Two days after I was married in January 1994, my bride and I left our hometown of Cincinnati for New England. I was in between semesters in my first year of graduate school. With all our belongings stuffed into a rented powder-blue Taurus Wagon, we drove 15 hours only to be greeted in Providence, Rhode Island by four feet of snow left behind several days earlier by one of the decade’s fiercest blizzards.
It was 1:30 in the morning, dark, and 13 degrees when we unloaded the bulk of our worldly possessions into our three-room, third floor apartment. Fortunately the snow plows and sidewalk shovellers had already finished their work. This, we joked, was our honeymoon.
And we’re still joking.
Twelve years later we have five children under the age of eleven. We’ve finally decided to take a real honeymoon (at some time in the indeterminate near future), although it looks as if we’ll have a bit a company this time round.
According to a recent survey published in Modern Bride magazine, the top five honeymoon spots for American newlyweds are Hawaii, Florida, Aruba, Jamaica, and Bermuda. The common denominator here is, of course, sand and surf (and, with the exception of Hawaii, the distinct possibility of hurricanes or tropical storms from June to November).
Although my wife Barbara and I both like the seaside in fair weather, we wondered if we couldn’t find a more suitable destination for ourselves and other aspiring Catholic honeymoon couples — a spot with sand and surf, perhaps, but also a place steeped in Catholic culture, imbued with a rich history, and populated by steeples, domes and the ringing bells of Christendom.
With Paris burning, Venice sinking, and Rome simply too expensive, we turned our attentions to less traditional honeymoon destinations in the heart of Christendom.
Barbara didn’t like my initial idea of exploring the “priest hole” houses designed and built by St. Nicholas Owen throughout the English landscape during Elizabethan persecution. Besides, the English south coast is a bit chilly and the beaches rather too rocky for my taste.
We did, however, take a tip from the English. One of the popular year round holiday spots for our Anglophone cousins is the archipelago of Malta. An old outpost of the British Empire, Malta is that country some sixty miles south of Sicily that was long home to the Knights of St. John, the illustrious military order that defended Europe from repeated jihad attacks of the Turks.
You’ll not likely find accommodations with circular water beds, heart-shaped pillows and ceiling mirrors, but if you can do without the kitsch amenities of commercialized honeymooning, there’s plenty of Mediterranean waterfront to go around for both bride and groom. Sun and surf abound, yes, but in Malta you can also soak up history and a good bit a Catholic culture. In fact, unlike in Paris, Venice or Rome (the most popular European honeymoon destinations for Americans), Malta is home to a thriving Catholic population that still takes its faith seriously.
The islands of Malta and Gozo boast 365 Catholic churches, the vast majority stunningly beautiful. Many are filled each day, not with tourists clicking photos for the memory books, but with men and women, young and old, attending Mass, standing in confession lines, and praying their devotions.
A good number of them, including St. John’s Co-Cathedral in the capital city of Valletta, were commissioned by the Knights during the 16th and 17th centuries under Italian-trained masters such as Lorenzo Gafa, which accounts for the Baroque feel of the islands. In addition to churches, the patrimony of the Knights of St. John also includes the walled cities of Mdina and Victoria, Fort St. Angelo in Birgu, and Ft. St. Elmo at the tip of Valletta as well the grand auberges, where the Knights once resided in common life according to their native language: Auvergne, French, Aragonian, Castillian, Italian, German, and (before the Reformation of Henry VIII) English.
Incidentally, anyone planning to visit Malta would do well to read about the “great siege” of the islands by the Turks in 1565. The Knights, led by Grand Master Jean de la Valette, after which the capital city is named, defended Malta against 40,000 Muslim corsairs whose only objective was to slaughter Christians in the name of Islamic jihad. By defending the islands, the Knights and the native Maltese, are credited with stopping Islam from moving on northward to conquer Christendom.
For those newlyweds looking to honeymoon this time of year, you’ll be glad to know that Christmas is still very much a religious festivity in Malta. You'll find elaborate nativity scenes, displays of cribs, carol services and parish parades. On Christmas Eve, most parishes have a procession of Mary and Joseph figures riding on a donkey through the village streets while children follow them singing carols.
The Baroque parish churches across the islands are just as awe-inspiring during Advent. Their interiors are decked out in papal crimson and altars are adorned with flowers. The facades are illuminated with thousands of lights that spread out into the adjoining streets. But one thing you won’t find in Malta is a white Christmas. Even in December the winter sun is still warm and the weather relatively dry.
On top of all this, Malta is relatively inexpensive by European and American standards — for the price of one night in Rome, you could spend a week in Malta — the Maltese are very friendly people. And nearly everyone speaks English.
I know many of you still need to work on the “getting married” part, but when the time comes, why not consider trading those piña coladas and umbrella swish sticks for the Baroque landscape of one of the most Catholic countries of the world?
Michael S. Rose is married with five well-mannered children. He is author of several books including Benedict XVI: The Man Who Was Ratzinger, available now from Spence Publishing.
This article has been re-published with written authorization of Catholic Match, LLC.
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