Peek Inside Malta's Lost 19th Century Subterranean Crypt

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons / Wikimedia Commons

On the island nation of Malta, in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, sit the ruins of a 17th century chapel. It was originally erected by a knight named Fra Giorgio Nibbia in 1619, and might’ve been largely forgotten to this day were it not for its macabre subterranean contents.

You see, Nibbia Chapel was built near a cemetery where the dead from the nearby Sacra Infermeria hospital were laid to rest. In 1852, a crypt was constructed below the chapel (which had been rebuilt in 1731 in the Baroque style by architect Romano Carapecchia) and bones from the cemetery were used to adorn the space. The decorating choice earned it the nickname the "Chapel of Bones," though it was also commonly referred to as Taz-Zuntier, a old Maltese word meaning "cemetery."

By the early 20th century, the Nibbia Chapel was somewhat well-known as a tourist attraction, and even had postcards and other souvenirs featuring the unique interior, but aerial bombardments during World War II nearly leveled the Roman Catholic structure. Whatever was left was later demolished in the 1970s, and today, overgrown foundations are all that remain. Aboveground, anyway.

It’s believed that Nibbia’s elaborate, 19th century subsurface crypt is still intact underneath the world of modern Malta. The exact location is unknown, but it’s believed to be close to the ruins, near a recently constructed building. Despite being classified as a Class B national monument, the ruins are somewhat neglected. Currently, there don’t seem to be any initiatives to further preserve the area, or to explore the historical site beneath it, which includes the sarcophagus of Nibbia himself.

Inside the long-sealed ossuary, there’s reportedly a Latin inscription on the altar that bemoans the ephemerality of life and petitions for prayers for the dead. There among the mosaic of human remains, the space presumably manages to stay safeguarded and intact indefinitely.


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