Malta religion has played a very important role in the life of the Maltese people. Hundreds of churches and chapels are located throughout the islands of Malta and Gozo. Many of these magnificent structures were built hundreds of years ago. Churches in Malta and Gozo dominate the skyline and the domes and steeples can usually be seen from many miles away. You can usually find the centre of a town or village by driving towards the parish church although many towns and villages usually have two or more churches and chapels.
The Maltese churches are very interesting buildings, both from a historical and architectural perspective. Maltese churches are built out of big limestone blocks quarried locally. The Maltese sculptors, architects, builders and artisans have taken advantage of the soft limestone consequently many of the churches are adorned with intricate sculptures inside and out.
In old Maltese architecture is the addition of niches with statues of saints prominently located at the corner of buildings. There are usually found in older sections of towns and villages. Sometimes, these shrines can also be found by themselves along country streets. Some of these shrines were erected to commemorate a deceased relative or some other significant event in the lives of the people who lived in the area.
Although some of the churches may look plain on the outside from an architectural point of view, the interior of many of them is usually very rich in comparison. Marble and crystal chandeliers are very common in older churches. Statues of saints and the Virgin Mary are also very prominent in most churches. Many of the statues are mounted on pedestals that can be equipped with carrying poles since statues are used during processions to celebrate parish feasts and other religious occasions.
Maltese churches are decorated with paintings, frescos, and tapestries. In the early history of the Maltese church, parishioners gave generously to the local church in order to build the most beautiful and rich church they could afford. Old rivalries between parishes and even between local churches and chapels within the same village was the incentive for many parishioners to donate time and money to their church. Some of these rivalries are still evident today when parishioners celebrate their parish feast with band marches, processions and fireworks.
On these occasions, streets are decorated with colourful statues of angels and saints, colourful lights and lavishly decorated cloth banners. Band marches and outdoor concerts are held days before the procession and people from other parts of the island flock to the town to visit relatives and friends or just to partake in the festivities.
Loud fireworks can usually be heard all over the island starting days before the actual feast. After the procession, which usually takes place on a Sunday evening, the festivities culminate in an extravagant display of fireworks that can be seen from miles away. A lot of money is spent on the firework displays since each town tries to outdo neighbouring towns. In many towns, there are even rivalries between different band clubs with the town. These rivalries manifest themselves in band marches and fireworks displays.