At the beginning of the 1600’s, Malta was still ruled by the Knights of the Order of St John. One of these knights, Fra Giorgio Nibbia, had a chapel erected near the Sacra Infermia, the main hospital in Malta which was used to treat Maltese and foreigners, as well as providing a resting place for those on pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
The chapel was octagonal in shape and ornately decorated, but then there are a lot of impressively designed such buildings in Malta. What distinguished this particular chapel was what lay beneath, in a crypt which has become known as the ‘Chapel of Bones’. This crypt was built to house the remains of former patients of the hospital, but the human bones, skulls (and sometimes complete skeletons) were arranged in rather grisly mosaics and tableaux to decorate the interior of the crypt.
The crypt had gained a certain notoriety by the beginning of the 20th century, with postcards and lithographs such as the ones pictured here becoming macabre souvenirs for visiting sailors and sightseers on the island.
In World War 2 the Nibbia Chapel fell victim to one of the many bombing raids which levelled so many buildings in Valletta. All that remains today are the foundations, almost lost to the weeds in the grounds of what is now the Evans Building.
However it is believed that somewhere nearby – if not directly beneath the ruins of the chapel – the Chapel of Bones remains intact, waiting to be discovered.
Photos: flickr common use (Frank Vincentz & ; http://www.greatwhitefleet.info/GWF_Malta.html