A centuries-old tradition, partly proved by archaeological finds, relates how a Roman temple dedicated to Juno that dominated the ancient Citadel of Gozo, was dedicated by the early Christians to the Blessed Virgin Mary. This tradition cannot be taken literally, but the remains of a Roman temple dating from the early imperial period were unearthed in abundance during the building of the Cathedral between 1697 and 1711.
The foundation stone of the present Cathedral was laid on 21 September 1697 by the Archpriest Nicholas Natale Cassia-Magri. The Maltese architect Lorenzo Gafà had prepared a scale model of the new building, which allowed work to continue uninterrupted after his death early in 1703. The Cathedral, a fine baroque structure in the form of a Latin cross, is built entirely of the local limestone.
The new church was officially inaugurated on the eve of the Assumption, 14 August 1711. It was dedicated by Bishop Giacomo Cañaves in a twenty-four-hour-long ceremony on 11 October 1716. Archpriest Cassia-Magri and his successors proceeded to enhance and embellish the church with works of art.
On 16 September 1864, Pope Pius ix established the diocese of Gozo and Comino. The Matrice was declared the Cathedral of the new diocese. A cathedral church is one that is presided over by a bishop and in which the bishop has its cathedra or throne. The faithful of the diocese regard the church as the Mother of all churches in the diocese. The cathedral church is served by a chapter or body of canons whose duty it is to chant the Divine Office daily in choir. The present Cathedral Chapter is made up of eighteen canons who have the title of Monsignors. Since 1864, Gozo has had seven bishops.
Very graceful and well-proportioned, the interior of the Cathedral carries all Gafà’s characteristics: the serried groups of tall pilasters raised on high bases, the rich entablature and the carved attic which lifts the vaults higher, the vault intersected in each bay to allow adequate light from cross windows above the entablature and the semicircular apse. A flat ceiling in perspective closes the aperture of the dome. The end result: a spatially modest interior giving an impression of muted.