If you walk a few meters up from Renzo Piano’s Pjazza Teatru Rjal you will find a tiny church situated right at the top of a majestic staircase. The aptly named Church of our Lady of Victory holds a very special place in Maltese history, as it was built by Grandmaster la Valette to celebrate the vanquishing of the Ottoman Empire in 1565.
Legend has it that it was thanks to Our Lady’s intervention that the Maltese were able to win the Great Siege, as the Blessed Virgin appeared to the Turkish soldiers through the night, frightening them into retreating. As a result, the church was built a year after the siege ended as tribute to what was deemed to be nothing short of a miracle.
The winning of the Great Siege is one of the most important historical dates on the island’s calendar, meriting a public holiday of its own, in fact. Should you happen to be visiting then, you should definitely drop in to Grand Harbour to enjoy the Regatta, a series of boat races held every year in honour of Our Lady of Victory.
The church building itself is notable for housing a number of important paintings that were brought to Malta by the Knights of St John, as well as works by the Maltese artist Francesco Zahra. Zahra is credited with furthering the Neapolitan Baroque style in Malta, and several churches across the island are adorned with his paintings.
On a maybe more macabre note, the Church of Our Lady of Victory also houses the heart of Grand Admiral Angelo Emo, who died in Malta in 1972 and professed this as his dying wish. Ten years after his death, a monument by sculptor Vincenzo Dimech was erected to mark this entombment.
Victory Church today
The church is very popular with brides-to-be, and there is usually quite a long waiting list for those who wish to have a church wedding on site. Valletta couples love the fact that they can walk from their own residence right up to the church entrance, via Republic Street of course, so that they can parade in all their finery.
When the wedding service is finished, the bride and groom will typically spend quite a bit of time taking photos on the parvis at the top of the stairs, which offers an excellent backdrop for the newlyweds’ social media, with the open air theatre rising right behind them. If you chance upon such festivities, don’t be shy to stop and take a photo – it will probably make the bride very happy!