St. Dominic's Convent is quite little-known as a tourist attraction, although it deserves much more attention due to both the historical and religious background. In particular, in recent years it has attracted many pilgrims from all around the world due to a miraculous statue of the Holy Virgin, which is housed in the church associated with the priory.
The Dominican Order is a Catholic monastic order founded by a Spanish priest St. Dominic in France and approved by the Pope at the beginning of the 13th century. Dominicans came to Malta from Sicily around 1450 and settled in Rabat near a grotto, where, according to legend, the Virgin Mary had appeared to a local bird hunter. Supported by the Maltese government, private local donors and the King of Spain, they started construction of the priory in 1457 and nine years later the foundation of the church of Our Lady of the Grotto was laid. The complex was completed at the beginning of the 16th century, but a few decades later the Ottoman Empire seized the convent in order to use it as a fortified point for attacking Mdina.
Since the priority suffered much because of the combat activity, the rebuilding started in 1630, after which the monastery buildings gained the existing form of a traditional medieval fortification. It has a rather spacious courtyard with a small garden and fountains, while the wide arched colonnade gives it an impressive look that is so advantageous for a photo shoot. Also, the courtyard walls were decorated with large sundials, one of which dates back to 1717.
St. Dominic’s Convent houses one of the major Maltese relics – a marble statue of the Virgin Mary, shedding tears of blood. For the first time the miracle happened in 1999 and was observed twice after feasts dedicated to the Virgin Mary. After a few years of studies and debates, free access to the statue was opened and Rabat became a destination of mass pilgrimage. Today, believers can pray in the church of Our Lady of the Grotto, observing the statue that is protected by glass and wrought iron lattice.