sjhstrangetales

THE MYSTERY OF THE MALTA CATACOMBS

Posted on: May 11, 2015

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The island of Malta is riddled with ancient subterranean passageways and chambers,  and the Hypogeum of Sal Salfini was once said to be the site of a mysterious disappearance of schoolchildren back in the 1930s.  There is much contention as to whether this really happened, and I’ve seen categorical comments on the Internet from Maltese people who say they’ve never heard of the tale.  The main source of the story seems to come from a respectable  magazine article published in the early years of World War 2.

In August 1940 the ‘National Geographic’ magazine contained an article about the catacombs which said that prehistoric man had built temples and chambers in the vaults.  Beside one sacrificial altar had been found the bones of no less than 33,000 human skeletons.

According to Wikipedia, Malta has been inhabited since around 5200 BC.  The original settlers were wiped out in mysterious circumstances around 2600 BC.  No one seems to be quite sure what happened to them, although archaeologists believe it may have been down to famine or disease.  The subterranean tunnels criss-cross the entire island, and at one time you could be able to walk from one end of the island to the other via the underground route.  Some people’s houses had doors inside which opened directly into the tunnels.  The capital city of Valletta is crossed by a huge network of interconnecting tunnels which had been built by the Knights of Malta, a Roman Catholic religious order which dates back a 1000 years.

The ‘National Geographic’ article continued that, at the time the article was written, the subterranean areas were being used to store vital wartime supplies.  (Malta was in fact very heavily bombed during the war, and the entire island was awarded the George Cross in 1942).  It was the final line in the article which has led to lovers of mystery like me to get excited: “the Government closed the entrances to these tunnels after school children and their teachers became lost in the labyrinth while on a study tour and never returned”.

It was an American woman (or English, I’ve seen her described as both), Lois Jessop, who added to the mystery, by giving a very odd anecdote of a visit to the catacombs in the mid-1930s.  Lois was said to have worked for the British Embassy, and had gone to Malta to visit friends.  Later she became secretary of the New York Saucer Information Bureau, which has led some to dismiss her as an unreliable source.

Miss Jessop said that she and her friends had lit candles and gone on a guided tour to explore the subterranean passageways.  At one point she came out onto a ledge, which had a sheer drop of 50ft or more on her right, and nothing but wall on her left.  To avoid falling into the depths she said their guide, Joe, had held onto the sash of her dress (which seems a fairly impractical form of attire to got exploring underground tunnels in, but different days, different ways I guess).  The tale was now about to get very odd indeed.  She said she held up her candle to peer into the abyss, and saw “about 20 persons of giant stature emerge from an opening deep below me.  They were walking in single file along another ledge down below.  Their height I judged to be about 20-25 ft … they walked very slowly, taking long strides.  Then they all stopped, turned and raised their heads in my direction.  All simultaneously raised their arms and with their hands beckoned me”.

Joe, who was still hanging onto the sash of her dress, urged her to come out.  A few weeks after this somewhat exciting expedition, Lois said she was contacted on the telephone by one of her friends who remarked that a party of 30 children and their two teachers had disappeared whilst exploring the caves.  They had all been roped together, and had tied the rope to the entrance of the cave.  They were never seen again.  The rope had been cut, and the walls had caved in behind them.  Attempts to search for the party had been unsuccessful, and harrowing tales emerged of people being able to hear the screams and wails of the children behind the walls.

Lois Jessop returned to Malta several months later with her sister, who decided she wanted to explore the caves too.  Lois reluctantly accompanied her.  They got so far only to find the tunnel boarded up.  Lois asked the official guide if this was where the school party had vanished.  “Perhaps”, the Guide replied with a shrug.  Lois claimed that for many years after she tried to get new information on the vanishing school-party, but concluded that “the Maltese are tight-lipped about the secrets of their island”. (She would also claim that the tight-lipped guide had claimed no knowledge of Joe, their previous one).

Her article ‘Malta, Entrance to the Cavern World’  was published in ‘The Journal of Borderland Research’, and you can read the whole thing if you do a search for “Lois Jessop Malta” in Google.  Perhaps understandably, there has been much skepticism about Lois’s claims, particularly considering her UFO interests.  But ‘The Journal of Borderland Research’ backed up her story with a tale from a young man who had gone on a cycling tour of Malta in 1939.  He was informed by locals there that at one time you could walk from one end of the island to the other, but the British Government had boarded up the tunnels after a tragedy, when a number of children and their teachers “descended into the tunneled maze and did not return”.

Lois was to add that the tall beings she had seen had been covered in what seemed like ‘long white hair, combed downward and shaggy looking’.  I find it impossible to read that without immediately thinking of the Morlochs in the original 1960 film of H G Wells’s ‘The Time Machine’, about a terrifying race of subterranean dwellers who live on human flesh.  ‘The Journal of Borderland Research’ connected them with the Deros, a sadistic Morloch-type tribe who also dwelt underground, and were first described by Richard Shaver of Hollow Earth fame in the 1940s.  And that the bones of the 33,000 skeletons found by the altar had been their lunch presumably.

Honestly, make of all that what you will!

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