July 13, 2010

Mosta: The bomb miracle

After getting spectacularly lost on an unending series of thin roads hedged by walls of limestone boulders, I finally found the main road to Mosta, Malta.

I saw Mosta long before I reached it, thanks to the honey-hued mass of the Church of St. Mary, also known as the Rotunda of Mosta or, simply, Mosta Dome. It rose high above and stood out against the bleached, sugar cube architecture that covers most of Malta.

Fashioned after the Roman Pantheon, whose massive dome remains the archetype for unreinforced concrete construction, Mosta Dome was financed by the town's citizens and consecrated in 1871. Mosta's dome mimics the Pantheon's right down (or up) to its eye-shaped oculus, open to the sky.

The church was a thing of beauty, source of pride and place of solace, but in 1942 it became the scene of a miracle, the Mosta Bomb Miracle.

A Luftwaffe sortie dropped three bombs on the church while 300 worshippers were inside. Two bombs bounced off the dome, but one pierced it, dropped into the church, slid across the floor, and came to a stop, without exploding. No one killed or injured.

Today the gift shop in Mosta Dome's sacristy sells postcards and mini-domes for your knick-knack shelf and also hosts a replica of the ill-fated (or blessed, depending on which side of the war you were on) bomb.