Il-Kappella ta’ San Dimitri
The Chapel of St Demetrius
San Dimitri Chapel is located close to the cliff Ras San Mitri (Cape St. Demetrius) just outside the village of Għarb. It is the only chapel in the Maltese islands dedicated to the greek Saint Demetrius.
The chapel is in the middle of the countryside surrounded by peaceful nature offering stunning views and multiple great walks (e.g. the 10km long Għarb to Għarb walk). The benches and tables next to the chapel make it a perfect place for a small picnic during one of the famous Gozo hikes.
It is Gozo’s westernmost chapel and one that is full of myths and legends, originally built in the early 15th century. The chapel was rebuilt in its current form in 1736. The mosaic pavement around the chapel was laid in 1935 and the mosaic coating of the walls was done in 1950.
When visiting the chapel, take a closer look at the altarpiece above the stone altar. It displays one of the several legends surrounding this chapel; an old woman praying and a young man in chains.
The Legend of San Demetrius
The legend surrounding the San Dimitri Chapel is about the old lady Natalizja Cauchi (in short, Żgugina) who lived in the 16th century, a time when Barbary corsairs were raiding through our little island enslaving the entire Gozitan population.
Żgugina and her son were not spared from the ordeal; one night they broke into the old lady’s house, pushed her to the floor and took her son. Żgugina, desperate not to lose her son, ran to St. Demetrius Chapel and poured her heart out in prayer to the saint.
“San Dimitri, jekk issalvali lil ibni, nixgħellek qasba żejt.” The myth’s most famous words, passed down generations, where Żgugina is promising to light a lamp in St. Demetrius’ chapel.
Żgugina knew St. Demetrius heard her supplication when she saw him stepping out of the painting and riding away to rescue her son. The saint returned the boy safely before re-entering the picture, with a mark of his horse’s hoof left outside the chapel.
As promised in her prayers, from this day onwards the grateful Żgugina kept the lamp lit day and night.
It is further said that eventually, during an earthquake, the rock on which San Dimitri Chapel stood, broke off and fell into the sea with the chapel resting fully intact on the seabed. Over the years, fishermen and sailors have often reported seeing a light in the depths – certainly Żgugina still holding up her promise to keep the lamp burning, even underwater.
As Gozo’s famous poet, Ġorġ Pisani, remarks in his Triqat il-Ħolm collection of legends, tales such as Żgugina’s not only fill us Gozitans with pride but also put the onus on us to keep these myths (and the various connected landmarks) alive, to be passed down to future generations.
Famous dive site
Below today’s chapel, just where it is said that the original building fell into the sea, is one of Gozo’s famous dive sites: San Dimitri Point.
The site is popular among scuba divers due to rare marine life spotting, like barracudas and an occasional eagle ray. Divers can also explore a small cavern and enjoy multiple swim-throughs between the massive boulders found on the seabed. And who knows – maybe you will be the lucky one discovering the lost chapel and Żgugina’s light?
San Dimitri Point is a dive site only accessible by boat. Only a few dive centres make their way out here. Those who do venture out there, usually get rewarded with having the site all to themselves. And to be honest, just the boat ride to this most western point along Gozo’s dramatic coastline is already an experience in itself.
The village of Għarb
Għarb, Arabic for West, is Gozo’s westernmost village and one of the oldest. It’s long history is visible throughout its narrow streets where multiple houses have richly decorated stone balconies. Not only is the architecture of the village beautiful, Għarb is surrounded by some of the islands most scenic and serene nature, for example, Gozo’s highest hill Dbieġi (190m) offers stunning views of the entire island.
Good to know
The feast of San Dimitri is held on the first Sunday following the 9th October. This is the only day the chapel opens its doors.
Other sights in the area
- Wied Il-Mielaħ Window
- Ta’ Pinu Church
- Dwjera Bay & The Inland Sea