St George’s Basilica: A brief history
A Christian community at the heart of Rabat, where today stands St George’s Parish Church, already existed at least five hundred years after Christ. For many years, the church of San Ġorġ tal-Ħaġar, that is, St George “of the town”, was the only parish serving the island of Gozo. Its titular was also from olden times venerated at the island’s Patron Saint.
Though little is known about the ancient roots of the parish, due to lack of proper documentation, in 1456 its parish priest was Don Filippo Guevara.
From archeological evidence we know that the first time a church in honour of St George was built here, it probably replaced a pagan temple. After this, it was rebuilt several times. The present structure dates back to 1678, when it was the first church in a shape of a Latin cross to be built on the island. The side aisles were added to it in the 1930s.
These are a few of the most important events in the glorious yet turbulent history of St George’s Parish Church:
- In 1450 it was among the few parish churches in Gozo which enjoyed special priviliges for the granting of special indulgences during the Holy Year proclaimed by Pope Nicholas V.
- In 1678, Fra Mattia Preti was commissioned with the titular altarpiece showing St George on horseback.
- In the late seventeenth century it gave birth to other parishes in the local Church of Gozo.
- In 1839, the marvellous wooden statue of St George was commissioned to Pietro Paolo Azzopardi, becoming the first titular statue in Gozo.
- In 1955, it was separated once more as an autonomus parish, after more than two hundred and fifty years of union with the Archpresbyterate of the Gozo Matrice.
- In 1958, Pope Pius XII bestowed on it the title of Minor Basilica, and in 1967 it was aggregated to the Lateran Archbasilica in Rome.
In 1975, it became the first post-Conciliar Collegiate in the Diocese of Gozo.