Legends: Mystic of Malta

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Photo by Yulia Kuprina.

Only one man lived on the island back then, a mystic called Abraham Abulafia. Alone with his bright visions and the clear, emphatic voices that rose from deep within him, Abulafia lay among the wild thyme watching sea birds swerve against the hot Mediterranean wind. Every stone of Comino Island stood in relief against the blazing sapphire of sea and sky. He was an old man, and knew that this great blue, swallowing him up, would be the last thing his eyes would see.

It was here in 1291 that Abraham Abulafia completed his last great work on Ecstatic Kabbalah, a branch of Jewish mysticism that uses meditation on Hebrew holy words and letter patterns to achieve ecstatic union with god. At one square mile, Comino is the smallest inhabited island of the Maltese archipelago, which juts out of the Mediterranean between Sicily and Tunisia. Today Comino is a nature reserve and bird sanctuary, with four permanent residents, a handful of abandoned farm buildings, a historic chapel and watch tower, and, incongruently, one retro pink hotel.

During summer, tour boats pack the island’s coves, loaded with sun-seeking day-trippers, snorkelers, and divers who have come for the white sand, crystal waters, and shoreline caves of the famous Blue Lagoon. But start hiking inland through the low scrub vegetation, and the steady roar of waves and wind, punctuated only by the occasional bird call, soon overwhelms all man-made sound. And then it is as it must have been when Abraham Abulafia decided this was the place to finally remove the distraction of other human beings from his relationship with God, and allow it to consume him completely.

By the time he reached Comino, Abulafia had been chased out of society several times for his teachings, and once for his unwavering commitment to the voice he heard urging him to convert the Pope. The insulted pope ordered Abulafia be burned at the stake but then died of a massive stroke that same night— so Abulafia journeyed on.

Soon after his completion of Words of Beauty on Comino, history loses all trace of Abraham Abulafia. No one knows whether he died alone in the island wilderness, nobly emaciated and wrapped in his prayer shawl, or took one last pilgrimage from which he never returned. But Comino still radiates peace and undisturbed nature in all its vibrant energy, still gives the experience of being swallowed up by the ceaseless blue.

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