Culture
Three reasons St John’s Co-Cathedral should DEFINITELY be on your Malta bucket list
Here’s what really makes this spot stand out…

Benjamin Abela

The Maltese islands are brimming with historical artefacts, architectural wonders, and natural gems, so getting a good look at all that our tiny country has to offer in a relatively short period of time can seem pretty daunting.

That’s why we highly suggest formulating a bucket list, of sorts, counting down a handful of sites and activities that you think would really elevate your stay in Malta.

Not sure where to start? Well, if you ask us, we’d recommend kicking off your Maltese holiday by paying a visit to Valletta’s iconic St John’s Co-Cathedral.

Before explaining why we feel so strongly about this spot, here’s a bit about its culturally rich history…

Built between 1573 and 1577 by the Order of St John, the St John’s Co-Cathedral’s exterior and interior are nowadays considered as prime examples of Mannerist and Baroque architectural styles, respectively.

This religious hub was commissioned by Grand Master Jean de la Cassiére, who tasked well-renowned Maltese architect Girolamo Cassar with its design.

For the first years following its construction, the Co-Cathedral’s interior was very modestly decorated, however, in the 1660s, Grand Master Raphael Cotoner commissioned artist Mattia Preti to redecorate it, who transformed it in the Baroque style.

But that’s not all! Over the years, the Co-Cathedral witnessed a selection of changes – such as the addition of the annexes on the side – which, collectively, helped it become known as one of ‘the finest examples of high Baroque architecture’.

Now, here’s what really makes this spot stand out:

Caravaggio’s work

Italian artist Michelangelo Merisi, better known as Caravaggio, has left quite the impact on the St John’s Co-Cathedral. Caravaggio is infamous for his somewhat rowdy past, however, this is overshadowed by his pristine artistic works – some of which you can check out at this Valletta spot!

During his time in Malta, Caravaggio painted a selection of works, namely ‘Sleeping Cupid’, the ‘Portrait of a Knight of Malta’, ‘The Beheading of St John the Baptist’, and ‘St Jerome Writing’. The two latter works are preserved and on display at St John’s Co-Cathedral.

Not only is ‘The Beheading of St John the Baptist’ the biggest painting Caravaggio ever did, but it also contains one interesting yet easy-to-miss detail. The Italian artist camouflaged his signature by painting it in the same style as the blood pictured in the scene.

You can learn all about Caravaggio’s work and his interesting life at the St John’s Co-Cathedral itself, where ‘Meet Caravaggio’ – a 10-minute docu-drama covering the artist’s life – is available for viewing.

Its over-the-top interior

St John’s Co-Cathedral truly blurs the line between church and museum, and it’s easy to see why. From colourful tapestries and intricate monuments to a variety of historical artefacts and artworks, walking into this Co-Cathedral is like taking a step back in time.

The church’s entire floor is covered in detailed, marble tombstones, offering a place of rest to some decorated Knights and members of European aristocratic families. Each and every tombstone is adorned with a series of religious or profane symbols, the most popular of which is a skeleton holding a sickle and an hourglass.

The Chapels within the Co-Cathedral are also home to a series of monuments commemorating important Grand Masters from Malta’s history. The Chapel of France, for example, holds three monuments of the French Grand Masters: Adrien de Wignacourt, Joachim de Wignacourt, and Emmanuel de Rohan.

Beneath the high altar of the St John’s Co-Cathedral, visitors can explore the Grand Master’s Crypt, a subterranean chamber containing the remains of the first eleven Grand Masters of the Order of St John. Amongst these are Grand Master Philippe Villiers de L’Isle Adam and Grand Master Jean de Valette.

It’s conserved by a dedicated Foundation

Yes, that’s right! The St John’s Co-Cathedral Foundation was set up with the sole intention of administering the church and its museum. Said Foundation conserves and manages the Co-Cathedral both as a historical and architectural monument, as well as a sacred place of worship. So you can rest assured that it’s well cared for.

The St John’s Co-Cathedral Foundation also possesses conservators, researchers, and maintenance workers who collectively ensure that any and all restoration interventions are conducted in the right manner.

Recognising the Co-Cathedral’s sheer importance and cultural significance, this Foundation has been tasked with enhancing the collections’ presentation by increasing accessibility for the benefit of the public, scholars, and researchers.

Thinking of paying this spot a visit?

Get a taste of what’s to come and plan ahead by visiting www.stjohnscocathedral.com/visit. Every visit comes with an audio guide available in a variety of languages and you can rest assured that COVID-19 temperature checks are implemented upon entry. It is also easy to maintain social distancing whilst inside the Co-Cathedral.

The St John’s Co-Cathedral mobile app is available to be downloaded on the App Store and Play Store.

8th April 2022


Benjamin  Abela
Written by
Benjamin Abela
Benjamin is a Writer at Content House Group. With his background in journalism, marketing, and the arts, Benjamin enjoys finding the human aspect to any story he gets a hold of. When he's not too busy writing his next article, you could probably find him playing with his cats or performing on a stage.

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