St. John’s Co-Cathedral in the heart of Valletta, Malta, is a masterpiece of Baroque architecture and a treasure trove of art and history. Built by the Order of St. John between 1572 and 1577, this magnificent cathedral is one of the most important landmarks in Malta and a testament to the island’s rich religious and cultural heritage.

St. John’s Co-Cathedral History

Foundation and Construction

St. John's Co-Cathedral
St. John’s Co-Cathedral

St. John’s Co-Cathedral was commissioned by Grand Master Jean de la Cassière of the Order of St. John, also known as the Knights Hospitaller. The cathedral was constructed shortly after the founding of Valletta, the new capital city, and served as the conventual church of the Order. The design was entrusted to the Maltese architect Gerolamo Cassar, who was also responsible for many other notable buildings in Valletta.

Baroque Transformation

While the exterior of the cathedral is relatively austere, the interior underwent a dramatic transformation in the 17th century under the direction of Italian artist and knight, Mattia Preti. Preti adorned the cathedral with intricate Baroque decorations, including gilded sculptures, frescoes, and marble inlays, turning it into one of the most lavishly decorated churches in Europe.

St. John’s Co-Cathedral Architecture and Interior

St. John's Co-Cathedral
St. John’s Co-Cathedral

Nave and Vault

The cathedral’s interior is characterized by its richly decorated nave and vaulted ceiling. Preti’s paintings on the vaulted ceiling depict scenes from the life of St. John the Baptist, the patron saint of the Order. The use of vivid colors and dramatic compositions exemplifies the grandeur of Baroque art. Lavishly gilded walls lined with intricate tapestries further enhance the opulent atmosphere.

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Side Chapels

St. John’s Co-Cathedral features several side chapels, each dedicated to different Langues (regions) of the Order of St. John. These chapels are ornately decorated with altarpieces, sculptures, and tombstones of notable knights. Each chapel reflects the artistic styles and traditions of the respective Langues.

Each chapel within the Co-Cathedral is dedicated to a different “langue,” a linguistic and geographical subdivision of the Knights Hospitaller. Explore these chapels and marvel at the unique artistic styles and intricate details that reflect the diverse heritage of the Knights.

High Altar

The high altar is a stunning focal point of the cathedral, featuring a silver tabernacle and a richly decorated altarpiece. The altar is adorned with intricate carvings and gilded decorations, reflecting the opulence of Baroque ecclesiastical art.

The Oratory and Caravaggio

One of the most significant attractions of St. John’s Co-Cathedral is the Oratory, which houses two masterpieces by the Italian Baroque artist Caravaggio. The most famous of these is “The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist,” regarded as one of Caravaggio’s greatest works and the only painting he ever signed. The Oratory also contains “Saint Jerome Writing,” another notable work by the artist.

St. John’s Co-Cathedral – Art and Treasures

St. John's Co-Cathedral
St. John’s Co-Cathedral

Tapestries and Silver

The cathedral boasts an impressive collection of Flemish tapestries, which were commissioned by Grand Master Ramon Perellos y Roccaful in the 18th century. These tapestries depict scenes from the life of Christ and the Virgin Mary. Additionally, the cathedral’s treasury contains an extensive collection of silverware, liturgical objects, and relics, many of which were gifts from European monarchs and noble families.

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Tombstones and Monuments

The marble floor of St. John’s Co-Cathedral is covered with elaborate tombstones of the knights of the Order. These inlaid marble tombstones feature intricate designs, including coats of arms, skeletons, and allegorical figures, symbolizing the virtues and achievements of the deceased knights.

St. John’s Co-Cathedral Cultural and Historical Significance

St. John's Co-Cathedral
St. John’s Co-Cathedral

Religious Importance

St. John’s Co-Cathedral remains an active place of worship and holds regular religious services. It is also the co-cathedral of the Archdiocese of Malta, sharing this status with St. Paul’s Cathedral in Mdina.

Heritage and Tourism

The cathedral is one of Malta’s most visited cultural sites, attracting tourists and art enthusiasts from around the world. Its historical and artistic significance makes it a key highlight of any visit to Valletta.

Preservation and Restoration

Ongoing efforts are made to preserve and restore the cathedral’s art and architecture. Conservation projects ensure that this invaluable cultural heritage is maintained for future generations to appreciate.

Visiting St. John’s Co-Cathedral

St. John's Co-Cathedral
St. John’s Co-Cathedral

St. John’s Co-Cathedral Access and Tickets

St. John’s Co-Cathedral is open to visitors throughout the year, except on Sundays and public holidays when it is reserved for worship. Tickets can be purchased at the entrance, and guided tours are available to provide in-depth information about the cathedral’s history, art, and architecture. Booking online ticket from the offical website are available too.

St. John’s Co-Cathedral Dress Code

As a place of worship, visitors are expected to dress modestly when entering the cathedral. Shoulders and knees should be covered out of respect for the sacred environment.

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Highlights to See

Visitors should not miss the opportunity to see Caravaggio’s masterpieces, the exquisite Baroque interior, the intricately inlaid marble floor, and the opulent side chapels. The cathedral’s museum also offers a deeper insight into its treasures and history.

St. John’s Co-Cathedral stands as a monumental testament to the artistic and religious fervor of the Knights of St. John. Its breathtaking interior, unparalleled art collection, and historical significance make it a must-visit destination for anyone exploring the rich cultural heritage of Malta.

Have you ever visited St. John’s Co-Cathedral? Share your experience in the comments below!

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