Reached by a country road, and built on a promontory in splendid isolation amid terraced fields outside the village of Gharb, is the mythical small rural chapel dedicated to St. Demetrius. An early fifteenth century chapel, which was deconsecrated due to its dilapidated state, was rebuilt in 1736 to create the building we see today. This small, square chapel with its baroque cupola is the only church in Malta and Gozo dedicated to this Greek saint. The feast in honour of St. Demetrius is celebrated on the Sunday following the 9th October.
Inside the chapel, the altarpiece, above a stone altar, shows St. Demetrius on horseback. An old woman is praying on his left while a young man on his right is in chains. This painting relates to one of several local legends about the chapel.
The folk tale tells of an old woman called Natalizja Cauchi, nicknamed Żgugina, whose son Matthew was one night taken prisoner by the Barbary corsairs that broke into their house. The ill-fated mother ran weeping to St. Demetrius’ chapel and poured out her heart in passionate prayer, vowing that if St Demetrius would save her son, she would light him a votive oil lamp every day. St. Demetrius heard her supplication and at this point she saw him moving in the painting, riding out on his white horse in pursuit of the Turkish galley to free her son from captivity. Soon he was back holding the boy in his arms. Legend has it that upon re-entering his portrait a mark from his horse’s hoof remained imprinted on the rock. The grateful Żgugina kept a lamp lit to the saint day and night.
Complimenting this legend, another one states that one day an earthquake hit the island, resulting in the aforementioned chapel toppling into the sea undamaged. Sailors and fishermen have often reported seeing light in the depths of the sea believing it to be Żguigina’s oil lamp still burning at the ocean bottom
Another version of this tale tells of a ship which anchored close by the site. The anchor got stuck so a sailor dived into the sea to recover it. Not resurfacing after some time, another sailor dived overboard to look for him. After a while both sailors re-emerged from the sea and related to the astonished crew still on board the ship, how on the ocean floor they had seen the chapel with the lamp in front of the painting still alight.
On either side of the main altar there are two other paintings, one representing St Aristarchus (one of St. Paul’s companions in Malta) and the other the Assumption of Mary. Other paintings in the chapel depict the martyrdom of St Demetrius and that of St Paul, and the Holy Face of Christ. Furthermore the chapel has a small sacristy and a pleasant zuntier (front terrace), while the pavement and walls are coated with mosaic.