who published his Voyage and Shipwreck of St. Paul in 1848.

In the present century the controversy has reached a new phase. In the past the point at issue was Malta vs. Meleda as the island of St. Paul’s Shipwreck. Now that the mass of evidence points to Malta as the island mentioned by St. Luke, the attention of writers has been directed to seek the actual site of the Shipwreck in Malta. Since 1823 various sites have been claimed as marking the place of the Shipwreck, chief among these being St. Paul’s Islet, Qawra Point, the white shelving rocks near the Harbour Bar Restaurant, a spot 500 yards inland from the Gżejjer Channel, etc.

The writers of the two pamphlets under review have some features in common. Both were critical of accepted tradition, and both set out to see for themselves what things actually look like during a Gregale at St. Paul’s Bay. Besides, both writers were very much concerned to find the place where two seas meet (topon dithalasson) mentioned by St. Luke. But there the similarity ends. Dr. Burridge’s investigations land him at Mellieħa Beach while Mr. Cutajar ends at Tal-Għasselin with a plausible and hitherto unsuspected philological argument. Dr. Burridge gives more prominence to the argument from sea soundings and tries to clinch his argument by reference to old maps of Malta extant at the Royal Malta Library which show a lake of many acres on the land side of the Marfa portion of Mellieħa Beach. Dr. Burridge at times indulges in some chit chat which fails to impress and completely discards the evidence of living tradition. The argument that “the existence of two bays named after St. George should be accepted as the evidence that an equally important event in the life of St. George is to be associated with these other bays” fails to convince for the simple reason that, unlike St. Paul’s Bay, the two bays named after St. George have no tradition at all connecting them with the life of the Saint. Dr. Burridge also dismisses completely the force of tradition behind other place names centring on St. Paul’s Bay, e.g. Il-Pwales, St. Pawl Milqgħi, Għajn Rażul, etc. He is definitely on surer ground when he accumulates various facts from sea soundings and old maps and succeeds in presenting a theory that is at once challenging and attractive.

Mr. Cutajar bases his arguments mainly on philological grounds. His theory is easy and attractive. Dithalasson (two seas) fits nicely into the Maltese dual pattern and becomes Thalassanein, dropping the Greek preface di in the process. According to Mr. Cutajar the “two seas” are in effect “two currents,” with which compare Dr. Burridge’s conclusion that they are “two masses or bodies of water,” one on each side of the strip of Mellieħa Beach at the Marfa end.

Both writers have made a praiseworthy effort to solve this still-vexed question, and their work is a welcome addition to Pauline literature in Malta.

J.[oseph] C.[assar] P.[ullicino]