This church, dedicated to the Apostle St. Paul is located in Valley Road Birkirkara. Today, this road is one of the busiest in Malta but in older times it was hardly used. In those days the town of Birkirkara was centred in the side, where today lays the Basilica of Saint Helen. When the new church (the church which today is known as “The old Church”) was built, the people crossing the bridge to visit the church used to pass by the area of the Church of St. Paul. At that time, the old church was slightly away from the habitat and was not very popular with the residents of Birkirkara.
The original church was built in the year 1538; just eight years after the Knights of St. John came to Malta in 1530. The church was rebuilt around 300 years later between the year 1852 and 1854. A painting from the private collection of Dr. Albert Ganado, which was painted by Rev. David Markham between 1845 and 1846 named “Village of Bircarcara, Malta”, is the only known image of this old church. The stone cross depicted on the pillar is probably the same cross which today lies on the roof just above the sacristy. The statue of St. Paul shown in the painting is probably the same statue which today is located at the very top of the façade of the church. It is therefore safe to deduce that the painting by Markham is a realistic interpretation of a typical scene of those days.
The church’s mechanical clock is the work of the famous clockmaker Mikelanġ Sapiano (1825-1913). Mikelanġ Sapiano became famous when he managed to fix the clock of his home town church; the Parish Church of Mqabba. The mechanical clock created by Mikelanġ Sapiano for the church of St. Paul is considered to have great historical value. Keeping in mind the small size of this church, Sapiano still managed to make this clock automatically sound three bells as well as run two separate clock faces. The clock faces are a considerable distance apart. Whilst one face is located exactly below the belfry, the other is located on the façade of the church. The one located on the façade is a skeleton dial. It is made out of a skeleton frame made from iron and glass so that it can be illuminated during the night.
The mechanical layout of this clock is unique to this very date because it incorporates three train movements. Two train movements are used to sound the bells every 15 minutes and every hour. It also includes another mechanical feature that sound the largest bell every four hours, for the Pater Noster, 8 o'clock, noon, the Ave Maria and for the Souls.
The present day church was designed by Giuseppe Bonavia, the same architect that designed the church at Balluta and the church the today houses the Malta Stock Exchange.
Author: Pierre Axiaq
Mario Gauci (2009), 2000 sena minn twelidek San Pawl - Knisja Filjali San Pawl tal-Wied Birkirkara
Il-Knisja ta’ San Pawl tal-Wied - kappellimaltin.com