Saint John's Co-Cathedral

A Magnificent Cathedral An Example Of High Baroque

St. John's Co-Cathedral in the City of Valletta - If you like visiting religious buildings you can't miss this one a richly ornamented in high Baroque. Every corner is highly decorated with 16th and 17th century art. This cathedral is one of the most beautiful you will probably see!

Not only the walls are and ceilings are decorated but also with floor covered with memorials with inlaid colourful marbles creating a rich tapestry effect. Do not miss the Caravaggio’s painting. A very good audio tour is available with the price you pay. It is Malta’s best rated visited church.

The Story

It is worth mentioning a brief history of this church in order to appreciate the greatness before coming over for your holiday in Malta. The photos bring you an idea of its beauty but viewing it yourself gives you an awesome feeling.

When the Valletta's bastions were completed the Knights of St. John transferred all the administration and living quarters to the new city.

Jean de la Cassière, the Grand Master of the time commissioned the design by the Maltese talented military architect Gilormu Cassar to build their St. John's Co-Cathedral. At the time it was named in the Italian language of the time - Chiesa Conventuale di San Giovanni Battista, (Conventual Church of Saint John) instead of St Lawrence Church in the Order's former headquarters Birgu. A Roman Catholic Co-Cathedral dedicated to Saint John the Baptist. It was started in 1572 and completed in 1577.

Today it is one of the most visited locations on the Maltese islands. It is considered to be one of the most complete excellent examples of the high Baroque architecture anywhere in Europe. It is named as one of the world's greatest cathedrals. It summarizes the Knights of St. John's grandeur, richness many of the most important noble families in Europe and their deep love to the Roman Catholic church of the 16th and 17th Centuries.

The oratory and sacristy were constructed in 1598, during the Grand Master Martin Garzez, and were completed during the reign of Grand Master Alof de Wignacourt in 1604.

Up to the 1660s the cathedral was humbly decorated but Grand Master Raphael Cottoner ordered the renovation of the interior. Mattia Pereti the artist from Calabria Italy was commissioned to embellish the interior with intricately carved stone wall designs with gold leaf guilding including the painting of the vaulted ceiling and side altars depicting various scenes from the life of St John. The Knights of St. John were very decisive to spend and dedicate their resources for the best ornamentals for the cathedral.

During 1748, Grand Master Antόnio Manoel de Vilhena built new adjoining buildings to enhance the requirements of the time.

When Sir Walter Scott in 1831 was in Malta he described the cathedral as a "magnificent church, the most striking interior [he had] ever seen." He spent three weeks in Malta during October 1831.

St. John's Co-Cathedral Information

Mass Times:

Sundays & Feast Days: 07:15, 08:00, 09:15, 11:00, 12:00 (October to June), 17:30 (winter), 18:00 (summer)

Saturdays: 08:30, 17:30 (winter), 18:00 (summer)

Weekdays: 08:30

Opening Hours:

Monday to Friday: 09:30 to 16:30 (ticket office closes at 16:00)
Saturday: 09:30 to 12:30 (ticket office closes at 12:00)
Sundays & Public Holidays: - Closed

Entrance Fees:

Adults: €10

Students or Senior Citizens: €7.50

Children under 12 enter free of charge while accompanied by an adult.

Include provision of audio visual guides with the price in Maltese, English, Italian, French, German, Spanish, Japanese and Russian.

Those visiting for prayer do not pay.

Tombstones

The floor of the co-cathedral is covered with 400 marble carved tombstones with superbly intricate, marble-inlaid created by skilled tradesmen, tombstones create a formidable appearance to the large floors around all the church.

All the buried knights are sons of Europe's noble families from the time of the 16th to the 18th century. Here lies the founder of Valletta, Grand Master Jean Parisot de la Vallette among the Grand Master buried here in the crypt.

St. John's remained the conventual church of the knights until the French occupied Malta in 1798. The French ransacked the church from its very rich belongings which were melted down into coins to pay their soldiers.

Caravaggio

The Cathedral houses one of Europe’s most impressive and famous art of works. The Italian artist Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, during his stay in Malta 1608, he painted the 'Beheading of St. John the Baptist' on oil on canvas.

It is laying in the sacristy completely restored which is open for visitors on their way to the museum. It is considered to be Caravaggio's masterpiece and the only painting to bear the artist's signature.

Before the capital city Valletta was built the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Malta was St. Paul's Cathedral in Mdina. In 1820 the Bishop of Malta was allowed to use St John's as an alternative see and it thus formally became a Co-Cathedral.

Adjoining Museum

The museum adjoining the cathedral contain several art objects. The most important are the Flemish 29 priceless tapestries according to designs by Peter Paul Rubens at the Flemish atelier of Judecos de Vos, famous as the court Weaver for King Louis XIV. They were donated  by Aragonese Grand Master Ramon Perellos y Roccaful in 1697.

It was the traditional custom that when a newly elected Grandmaster he is to bestow a gift or gioia to the church. They were completed in 1701.  In order for the tapestries to be completed the entire weaving industry of Brussels had to be enlisted to complete the works in a few years.

The tapestries are the only complete collection in the world with over 780 square metres in total of woven colourful thread. At the time Peter Paul Rubens was the most important Flemish artist of the Baroque.

There are many religious sites churches, chapels, cathedrals to visit in Malta but this one is the top of all churches to visit in Malta.

Recommendations

 - What to do in Gozo - Things to do in Gozo »

 - What to do in Malta - Things to do in Malta »

 - Return to top of St John's Co-Cathedral »

 - Return from this page to Malta Info Guide home page »


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